Graphic Novel Fires on the Culture at Will One day Jimmy Burns was video blogging in Brooklyn. The next, he was landing in Baghdad.
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Graphic Novel Fires on the Culture at Will

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Graphic Novel Fires on the Culture at Will

Graphic Novel Fires on the Culture at Will

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All right. But first, I need you all to put on your imaginary hats. Imagine it's the year 2011; John McCain is president; the Iraq War has raged on for eight years; there have been two more terrorist attacks on U.S. soil; and Tom Cruise has just split from Mary Kate Olsen.


Oh, I was pulling for them too.

STEWART: I know. Meantime, all three networks have dropped their evening newscast, and a new cable network has been born. Its mandate: to scare the Jesus out of viewers 24/7.

Now a young video blogger named Jimmy Burns happens to video a tape a terrorist attack on a Starbucks in hipster Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He gets swept up by the new cable channel, shipped to Iraq, where he sees firsthand the brutality of war, a media-savvy terrorist and the danger of believing the hype about the war and about himself.

That's the premise of a new book called "Shooting War." Sounds like a daunting read. But, you know, it's really not. It's this vividly laid-out graphic novel written by journalist Anthony Lappe and illustrated by Dan Goldman. It's in the stores today. And they're in studio right now.

Good morning, you guys.

Mr. ANTHONY LAPPE (Writer, "Shooting War"): Hey, Alison. How it's going?

Mr. DAN GOLDMAN (Illustrator, "Shooting War"): Good morning.

STEWART: Full disclosure. Anthony and I worked together years and years ago. Old friends.

Mr. LAPPE: Yes.

STEWART: So I'll attempt to interview you objectively.

Mr. LAPPE: All right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: The book started as an online comic, is that right? What was the original comic like, and how did it morph into this novel?

Mr. LAPPE: Well, it sort of set the story off. It's beginning of the story we launched as a bi-weekly Web comic. It was serialized, you know, not unlike a regular comic that you read in the newspaper. And it had just sort of gained momentum, and then we turned it into a book.

STEWART: Was it always about Jimmy and this…

Mr. LAPPE: Yes.

STEWART: …dilemma he finds himself in?

Mr. LAPPE: Yup. It's sort of about this everyday kid, a blogger who thinks he's all got it figured out. You know, probably like a lot of bloggers out there. And he ends up sort of in the wrong place at the wrong time when this terrorist blows up Starbucks. And the next thing he knows, he's on a Blackhawk helicopter flying into Baghdad, and it's about him trying to figure out, really, what it takes to be a real journalist, a war correspondent.

SMITH: As a serial comic, did you know where it was going all along, or were you just making it up week by week?

Mr. LAPPE: It's a good question. I'd like…

Mr. GOLDMAN: I would say we're probably like roughly six days ahead of ourselves at any one chapter. And the Web comic part of it was really from the hip. It was great because when we finished our run on Smith magazine, and we were sort of looking at what the novel was going to be. You know, how we were going to, you know, sort of reassemble or massage the - what we - with the episodes that we had. The story was already laid out. All you had to do is just sort of look past - I mean, it was basically like act one and two were already written.

Mr. LAPPE: It was sort of - we also were able to get a lot of direct feedback from the readers. So for instance, I put in Dan Rather makes a cameo in the Web comic and people flipped out. Oh, man. I love Dan Rather. He's still over there trying to, you know, resurrect his career. So we brought back Dan for the book and really turned him into this kind of Obi Wan Kenobi character for Jimmy Burns, our lead character.

STEWART: And his, you know, his whole courage and, you know, the bombs are flying like firecrackers in Kansas City on July 5th.

Mr. LAPPE: Exactly.

STEWART: All those good Dan Rather-isms(ph). You know, you start out as a comic, I would think that the writer in you might want to say - not to take you out of the process, Dan - hey, I'm going to make a novel out of this or a novella. Why did you decide to stick with the graphic novel as your device?

Mr. LAPPE: Well, first of all, a novel is a lot more words, Alison.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Yes, that's true.

Mr. LAPPE: So, I brought in - it's really, you know, cheap labor. I brought in Dan to, you know, to actually help me tell the story. No, actually, I did this as a graphic novel because you're able to really say so much more with the images than you can, I think, writing it as a novel. And I brought in Dan, who does all those work digitally. He just takes, actually, sourced photos and even took images from the documentary I did in Iraq called "Battleground" and turned it into this kind of hyper-real, half-comic, half-photo realism type of thing. So it really worked out exactly what I was, you know, looking for.

STEWART: Dan, I want to ask you about that process because it's really effective using the sort of the classic, hard-edge lines of graphic novels and then the photos. Is it something you've stumbled, on or how did you develop this process?

Mr. GOLDMAN: It's something that I've been working on, I would say, for about five years - off and on. And you know, it just kind of gets better and better the more you do it. But I think I figured it out, you know, about five years ago.

When I made the jump to digital, it was obvious that I had found, you know, my instrument. And from there, it was just a matter of sort of figuring out my style and how, you know, how to develop it to, you know, what should it more become.

STEWART: How did you make your choices about what to use and what not to use? Because there's obviously - there's a lot of violence in the book.

Mr. GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, the most important thing for me is to do - I mean, as the artist of the story is to do the story service and, you know, the better you tell it, the better the whole thing becomes. So for me, it was important to make choices that would squeeze as much drama as possible and kind of nail those moments. You know, not even necessarily the violence. But I think, like there's some really poignant stuff between Jimmy and Dan Rather and, you know, some moments like that with Samira(ph) that are important to nail those as much as to nail all the pretty explosions.

