"Army@Love" presents a world engaged in a protracted war in the Middle East, but this very real war is marketed more like a game and sexual trysts.
In the recently launched Vertigo series "Army@Love," we find a nation five years in the future that's involved in a long, protracted war in the Middle East. Things aren't going well for coalition forces – casualties are up, morale is down, everything's pretty much gone about as bad as can be – but the creation of a "Motivation and Morale" (MoMo) program has changed all that. Casualties are down, recruiting is seeing a surge, enemy kills are up and public perception has swung into the positive realm. For the soldiers in the field, the war has become almost a game. As they're tasked with bringing stability to the region, MoMo does everything they can to distract the soldiers from the ugliness of war – whether they be allowing soldiers to carry cell phones so they can keep in constant contact with families at home, throwing wild late night parties or actively encouraging enlisted men and women to engage in sexual encounters, sometimes while under fire. All war is surreal, but this one sets a new high mark.
As a satire of the current war in Iraq, writer/artist Rick Veitch's new ongoing series can at times be surprisingly accurate, while equally damming and humorous. By taking the insanity of this battle and pushing it to its limits, Veitch makes the fictional war more real, bringing you closer to the characters he's created. The experience of reading "Army@Love" is made even more real when you put down the first issue and go to your favorite news site to read the headlines, only to find they're not too different than what you just read in the comic.
The DC/Vertigo series launched last week and has thus far been received with great critical acclaim, including an editorial this past weekend in the LA Times by Pulitzer Prize winning critic Dan O'Neil. With the series now available for all to read, CBR News spoke with Veitch to discuss the themes he explored in the first issue and to get a look at what's to come next from the series.
Rick, thanks for speaking with me today. First off, let's talk about reaction to the book thus far – what have you been hearing from readers or seen online?
It got a lot more play right out of the gate than I was expecting! I especially like those sites that gave it the gang review treatment. Offering four or five perspectives in one article means you get the whole spectrum of response, which I like. DC just sent me some good reviews we got from Variety and Entertainment Weekly. But my favorite is one someone sent me from a fan site that said "Army@Love" is so weird its as culturally bizarre as "Prez." That warmed the cockles of my heart.
Now, we live in politically and culturally sensitive times. You could go so far as to say we live in overly sensitive times, for sure. There's a lot of concern from pretty much all corners that American soldiers be treated with as much respect and support as possible as they continue to fight the war in Iraq. How much concern, if any, did you get from the higher ups at DC Comics/Vertigo about that respect for our men and women in uniform? What kind of discussions have you had in that regard?
Are we talking about real sensitivity, or just the never ending mudslinging that goes on between the extreme right and left wings? I'm sick of those guys using the internet to turn every film, novel, comic book and work of art into a football for their cultural wars. It's precisely because of that situation that I feel the need to tell stories that break the mold.
No one in America disrespects the soldiers who are over there giving their all. What's happened is America has lost belief in its leadership; the slippery guys who started and sold us this war on their ginned up intelligence. People are finally seeing through the political crock they've been fed. Even the neo-cons are jumping ship after the way the war was bungled. That change in attitude, more than anything else, makes me feel patriotic.
Sure, there are political overtones and undertones to the series, but they are meant to be cautionary more than anything else. "Army@Love" is a fantasy, set five years into an imaginary future. It's about what might happen if we don't change course.
In the editorial at the back of "Army@Love" #1, you have an excellent Lenny Bruce quote about satire being tragedy plus time. With the war in Iraq and Afghanistan still ongoing and not improving, this is an interesting time to launch a satirical series like "Army@Love." Why do you think the public at large, well, at least the comics collecting community, is ready for a satire about a war that we see in the nightly news? Frankly, it seems to me that launching it now actually lends greater impact to the series.
I think there's a new humor paradigm evolving that takes hot button issues and plays them as farce. When it works, like it did with the "Borat" film, you not only laugh your ass off but you start thinking about these intractable problems the world is facing in a fresh way. That's the power of satire; to crack open questionable ideas that have become enshrined in our conventional wisdom. What you're shooting for is an in-your-face antidote to propaganda and programming.
You're presenting some pretty wild and controversial ideas and themes in "Army@Love" –the Hot Zone Club, a Motivation and Morale group that encourages sexual behavior, war presented to troops more as a game than as the life threatening event it is, rampant infidelity, etc. What kind of push back have you had from DC, if any, regarding the content in "Army@Love?" Are there any areas you necessarily have to stay away from?
Nothing yet. Just the opposite in fact, as both Karen and Pornsak have pushed me to make the covers wilder and more comedic. I'd started with the fashion ad/ recruitment poster parody on #1 and on the second cover they asked me to push the concept out a little more; to bring in another humorous element. That's why I added the poodle.
For that matter, is there a line you won't cross in this series? What is too much for you?
You don't want to know the answer to that question, Jonah. Trust me.
Sounds like we're in for a wild ride.
