Thursday, January 03, 2008

Review: Shooting War

This webcomic-turned-graphic novel about the Iraq War follows the misadventures of vlogger Jimmy Burns, after a freak coverage of an explosion in New York places him at the forefront of shock journalism, he is hired by an exploitative news network and sent to Iraq, where he finds himself submerged in a cesspool of "Jesus and Jihad maniacs" left and right.

I have heard of this one casually on TV, and I have so far read the unedited free eleven chapters online on the website, as an Iraqi, I came naturally expecting some gloss oversights in the depiction of my beloved Mesopotamia, after all, the comic would most likely not try to burden its intended audience with unnecessary details about the culture and nature of the conflict, and this being a comic book, exaggeration and tampering in favor of action and excitement is the norm, right?

Wrong. First of all, this is not a comic book ; it's a graphic novel. And graphic novels as such, exemplified by the Pulitzer-winning standards set forth by Art Spiegelman's Maus, stem from the their ability to present somber realism in an abstract perspective, indeed, the Iraq war is not devoid of elements worthy of a frenzy "clusterfuck" narration as the comic calls it, but rather unfortunately, this novel fails on the single most important area where it could count.

Like many tongue-in-cheek works about war (think Joe Haldeman's The Forever War), the only dialog this novel knows is one steeped in deadpan humor, the depiction of "Greenest Place of all of Muhammed's Green Earth" is dystopia as best as it can get, there are a lot of interesting depictions of developments in blogging, media, American presidency (John McCain), and Tom Cruise's personal life, this is all well and dandy so far.

Unlike the guys who wrote this comic, I've reserved an hour and researched them, the Internet says that Anthony Lappe, the main showrunner, claims he drew upon his experiences while he worked in the Iraq war zone, one thing's for sure, this Lappe guy doesn't get out much ; for a novel that's supposed to cut the bullshit to a minimum, this effort is laughable. Okay, so I might be willing to forgive the stereotypical condescending portrayal of every Iraqi with a traditional attire like some Gulf country, hell, even the commonplace Hollywod insult will go by me just fine ("Ice is civillization", declared proudly by the uber-cool Burns to a poor Iraqi receptionist, only he's wearing a Pakistani outfit :) ), add to that the only good Iraqi character is the educated Westernized woman, another ancient "compromise" character right out of the "hey, I didn't say you're all bad"; but this "scary smart" novel started to make me laugh for all the unintended reasons at the horribly ignorant and contrived plot ; apparently, as soon as he sets foot in Iraq, our hero is kidnapped by a terrorist group near Anbar, called the Swords of Muhammed, led by Che Guevara with a Keffiyeh, your run-of-the-mill megalomaniac ultra-villian, this is all okay, except for one huge error ; this group is Shiite! Har Har, okay, let's forgive this minor slip for the sake of the general drive, but by the time you are bombared by lines such as : "The Badr militia is going to target the Green Zone with Qassam rockets." You start to question the intelligence of all those comments that praise this "real as it gets" drama, okay, I'll be even more considerate of your South Carolina Teen ideas about the world and would accept all this if there was any good story in sight, but there's nothing here you haven't seen before, the only appeal of this story lies at its ability to depict reality, when you see that it's nothing but a random exploitation of current events written by somebody who clearly knows nothing about the topic, you only sigh and wonder if Americans will ever learn from their mistakes, this comic clearly commits the same error Dubya and his hungry compatriots it so loathes did, it think it knows everything. If that's all not bad enough, it is clearly Islamophobic, what is there to say about a comic which believes that both Shia and Sunni Muslims are a single monolithic entity that so feverishly wants to spread its religion over the evil West so that every woman and child are part of its holy jihad. Indeed, those stereotypes were as much contributed to by our beloved terrorists than it did by the west, but you'd hope for something much more real from this "all-out" novel than frustrated Sunni Moroccans recruited from France to carry out an operation for the Shiite Badr brigade with Iranian passports?! okay, so they are really part of the Swords of Muhammed group, unfortunately, that one is Shia too, and it operates in Anbar and condemns the massacres of Haditha, Najaf, and Falluja. So much for your clever twist, and novel.


Lynnette In Minnesota said...'d hope for something much more real from this "all-out" novel than frustrated Moroccans recruited from France to carry out an operation for Badr brigade with Iranian passports?! only they are really part of the Swords of Muhammed Shiite group which operates in Anbar and condemns the massacres of Haditha, Najaf, and Falluja.

What? What? So what's your point?

Sorry, I couldn't resist. :)'s nothing but a random exploitation of current events

You forgot the "to make money" part. Accuracy is not always a requirement. If you want cultural accuracy there should be more books written by Iraqis, or those that have already been written should be translated into English. ;)

lelly said...

Hey Kid, great blog,
"There are no civillians in Iraq."
Yikes.Its scary to think there are some people who actuallty think like that.
I watched the trailer and it seemed like utter shite to me.

