“The best way to dominate a situation or to own it is to make a joke about it,” Rees explains. “And not to make a joke about how Osama bin Laden has sex with a camel, because that joke is not funny. You have to really dig. You have to get dark.”
The darkness that fuels Get Your War On (www.mnftiu.cc), which Rees has updated on a sporadic basis for more than a year now, is the darkness of today — of a time when you half-expect George W. Bush to “fuckin’ rip his face off and it’s gonna be Ming the Merciless up under there” or for Dick Cheney to be “the last man walking the scorched, post-apocalyptic earth.” And in exposing that darkness so directly, Rees makes it a little easier to bear.
I found it hard to do work about 9/11 and the war on terror. You not only did work, but downright hilarious work. How did you manage it?
I had to get this off my chest. Late one night I was going to update my Web site with the regular, apolitical comics, and it just struck me that I just couldn’t continue with business as usual. Since I was sitting at my computer with the clip-art open, it was like, “Hell, I’ll make the clip-art characters say what I’m actually feeling.” It wasn’t like I was sitting around thinking, “God, I have to come up with a really powerful anti-war tool.” I’m not an activist. I’m not coming from that background. But after September 11, I really had to come to terms with my own death — what felt like an imminent death — because I live in New York City.
That first night I did the strip, I was thinking to myself, “O.K., when I was in high school, my friends and I would play our little punk rock music and sing and yell about Ronald Reagan. But if there has ever been a time in my life to create something about what is happening in the world, now is that time.”
What kind of stuff had you been doing before?
Just totally, apolitical, absurdist, profanity-laden, crazy clip-art comics that don’t have anything to do with reality whatsoever. Get Your War On kept the profanity and the clip-art imagery, but I wanted to focus on what I felt were screamingly obvious truths and just express them as directly and with as much force as I could.
So after the comics went online, how long did it take before more than the dozen people you e-mailed the link were looking at the site?
Probably three or four days. I still have the bar graph that I printed out from my Web host that week. When you look at that graph, it’s just flat and then it leaps up. It was like “600,000 hits today? How do I take it down? This is too much. Am I going to get bricks thrown through my window?”
It was crazy, just crazy. This was something that was so personal and dark, I couldn’t believe so many people were getting something out of it. I got all these e-mails from people that were so personal and sincere and grateful. What I had to do was go through this shift in my mind where I said, “OK, this is no longer going to be private and personal. From now on, there is going to be an audience.”
For me, this year has been a struggle between trying to do something that’s very personal and yet knowing that a lot of people are looking to you to say what they’re feeling — that’s a lot of pressure.
When you say “a lot” of people, what’s “a lot”?
It’s really hard to tell. I got 25 million hits in the last year. But 25 million hits isn’t 25 million people. It’s probably more than a million visits to the Web site, but half those visits are probably me and my mom.
How did knowing that all of a sudden it wasn’t just you and your mom looking at the site affect the actual process itself?
For a while I don’t think it affected it much because the process itself — this rush of realizing I could say whatever I wanted, and I could make myself feel better by making this strip about how dark I had been feeling — was just so new and exciting. But after a while, I felt like the cathartic element was diminished. It was more about making another strip, so maybe I’d feel better, and a lot of other people would feel better, too.
I know they made me feel better. It felt like no one was saying the stuff you were saying. The mainstream media have become so neutered.
I don’t think neutered is the right word. You watch CNN, and they have a huge fucking hard-on for a war with Iraq! But I know what you mean. Once I started the comic and people started reading it, I felt like, “What the fuck, I’ll just keep saying it.” The whole thing to me when I started making it was to read something that I wished somebody would write. And so last fall, it was like, “O.K., I’ll say it.” Like saying, “Dick Cheney, oil industry bitch motherfucker.” It felt good.
You were saying it, but you were also able to say it in a way that exposed the absurdity of the situation.
Well, what else are you going to do, man? One of the reasons I made the strip is because people like [Vanity Fair editor] Graydon Carter would come out and say things like, “This is the end of irony, we’re entering this new phase.” They were so eager to tell us not only what was and was not appropriate in terms of a response to September 11, but what was and was not even possible. And that I found just so appalling, condescending and, frankly, un-American. I was like, “You think we can’t make a joke about it or be ironic about it? Watch me, you assholes.”