In Shooting War, it's 2011 and John McCain is President...
Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman's Shooting War is a graphic novel set in the year 2011; John McCain is president and the US is still in a quagmire in Iraq. Is the book a prophecy of years to come? Or merely an interesting look at how Iraq could play out?
Back in 2006 it seemed unlikely that John McCain would earn the Republican nomination for President of the United States, but when journalist Anthony Lappeand artist Dan Goldman set out to create a near-future world for their graphic novel Shooting War they decided to imagine just what a McCain Presidency might look like in 2011 and their forecast is dark with more than a few scattered showers.
Shooting War began as a web comic at SMITH magazine in May of 2006, and was completed as a hardbound graphic novel that was published in November of last year. The book tells the story of video blogger extraordinaire Jimmy Burns. In the story, Burns is thrown into the spotlight after he happens to capture a New York City terrorist attack with his live-streaming video camera. He soon finds himself reporting from Iraq as the newest addition to the fictional cable news outlet, Global News Network.
After arriving in Baghdad, Burns quickly finds himself enmeshed with the terrorist cell, Sword of Mohammed, as both Burns and Lappe explore the possible root causes behind the War on Terror. Along the way, he encounters not only lust, but love as well. He discovers first hand what propels the mainstream media's thirst for coverage in a war-torn Iraq, and legendary journalist Dan Rather makes a special cameo as a sort of mentor for the fresh-faced Burns.
Like any good graphic novel, Shooting War left me turning page after page in one long marathon session before I finally devoured its satisfying ending. It's an entertaining book, but it's also informative and filled with interesting predictions for where things may be headed. Goldman's graphic approach to the story is simultaneously classic and hyper-modern; the art was composed digitally, and like V for Vendetta, it is arguably an artistic evolution in comic art.
Perhaps the most interesting element of Shooting War is its depiction of US foreign relations in 2011, and the predictions that Anthony makes about what the future may hold. Some of these predictions have been covered in other publications in the past; Lappe told Gothamist in January that the ground-based offensive robots in the book are called TALONs and really do exist. "Actually, what we use in the book are souped-up versions of actual models. I'm not sure if they've actually been deployed but they've been testing them and I'm sure there'll be out there soon."
But what I find most compelling now that John McCain has a very real chance of becoming our next president, is how Lappe envisions the future of Iraq under a McCain presidency. It hasn't received much attention lately, but Senator McCain is one of the few congresspeople who have a son or daughter serving in the armed forces. Jimmy McCain, the Senator's youngest son, enlisted in the US Marines Corps in the summer of 2006. Coincidentally, although TIME broke the story on July 30th, 2006, it was Shooting War that first suggested Jimmy McCain would become a Marine in a pane first published a full month earlier on June 28th.
According to Anthony, the impetus for including Jimmy McCain in the story came from a friend of his who served in Iraq.
He's pretty pissed off that more politicians' kids aren't over there. When I wrote it, Jimmy McCain hadn't enlisted yet. So it was a pretty eerie feeling to read he had joined the marines one month after I had . I'm not sure I would have included the plot point in there if he was actually in the military at the time of writing.
When I asked him about his various predictions in the book, he was quick to point out that, "while [he] took into account where [he] thought things were headed, many, if not most, of the book's plot points were written for dramatic or comedic effect and not meant to reflect [his] "predictions" of the future in any meaningful way." He continued, "In other words, I'm more idiot than savant here. Which is why it's so eerie that so many of the plot elements (big and small) have come to pass."
As it turns out, Anthony Lappe didn't select McCain as president when he set out to write Shooting War in the spring of 2006 because he thought he was the most likely to win.
I picked McCain, not because I thought he had the best shot, but because of the literary possibilities inherent in having a Vietnam vet trapped in a war he can't figure out how to end. He, like Dan Rather, who made a cameo in the web comic and then becomes a major character in the book, fascinates me as a character. He's got this famously short temper, which scares many members of his own party, and seems to actually hate politics, yet he has been in Washington for decades. When his son is kidnapped, and presumably suffers the same fate, or worse, than he did in 'Nam, it creates a sort of perfect emotional storm that sends the already volatile old soldier off the deep end.
While the literary qualities of a President McCain overseeing operations in Iraq and the irony of him having to essentially take the same path his father did when the Senator was a POW in Vietnam, are both executed well in Shooting War, I was curious how Anthony Lappe felt Iraq might play out following the big showdown in November.
In the short-term there may not be big difference between a McCain presidency and an Obama or Clinton one when it comes to Iraq. While Obama and Clinton have pledged immediate withdrawals, the overall U.S. military presence will remain and the war will grind on unless there is a dramatically different course taken that involves challenging the entire notion of our military industrial complex as a force for change in the world. And I don't see either doing that. In fact, a gradual withdrawal, over the course of a presidential term, might in fact be more perilous than one that takes incremental steps and doesn't radically revaluate how we deal with the world in the post-Cold War, and post 9/11 era. Each candidates' foreign policy advisors (Holbroke, Brzezinski, for instance), are made up of what you could call liberal hawks - old hands who fundamentally believe in America's 'right and duty' to be the world's lone superpower. (For more see: http://www.gnn.tv/articles/3514/Behind_Obama_and_Clinton)
In Shooting War some things have changed, but some remain very much the same. The United States is still stuck in a quagmire in Iraq and it seems quite accurate that no matter who wins the presidential race that may, in fact, be the case come 2011, when Shooting War takes place.
The book is not only a critical look at the war itself, but also the media who cover it. Global News Network is a fictional network that hires a videoblogger to supplement their coverage; the idea is still a stretch, but television stations such as Al Gore's Current have made a considerable effort to recruit journalists from outside the professional sphere.
As it happens, when Gore first set out to build his new network, he spoke to Anthony Lappe and his partners at the Guerrilla News Network, or GNN, about what a new cable television news network might look like. While I don't think Current was quite what Lappe envisioned, I asked Anthony what inspired him to create the fictional Global News Network after I noticed that Global News and Anthony's own project share the same initials, GNN.
Though Anthony points out that GNN is just a play on words and that Guerrilla News has no plans to move into the television network business, he does say that "I think an American version of al Jazeera, which combines the rabid nationalism of Lou Dobbs and the "extreme video" of shows like Spike's Most Amazing Videos," ... could make it on TV, imho. I just don't have $100 million to launch it."
The idea behind Global News is that when the Bush wing of the GOP goes into decline (or hibernation) Fox News' ratings go with them. Already you're seeing Fox being outflanked by CNN and Fox's personalities taking hits in popularity and influence. Same goes with Rush Limbaugh and the other radio hosts who appeared to have hitched themselves to the wrong horse and will pay the price. But of all of the "predictions," Global News was more of joke than something I think could actually happen. It's just too expensive...
For many, the issues conveyed in Shooting War: Iraq, corporate media, and citizen journalism, seem boring or inaccessible. And while comic books are not a panacea to American ignorance, Shooting War does provide an entertaining avenue to explore critical issues facing our world today. Though film will always be the most compelling medium, Anthony Lappe's writing and Dan Goldman's art should remind all of us that graphic novels have the potential to captivate an audience's attention when nothing else seems to do the trick.
To preview Shooting War, visit the original web comic as presented by SMITH magazine. For those in the New York area, Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman will be presenting at the New York Public Library Midtown branch on Tuesday, February 12 at 6:30PM on the 6th floor.