STEWART: Samira is the Iraqi fixer.

Mr. GOLDMAN: Yeah.

STEWART: Right? Okay. So before I have you read a passage, I've got to ask. In this book, there is all kinds of logos. There is Starbucks, there is McDonald's slapped on everything. You've got a very clear depiction of Anderson Cooper and Bill O'Reilly and Dan Rather.

How did you get away with that? Is that an issue?

Mr. GOLDMAN: No. It's a satire.


Mr. GOLDMAN: This is the First Amendment is protected here in the United States, I'd like to think.

STEWART: Just curious, just curious.

Mr. GOLDMAN: I hope.

SMITH: Did your writers agree?

Mr. GOLDMAN: They did. They did.

STEWART: (Unintelligible). So let's - this is a blog entry from Jimmy Burns. And I think this is when he first gets to Iraq. Is that the first paragraph? Could you read that? Just people to get a sense of…

Mr. LAPPE: Yes.

STEWART: …what he's going through

Mr. LAPPE: This is Jimmy Burns just after he's arrived. The title of this blog is "Into The Belly of the Beast."

(Reading) I picked a brilliant time to head into the belly of the beast. Back home, the oil crisis is just heading its crescendo after the U.S. and Israel hid Iran's nukes. The mullahs teamed up with the Islamic junta in Nigeria and Chavez in Venezuela to cut off oil to the West. The oil facilities in Saudi Arabia were still under daily attack. Gas hit $8 a gallon, and the U.S. economy spiraled in recession. Everyone - left, right and middle - screaming to get out of Iraq, but McCain appears trapped. The enduring bases were built to endure. Too much blood have been spilt now to give it all away now. The hawks squawked like tone-deaf parrots.

STEWART: Something about - I'm curious about the - creating this future world, where McCain is president, and it's 105 degrees in May in New York City. Did you - was that purely imagination, or did you talk to researchers about what could happen, what could become politically about our world?

Mr. LAPPE: Well, I surely didn't talk to pollsters.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LAPPE: Well, I picked McCain as president because it was more of a metaphor about Vietnam and about him. I love the idea of McCain being this vet and then being stuck in a war that he can't get out of. But no, I didn't really do any scientific research to come up with all the concepts. But I did really try to -a lot of the other scenarios in terms of terrorist bombings in U.S. soil. All those things were things that I just sort of imagined were going to be happening in 2011.

STEWART: Dan, what was the hardest thing for you to represent in the book visually?

Mr. GOLDMAN: Oh, that's easy. There's a shot where Jimmy is in the hospital. It's really similar to what was just - what was just in the film "Redacted," where Jimmy goes to the hospital and there's a massacre, and he decides to shoot the faces of all these Iraqi children that have been killed and they're all real children. And I spent a lot of time on this spread, and it was really upsetting.

Mr. LAPPE: But I'd like to add. It's actually - it's a satire. It's funny.

STEWART: So there are very, very funny parts to it, definitely.

Mr. LAPPE: I don't want to bum people out too early in the morning.

Mr. GOLDMAN: No, it's an action movie, too, you know?

STEWART: Yeah. And some of the funniest parts about it are the elbows that you give to the mainstream media. Is that based on your personal experience? Is that just something you observed?

Mr. LAPPE: Yeah. I mean I've worked sort of both inside and very far outside the mainstream media. So it is based, actually, a lot on my own experience working inside the belly of the beast, as you might call it. But it also has lot of other of my friends of mine who worked inside the mainstream. People like yourself, who have been there and worked for big news organizations. So it's sort of a combination of a lot of different things.

STEWART: Who did you think is the audience for this book? Because as I'm reading it, you really need to understand what's going on, politically. And you need to know the difference between Shia and Sunni and different parts of Iraq and what the Kurds are up to.

Mr. GOLDMAN: Right. I think the audience is actually pretty broad. I mean, anybody who is reading a newspaper - and I don't really feel like "Shooting War" is geared towards just comic fans or just news heads. I think it really cuts a broad swath, you know?

Mr. LAPPE: Yeah. I actually never really read comics before. And we really did this as something that you'll look at and pick it up and really want to read, even if you don't read comics. Probably, listeners of this show - I would say -are our exact demographic.


Mr. GOLDMAN: Yeah.

Mr. LAPPE: People who want something a little different. It's sort of the people who, you know, really see "The Daily Show," for instance, as a place for, you know, truth.

Mr. GOLDMAN: The only sane perspective, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: All right. Cheesy final question. What do you hope people take away from your book? But it's a good question.

Mr. LAPPE: Yeah, it is a good question. It's - you know, well, this is our first interview of our U.S. launch. It's probably a question I should have answer. But I don't want to tell people what they should - I really don't. I want people to read this and take away what they want. I want people to be entertained, but we also make a lot of big points about the mainstream media and also the rise of this new citizen journalism in bloggers and the intersection of both those, and where our foreign policy is heading us. So what those things are, I'd like people to make a decision for themselves.

STEWART: How about you, Dan?

Mr. GOLDMAN: I want people to walk away saying, wow, a comic never took me quite to that place before.

STEWART: Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman. Their new novel is "Shooting War." It's in stores today. You guys are doing a reading in New York City tonight and then you're out on book tour. We'll put the list on our Web site - in our blog -where you guys will be.

Mr. LAPPE: Excellent. Thank you so much.

Mr. GOLDMAN: Awesome.

STEWART: Have a happy holiday, you guys.

Mr. GOLDMAN: Thank you. You too.

STEWART: And thanks for coming in in real life.

Mr. LAPPE: Thanks, Alison.

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