Saturday, August 11, 2007

Great New Graphic Novel Coming In November!

I love comic books. Every time I open one, it’s almost like holding a movie screen in my hands and watching the progression of action taking shape. However, lately I’ve found it hard to keep up with monthly titles. Too many of them are continued from one month to the next, stretching out least six months or more, and I only get a sense of completion twice a year. This is so the comic book companies can put out what they call “graphic novels.”

In the old days, graphic novels were illustrated stories that couldn’t be told in 22 pages (or 24 pages as when I was growing up). At that time, graphic novels were stand-alone stories that might or might not feature recurring characters.

Somewhere in there, graphic novels simply became a format for comic book companies to re-merchandise product. That form is one of the most successful in publishing these days. When comic book monthly sales were down, the sales of graphic novels were growing. Libraries picked them up. Collectors picked them up. Bookstores put them on the shelves and sold them.

And America, young and old, discovered a brand new love for the format. Graphic novels are published in all sizes these days. My nine-year-old reads pocket-sized versions of Teen Titans while I usually pick up the regular-sized editions of my favorites. If a story captures my interest and I know I will read it over and over again, and if it’s available, I buy it in hardcover.

While I was at Comic-Con in San Diego this year, I got the chance to preview a brand-new graphic novel that is a genuine exercise of the form. The actual book won’t be out until November 19, 2007.

Shooting War by Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman is absolutely amazing. Lappe is a Guerrilla News Network reporter that has provided extensive coverage of the Iraq war. He’s the author of a previous nonfiction book, True Lies, that was unflinching in its view of the existing war. Lappe isn’t a fan of how things are being handled in that part of the world, nor does he appreciate the slanted news coverage and lack of information that’s been given to the American people.

Dan Goldman co-authored Everyman: Be The People, an illustrated satire of George W. Bush’s presidency and the theft of the American dream. Goldman isn’t noted for pulling punches either.

Together, Lappe and Goldman have created a brand new graphic novel called Shooting War. The book is about a young, independent newsblogger (someone who has independent access to the Internet and specializes in covering breaking stories – which isn’t too far removed from what’s actually taking place on the Internet these days).

Set in 2011, Jimmy Burns is a sympathetic character still wrapped in innocence when he first appears on the pages. The opening scene reveals him on the front line in the Iraq warzone. We don’t yet know why he’s there.
The story cuts immediately to a time two months ago when Jimmy has his brand-new satellite-feed camera that allows him to upload to the Internet in real-time (which is a really scary thought if you think about it, and that technology is not that far off when everyone is going to Wi-Fi. This look at emerging technology is one of the things I liked about the book, and that wasn’t even a primary focus.)

Almost immediately, the action breaks loose as the Starbucks coffee shop beneath Jimmy’s apartment blows up. The art is amazing. It’s a blend of traditional comic art as well as mixed media involving photographs with computer-generated images cast over them. The visualization of the scenes lends itself to screenplay style format. (And I’ll be really surprised if someone in Hollywood doesn’t snap up the rights to this story really quickly.)

The carnage that occurs during the explosion is visceral. The way that the reaction to Jimmy’s broadcast spreads around the world is awesome. This is the way real-time video blogging would work – but only if the blogger had an audience. In the story, Jimmy’s broadcast is seized by a news conglomerate and broadcast everywhere. The whole world sees the newest terrorist attack on American soil.

The conceit used in the story is one that would happen, and has happened, in today’s world already. When something big happens, people are usually there with video recorders, digital cameras, and cell phones with image-capturing functions (the recent Barry Bonds homerun and all the amateur photographers in the stand comes immediately to mind). The American people know they can usually sell these images or digital footage to media corporations. In fact, there have been shows on television that specialized in live footage shot by amateur photographers.

Overnight, Jimmy becomes a media superstar. The news corporation, Global News, pushes Jimmy into the limelight. And that’s exactly where Jimmy wants to go. However, Jimmy isn’t prepared for what the news corporation is going to do to him. He – and we – find out that they’re not that interested in what he has to say. He’s just part of the show.

But that doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to control him. And I know that’s going to cause all sorts of problems.

The preview ends there. But this backstory is intercut with scenes from the Iraq front line where Jimmy looks haggard and desperate. I know that the authors have a political agenda with their story, and I’m fine with that. But they’re also going to be telling a coming-of-age tale that looks to be filled with adventure and heart. That’s plenty to keep me turning pages.

Although this preview is only sixteen pages long, it’s whet my appetite for the rest of the story. November can’t get here soon enough.

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