DAVID REES speaking at the Koffler Institute of Pharmaceutical Management (569 Spadina), tonight (Thursday, April 3), 8 pm, free. 416-978-7989.
Like the various michael moore screeds and George Bush cut-ups now raiding your inbox, Get Your War On started very small but spread like a virus around the planet. Not bad for a project conceived drunkHalfway through a bottle of bourbon and depressed about America's war in Afghanistan, Brooklyn cartoonist David Rees took his anger to the Web. After downloading some banal clip art of office workers talking on the phone, he added captions about the inanity of the war on terror. "Operation: Enduring Freedom is in the motherfucking house!," shouted one character, "Yes! Operation: Enduring Our Freedom To Bomb The Living Fuck Out Of You is in the house!!!"
Rees put the dark drawings up on his Web site and word quickly spread. It was hard to open your e-mail without getting at least one or two links a day to www.getyourwaron.com. Within a month, he was a Web star.
"Get Your War On wasn't the first time I'd made a profanity-filled clip-art comic," Rees explains from Brooklyn, "but it was the first one that actually dealt with current events. I was so frustrated with the fact that after the shock and awe of September 11, it became more obvious that we were going to retaliate somehow.
"Once the bombing campaign started in Afghanistan, no one seemed that concerned with it. Nothing was addressing what I thought was the compounded horror of what was going to happen to the people there. This was the cartoon I wished I could open up the newspaper and read alongside Garfield or Peanuts. It looked like a regular cartoon, but the tone was very harsh."
What allowed Rees to vent, at least beyond the confines of his apartment, was the Web.
"I only posted the strip on the Web because I didn't know what else to do with it," Rees laughs. "I sent it to 10 friends and they forwarded it to their friends, and now a year and a half later it's turned into this huge thing.
"With the Web, I didn't have to go through an editor who would probably have told me to tone down the language and the message. The other great thing about the Internet is that it's so immediate. I started making Get Your War On within 48 hours of the bombing of Afghanistan, so within a couple of days here was this series of cartoons about it. In print, that would have been impossible.
"Within 72 hours it was massive. Within two weeks it had been seen by hundreds of thousands of people. My in-box was just crammed with people from around the world trying to get in touch. People wrote to tell me it was the first time they'd laughed since September 11."
Get Your War On also turned out to be one of the rare projects that actually moved beyond the Web and survives. The book of the same name has raised more than $30,000 for land-mine removers in Afghanistan, and Rees is currently penning an original strip for Rolling Stone.
With the U.S. now in a different war, he has continued to update the site, offering typically scathing commentary on the Iraq situation. He's also been saddled with the role of unofficial decoder of American foreign policy.
"People really expect me to talk about stuff I'm not qualified to talk about," a baffled Rees says. "CNN called and asked if I could go on some show called Showdown In Iraq or something. They wanted me to be one of their pundits, and I was like, "Fuck no.'
"There are enough blowhards in the American media talking about shit they don't understand." firstname.lastname@example.org