Don Cox said...

It sounds as though this production is pretty bad. But it is extremely difficult to grasp the complexity of culture and motivation in a country that is not your own. I bet a graphic novel about the USA produced in Iraq by Iraqis who have never been to America would likewise be full of laughable blunders. _____ Now, when are we going to see the growth of an Iraqi comics and graphic novels movement? Preferably with both English and Arabic versions. There must be some good Iraqi artists, and we know from the blogs that there are many top class Iraqi writers. But are there any publishing companies (or even printers) in Iraq these days?

Konfused Kid said...

Maybe so Don Cox, but this guy claims to have been to Iraq. I wouldn't mind as much if the plot was not integral to the appeal of the story. but it's only driving power is because the average American would think he's reading a tense, real interpretation of what's going on the ground.

As I told Anthony Lappe, his plot is like a plot about a Neo-Nazi group trying to unite Germans and Russians.

chamblee54 said...

Thanks for taking the time to review this work.
It is tough to tell in America what is going on in Iraq. Part of the surge strategy is to say we are winning. I am tired of the lies, but wonder if anyone in our press is telling the truth.
As for the people wondering where the Iraqi cartoonists are...could it be they are struggling to stay alive, and don't have time to draw?

nadia n said...

I don't know "graphic novelists" ie Speigelman and Sacco take their shit pretty seriously and actually research their subject matter. This just sounds like pulp crap entertainment.

Have you read Pride of Baghdad?

AltWorlder said...

Just finished flipping through the print version at a book store (I've read the online version twice already). I'm glad that someone online realizes how laughably exploitative Shooting War is. It tries to paint a near-future dystopia using edgy hipster internet buzzwords and slicky imagery, but it comes out looking ridiculous and ignorant. I'd still recommend you check out the book, if for nothing but for the entire story. (At one point they visit the Iraqi woman's family- turns out they're of the Iraqi Communist Party- and there's a teacher there instructing a bunch of kids on Mao Zedong with big propaganda posters!)

Hope Lippe responds to you.

programmer craig said...

Hey, man, it could be worse! My mother still doesn't know the difference between Iranians and Arabs. She seriously doesn't. Sometimes, you just have to say "WTF!?" to yourself, and move on.

I bet if you send the guy an e-mail with your criticisms, he'll be so flattered that an actual Iraqi read his work that he'll take your comments into account.

CMAR II said...

[programmer craig] Hey, man, it could be worse! My mother still doesn't know the difference between Iranians and Arabs. She seriously doesn't.

humph! How often have I read certain Iraqi bloggers refer to Maliki's government as "Iranian" and speak of newly empowered Iraqi Shi'a as the dominance of *Persian* mullahs.

Iraqis sometimes deliberately screw-up tribal, ethnic, and sectarian designations for ideological purposes.

In this case, I think the writers created a "parallel universe" in order to keep the story from favoring one Iraqi sect over another and keep the recriminations squarely on the US. Iraqis in this story must remain victims who had representative democracy inflicted on them (the story's presumption: "their culture doesn't need it, nor do they want it").

But they did it all quite badly. It differences between the real world and their comic book world are so slight (but not subtle) that it merely confuses the uninformed and frustrates the rest.

Caesar of Pentra said...

Hey, kiddo! I haven't seen that yet!

onix said...

i would just call it propaganda.
obvious propaganda to prepare usian kids for a war that could (still) be. Usians are not going to admit they are a bunch of morons themselves, not even after leaving, so perhaps this is what is supposed to be the tone set by then.

Anonymous said...

Anthony, the author of Shooting War, here. First off, this blog isn't a review of the book. The blogger hasn't read it. It's a review of the web comic, which is the first part of the story of what became the book. So it's really disingenuous to say this is a review of "Shooting War" - when I make it perfectly clear on the web site that the web comic is not the complete work. Secondly, there are numerous errors in this "review" which I alerted the blogger of, and it's very frustrating that he hasn't changed the blog. For one, the Sword of Mohammed is not a Shiite group. He makes an incorrect inference. The book doesn't presume Muslims to be a monolithic whole. The Sword of Mohammed, like other Arab nationalist groups before it, is trying to unite the Arab world against the west. It's not supposed to be based on reality, or any actual group. There are numerous other errors in this short blog. For instance, he claims that the book portrays Iraqis in turbans. It does not. The workers in the W Hotel Baghdadm, like most of the Green Zone workers, are South Asian. So that's just flat out wrong. Finally, the fact the book doesn't show any "real" Iraqis is part of the larger critique of the media in the book, and is addressed in the storyline. He might get that point if he read the book which I had my publisher send him instead of posting this misleading and factually-challenged blog. I encourage everyone to read it for themselves before judging it (and me) on the basis of this ill-informed and presumptuous blogger (even if he is from Iraq). You don't have to buy it (get it from your local library). Thanks for your time. A.L.

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