A year ago, just as dubya's first wave of warmongering was taking hold, a hysterically funny bit of Net-based satire began popping up in e-mail in-boxes.David Rees's Get Your War On cartoon was created because, in the designer's words, he "was depressed about the newly launched bombing campaign in Afghanistan." The scathing strip features a handful of suit-wearing office drones chatting on the phone, skewering Bush's war with lines like "Operation: Enduring Freedom is in the motherfucking house!" and "Hey, buddy, how are you enduring your freedom?" and "Operation: Whatever the fuck crazy-ass name they come up with for the Iraq war is in the house!"
Rees sent out the link (www.mnftiu.cc/) to a few pals. Now, a year later, more than 24 million people have checked out the ongoing strip. Its success, and how it got there, says a lot about the Internet and dissent in today's climate.
Get Your War On debuted at a time when talking back and raising questions was as close to treason as you could get in the United States. Even in the online world, that notoriously free-spirited arena where everything goes and people speak their minds on just about anything, critical response to Bush's War On Terror was muted.
Get Your War On became an instant cult classic because no one else was saying anything, and because what Rees was saying was stoopidly funny. The 15 installations so far have nailed the mood amongst those even slightly suspicious and critical. Rees himself probably got his phone tapped for his effort, and to those tired of White House press briefings he became something of a hero.
A new cartoon would lead to dozens of e-mails with the special link attached. E-mail allowed friends to turn each other on to the strip at the click of a key, but it was Rees's brilliant idea of posting the comic online, putting up a new installation every few weeks, that spoke to the potential of the Internet.
What should have been an open venue for free debate and critical thought was, at least in the months following last September, largely co-opted by the larger war-happy rhetoric. That that was shattered by an American, and a New Yorker at that, was simply too good.
Now, a year after Get Your War On first appeared, and with new material all around him, the strip has made the transition from Net-only strip to proper paper book. The Get Your War On hardcover is available, and Rees is on a book tour. The strip has also turned from idle satire to a bona fide charity; Rees is raising money through the site for land-mine detection teams in Iraq.
It's more respectable, but that's never what he was aiming for. And as this new war heats up, here's hoping Rees keeps working himself into a lather.