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Clip Anarchy

Cartoonist David Rees has waged a war with three drawings and a lot of profanity.

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A lot of careers are ending in January. The president's, for one; his cabinet; some senators; David Rees. The last is a cartoonist, a cultural-immune response to the global mismanagement of the Bush administration.

Rees created a comic after 9/11 called “Get Your War On,” an online strip made up entirely of office-worker clip art and vulgarities. Its outsized, profanity-filled response to the war in Afghanistan made Rees a viral success. He collected his comics in books and toured bookstores and bars, reading the work from an overhead projector.

Seven years later, Rees is 36, living in Beacon, N.Y., a commuter-train ride from Manhattan. He's come a long way with this administration and he's ready to hang it up. Maybe not doing comics altogether, just with this series. Before it elevated him to prominence, Rees did “My New Fighting Technique is Unstoppable,” a clip-art comic about karate -- people promising one another trips in an ambulance and long-winded ass kickings. Occasionally someone walks into someone else's foot. After that was “My New Filing Technique is Unstoppable,” a prototype for GYWO, as insiders call the series, minus the violent distaste for government policy. He made those two into chapbooks and distributed. The series was a late addition to his Web site when it struck a chord, as they say.

Seven years later, Rees has other, weirder comics; other, weirder Web sites. The GYWO comics made it to “Rolling Stone.” And they've transcended their single-image existence: They're now short animated features on www.236.com -- they walk and talk, but are still racked by paranoia and ignorance. Rees says he's glad to leave it all behind; he's been right often enough, and besides, he has a top-secret project he's working on.

 

Style: You're about to put out another book.

Rees: The book is out now in all the stores. … This is the third and final “Get Your War On” book and it includes all the best material from the first two books. So if you have the first two books you should destroy them and buy this book.

 

How does the new administration affect the way you approach social commentary?

Well, I will never have to do it with the new administration. I'm just gonna leave. I'm gonna retire with Bush. He and I have been e-mailing about all our plans.

 

Oh have you.

We are really gonna raise some eyebrows, let's just say that.

 

But no, um…

You thought the White Stripes were a good musical duo, you just wait.

 

Wow. Wow. I can really see something. Well and I kinda wondered what he would do afterward.

He'll be washtub bass and I will be keyboards.

 

Hey that's good. Will you branch out and do the supergroup like the Raconteurs, that kind of thing? I guess it's too early to say.

We'd have to see how the first LP does, the first EP. We're gonna record it, he's got a private studio in Crawford -- a lot of space, just a nice vibe, nice big acoustic room. You know, you … get some of that room sound in the mix. And just lay down some tracks, and try to get on Warped Tour next summer, and hopefully people will come out.

 

What's next?

Well, I'm working on a book proposal: nonpolitical, noncartoon. It's a book that I hope will be very absurd and ironic but also inspirational.

 

What's it about?

Mmm … basically some top-secret shit.

 

Let me ask you about the progression of the comics, or the digression.

“Fighting Technique” was the first comic I made … that was pre-War on Terror. I even started that back in the 20th century.

 

Wow.

That was pre-Y2K.

 

Damn.

So that was the original thing. And then after “Fighting Technique” came “Filing Technique.” And then after “Filing Technique” came “Get Your War On.” So I was already working in the medium of profane clip-art cartooning before “Get Your War On.” And then I just thought it made a lot of sense to use those office images and all that foul language to have the characters talk about foreign policy.

 

And so where in the hell does this other comic, “Adventures of the Confessions of Saint Augustine Bear,” come in?

The actual true story of how that came about was, I was reading “The Confessions” and I'd just bought a new clip-art collection of like hunting clip-art, like wildlife and hunting .... And I had booked a gig reading comics at a bar, and I was about to send out an e-mail announcement about it that morning and I thought, Ah, I'm sick of reading the same old comics, I'm gonna make up a brand new comic. I'll send out the announcement with the title of the comic and then I'll have like eight hours to actually make it. And those two books were literally just lying on my desk and I thought, Oh, I'll just do a little mash-up of the clip art images and “The Confessions.”

 

That's really one of the weirdest things I've ever read. It's really bizarre and kind of disturbing.

The funny thing about having multiple series going at the same time … “Get Your War On” is the one that gets the most attention and actually pays the bills. But every so often, I'll get e-mails from people like, “God, I'm so sick of your political cartoon. When are you gonna update the bear?” Or, there's another strip called “Relationshapes,” it's just like geometric shapes talking about really personal, uncomfortable feelings. And that has a little crew of hardcore supporters who are like, “Uh, it's been a year, when are you gonna do more ‘Relationshapes’? No one cares about the other comics.” That kind of thing.

 

Using only clip art, you set these limitations on your work.

I always try to do that, because I get overwhelmed if there's no rules and there's endless possibility. I like being really, really boxed in and just having as much fun in the box as you can. I think thinking outside the box is bullshit. I think you should always be in a box. And just make the most of the box!

So clip art to me was great … 'cause then I could focus on what was appealing to me about comics, which was just the jokes and the world and the dialogue.

What I'm gonna be doing at [Gallery5] is the entire history of the War on Terror in 30 minutes or less, told entirely through profane clip art comics.

 

Nice.

It will be a roller-coaster ride of pleasure and horror.

 

Does it kind of disappoint you, running out of material with Bush's departure?

That's like the running joke among people in social satire, like if the world's totally fucked up, makes our job easy …. The whole way I'm pitching this [last collection] to audiences is like, look through this book, I basically called it, right from the get-go: The War on Terror is a dumb idea (I called it), invading Iraq was a dumb idea (I called that), not reconstructing Afghanistan is a dumb idea (I called it). So on the one hand, I kind of take perverse pleasure in feeling like I was right and I've kind of been vindicated by history. On the other hand, that kind of means the world is totally fucked up because it actually conformed to my pessimistic view of it.

 

Are you doing a tour, an East Coast tour?

I actually just like Ward [Tefft, of Chop Suey Books], and I really like Richmond, and so I'm basically just driving from upstate New York straight to Richmond, seven-hour drive, to do this event. And then I'll stop off in D.C. and do an event the next night and then just drive back up. So it's not really a tour, it's just me wanting to do one last thing in Richmond cause I've always had such a nice time.

 

Chop Suey Books brings David Rees to Richmond one last time for an overhead transparency recitation of his war, “Get Your War On: The Definitive Account of the War on Terror: 2001-2008” Saturday, Nov. 22, at 7 p.m. at Gallery5, 200 W. Marshall St. Free. 422-8066.

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