Now, as social satire, "Army@Love" is a biting commentary on both current popular culture, sexual mores and the war in Iraq. Now, while it's satirically based, there's a good amount of truth in what your writing. As you've been mapping out the series and the situations to be depicted, are you finding news reports in the real world that resemble what you've had planned? How fine a line is their between fiction and reality with "Army@Love?"
Funny you should ask, because a couple of days ago I saw a real fashion ad for Von Dutch clothing and accessories that could have been on the cover of "Army@Love." It had the hot babe oozing sex in a military context, uniform unbuttoned to display her cleavage. But with no sense of irony, unfortunately.
And I picked up a recent issue of "Playboy" that featured a nude pictorial of a female drill sergeant.
So I'm thinking maybe I'm not as far ahead of the curve of absurdity as I thought on this one.
In "Army@Love," you're exploring the idea of infidelity as an option to basically keep you sane under extreme circumstances. Basically, everyone seems to be screwing like mad in this book, but it's not presented just for prurient reasons. Talk about the use of infidelity -- something that's a concern in our own society today -- as a story element and what it brings to your story.
I wouldn't say the sexual angle in the comic reflects how people really deal with relationships. "Army@Love" is a fictional story set, not only in a war, but also in that peculiar soap opera dimension where everyone is on the prowl and having affairs with everyone else. We're talking farce, here.
I'm making a point, I hope, about how media portrays sexuality in an exaggerated way, mixing it with consumerism; especially to the young. But I'm also exploring the new freedom to show people coupling in Mature Readers titles. I'm trying to do sexual relations in a humorous, natural way without the horror, depravity and demento elements that seem to be part and parcel of today's comics.
In the book we have this robot, Roy, that seems to be keeping an eye on everybody for the higher ups back home. The Secretary also mentioned something about "Big Finger" -- what more can you tell us about Roy and why he wouldn't address so many of the questions posed to it and what is Big Finger exactly?
Big Finger isn't all that original. I mean, just about every piece of futurist genre fiction features an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-organizing computer presence. In this case, though, I think we're not that far from seeing these kinds of systems in reality. Big Finger is lurking in and peaking out of every nodule on the world network; including battlefield robots like Roy. It's programmed to auto-intuit where the enemy will strike and coordinate drones and other attack systems. The problem is the military based Big Finger on Windows so its always crashing.
The blue screen of death in combat is a very bad thing indeed.
Allright, let's get a more fannish question out here -- there's a lot of interesting moments and ideas presented in issue #1, the Hot Zone Club being my favorite thus far. What's your favorite part of issue #1?
Loman, the guy with the closet full of money, is my favorite. All the characters have come alive in my imagination, but Loman has grown into the most original and interesting of the bunch.
Talk a bit about how you approach creating this series. Are you doing scripts first, then art, or the other way around?
I write a full "shooting script" which Karen and Pornsak read and comment on. I'll develop the story further as I pencil the book, streamlining the writing and getting it more in sync with the graphics. Once the pencils are done, I'll rewrite the final script for the lettering, although there is usually time for another polishing when proofing.
Gary Erskine and Jose Villarubia bring a lot to this book. Gary's doing some incredible work inking over your highly detailed pencils and Jose's color palette includes some surprising choices – bright, vibrant colors where readers might expect a more muted tone. First, talk a bit about what Gary does with your art and why he's the right guy to be inking you.
Gary's incredible. He's got that manic level of detail to his inking that works perfectly for a war comic; especially one like this that pokes fun at the whole gun fetish thing. I'm one of those guys that secretly wants to be Russ Heath, but who, of course, will never attain that level. Gary cleans and tightens me so that I get a little closer to the ideal. He's incredibly fast, too. I don't know how he does it.
Then talk a bit about working with Jose –did you specify this bright color palette or is this something he came to you with? What does this high contrast of color bring to the story?
What Jose does best is create emotion with his color. I really dug those scenes in the ruins in the beginning of the first issue where the room is dark gray and the sky is bright yellow. Somehow it conveyed the sadness of this once beautiful landscape blown to shit, you know? Very simple and evocative while adding great depth of feeling, which is the mark of a true artist.
Healey and the Motivation & Morale unit are the part of the book that have most interested me thus far. How much more backstory do you have worked up for this group? How far are they willing to go and how deeply corrupt are they?
Issue #2 will provide a clearer and more detailed background into Motivation & Morale. It's a group that's evolved out of corporate marketing strategists, run by middle management types. They're not so much corrupt in the comic book villain sense. They're more ambitious and venal in an everyday human sense.
The story's conceit is that the government has made such a mess of things that they have had to turn to professional marketers to rebrand the war, just like a consumer product. And that's what MoMo does.
Where will you be taking readers with issue #2 and beyond? What's next for "Army@Love?"
The real draw for "Army@Love," I hope, will be the characters. It's a sprawling cast and there's a complex web of relationships that is revealed more and more each issue. Each scene in which characters appear, offers new tidbits into their background. Tall caught on a runaway train style plot, where things get nuttier and nuttier, and how they respond to that is, hopefully, part of their appeal.
You've just seen the tip of the iceberg in #1. DC's just gone live with the www.armyatlove.com web site which includes a constantly updated graph of who's diddling who and why.