David Rees caught the public's attention shortly after 9/11, when he began posting Get Your War On, a clipart based comic strip featuring cubicle employees talking on the telephone about the bombing of Afghanistan. Prior to GYWO, Rees was a relative-unknown. He'd gotten some attention while self-publishing My New Fighting Technique is Unstoppable, a comic collection that features clipart karate masters throwing kicks, punches, and profane taunts at one another. The strip was hilarious and through it, Rees gained a small following and even created a follow-up book, My New Filing Technique is Unstoppable, reapplying the same deadpan wit to the cubicle culture.
In the fall of 2001, with the advent of the war on terror, Rees's office workers really had something to talk about. David Rees imbued his clipart drones with acute insights and sarcastic voices with which to discuss U.S. policy in Afghanistan. In the first strip, posted on October 9, 2001, a mild-looking cubicle dweller sets the tone the strip: "Yes! Operation: Enduring Our Freedom To Bomb The Living F--k Out Of You is in the house!!!"
Since then, Rees's profanely acerbic figures have addressed the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction, the liberation of Iraq, and George Bush's plans to send astronauts to Mars. And their sarcastic insights have struck a chord with a large part of the population that grows increasingly concerned with the administration's actions. David Rees's following has gone beyond cult status and has netted GYWO a weekly slot in Rolling Stone Magazine, while he continues to post the comic on his website: www.mnftiu.cc.
I spoke with David Rees about his start as a comic writer, GYWO, and his charitable work in Afghanistan with the Adopt-A-Minefield program.
mf: Before all this happened, before Get Your War On, what were your aspirations? What did you want to do with your life?
David Rees: I had no idea. It's kind of bad because sometimes I'm asked to speak at schools, and in a way I kind of feel like I don't have the right message for the students. Because basically the message is, "Go to school, spend $80,000 of your parents money studying philosophy, come out without any idea of what you're going to do, kind of do some different jobs and get burnt out
Basically, I wound up in NYC, and I needed a job and my friend asked if I wanted to be a freelance fact-checker at a magazine, so I worked at a couple magazines. I just sort of stumbled into doing this cartoon business, first as a hobby and then lo and behold it started paying the bills. I always liked making comics, and before GYWO, I even liked self-publishing little comic books and selling them. And people liked the stuff, but by no means could it be a career. I mean, it wasn't financially viable until GYWO came along and drummed up a lot of publicity. That made it so I could support myself being a cartoonist.
But I didn't really have any over-arching real career goals.
mf: Have you given any thought to what you'll do once it's over?
David Rees: I don't know. I keep taking these prose-writing assignments from different people hoping that I'll discover a gift for prose, and then I can become a "real writer." But, for instance, I have a deadline for a piece due tomorrow, and I've kind of been blowing it off all day because I don't really enjoy prose writing, I guess.
I don't really know what I'm going to do. If worse comes to worse, I can go to grad school and just delay reality again.
mf: What sort of prose-writing are your doing?
David Rees: This particular assignment is a review of the new Peanuts anthology that's coming out. Fantagraphics, the comic publishing company, has a deal with Charles Schulz's estate to republish every single Peanuts strip. You know, he did it for 50 years, so they're going to be publishing 2 books each year for the next 13 years - hardcover editions - of every single peanuts strip. So I'm reviewing the first two years of material for Print Magazine, which is a graphic arts magazine.