In the comic strip, two cubicle-bound office workers are talking by telephone. "Oh my God, this War on Terrorism is gonna rule," crows one. "I can't wait until the war is over and there's no more terrorism!"
"I know!" blares the friend. "Remember when the U.S. had a drug problem and then we declared a War on Drugs, and now you can't buy drugs anymore? It'll be just like that!"
Toto, we're not in "Dilbert" anymore. Instead, these corporate clones populate "Get Your War On," the online comic that uses cut-rate clip-art characters -- refugees from some long-lost language textbook -- to riff on Osama bin Laden, Bush and bombing Afghanistan, often using words not fit for a kid's comic book.
In the process, "GYWO" has turned its creator, a New York temp worker named David Rees, 30, into something of a celebrity. His sites -- www.mnftiu.cc and www.getyourwaron.com -- have logged some 25 million hits in the past year, according to Newsweek, and the strips have been compiled into a just-released "Get Your War On" book (Soft Skull Press) with an introduction from respected author Colson Whitehead.
Now, Rees is getting his surprise on. He still can't believe his strip, made for a few friends as catharsis for his unease in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks and the onset of the war in Afghanistan, has resonated with so many people.
"I made the initial series of eight comics a few days after [the bombing of] Afghanistan. I was depressed and upset about a number of things," he recalls by phone from San Francisco during his book tour. "I put them up on a Web site and sent the link to my friends, and they started spreading it around. Within two weeks, it was one of the most popular sites on the Internet."
What sets "GYWO" apart from its comic contemporaries is its use of using old-fashioned clip art -- all-Middle America, 1950s stiff -- as a platform for 21st-century anxiety, often delivered in co-opted hip-hop lingo ("Operation Enduring Freedom is in the house!")
Rees also does two nonpolitical clip art comics on his site: "My New Fighting Technique Is Unstoppable" and "My New Filing Technique Is Unstoppable." He says the style evolved out of necessity: As a freelance fact-checker for the likes of Maxim and Martha Stewart, he found using clip art the easiest way to slam out strips between assignments.
For "GYWO," "I tried to get the most banal clip art I had so they would be these empty icons into which I could dump these anxieties," he explains. "There's this jarring moment that, once you invest in it and read it, it's, 'Oh my God, these people are saying really extreme things.' "
Reaction to the strip has been generally positive, though at least one letter-writer has called him a communist. On the book tour, most of the people who went to meet him were "kinda what I thought. Some of them are people my age and my background, liberal-arts-educated white kids who share a similar sense of humor." Others, he says, are "old hippies wondering how they can engage the youngsters; and there are just random people who like the comic. No one has been really strange or crazy to me."
With talk of war with Iraq hanging in the air, it would seem that the cartoonist would be amped up for more "War." But Rees, who finds himself updating the "GYWO" site less frequently these days, is not all that interested. "If I can think of a way to address that, I will, but I don't want to just have these guys yelling back at each other over the next 10 wars in the next 50 years," he explains.
Instead, Rees -- married this summer and a member of a rock band called the Skeleton Killers -- would rather concentrate on where his proceeds from the book are going: to Adopt-a-Minefield, an organization that removes land mines. "I was going to give it to September 11 charities, but I had some knowledge of where that money was being distributed and that was not reassuring," he says.
So, though he's enjoying the spotlight, it's back to the Big Apple and, maybe, temp work. "I will certainly have no money when I get back to New York," he says. "I can squeak by until the New Year, but in January I have to figure out what I'm going to do."
(c)2003, The Miami Herald