It is less than a month after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the United States government has just begun bombing Afghanistan. It’s the middle of the night in an apartment in Brooklyn and David Rees, a freelance magazine fact-checker and occasional cartoonist is trying to make sense of everything that has being going on. In his mind, a scene is playing out: a man in an office talking on the phone to a colleague. “Oh my God, this War on Terrorism is gonna rule! I can’t wait until the war is over and there’s no more terrorism!” he says. “I know! Remember when the U.S had a drug problem, and then declared a War on Drugs and now you can’t buy drugs anymore? It’ll be just like that!” his friend replies.
Reese sits down at his computer and uses Internet clip art to create the first eight strips of a comic he’s calling Get Your War On. Rees uploads the comics to his website, http://www.mnftiu.cc, and sends the URL to some friends. And they send it to some of their friends and they… well, you know how these things work. It isn’t long before the strip is everywhere. Nine or 10 days later, Rees begins to get requests from newspapers to reprint the strip.
It wasn’t something he anticipated. “A week ago it was something I made for myself in the middle of the night.” Within two weeks the site receives around five million hits.
As the popularity of Get Your War On grew, Rees decided to release a limited edition book of that collected the strips. He produced 1,000 copies of the book, which sold for $20 each. However, rather than keep the profits, Rees donated the money to Adopt-A-Minefield, a charity helping to clear mines from Afghanistan.
In February 2002, Get Your War On came to the attention of Richard Nash, publisher of Soft Skull Press. Nash received it the same way everyone else did: through a forwarded email. “Within 10 minutes I knew I wanted to publish it as a book,” Nash said. He was surprised to learn that Rees had been shopping the comic strip around trying to get it published, but had been rejected. Nash picked up the book and the Get Your War On collection was released by Soft Skull Press in fall 2002. Nash admitted that expectations were low. Rees had no sales track record and technically the book was a comic, which made retailers hesitant to order copies. However, when the book was released, it performed much better than anticipated. In just over a year, it’s sold 25,000 copies and is now in its fourth printing. Rees is donating his royalties to aid land-mine removal in Afghanistan, and Soft Skull is donating a portion of its royalties as well.
Rees also won the acclaim of his cartooning contemporaries with Get Your War On. “…David Rees’s Get Your War On is the most hilarious thing to emerge from the aftermath of 9-11,” says New York based political cartoonist Ted Rall on the Soft Skull website. “Snotty, smart and principled, Rees is a true American patriot who knows that devastating dialogue is the key to great cartooning.”
Get Your War On continues to do well for Rees. He has just turned in his twentieth strip to Rolling Stone magazine – a gig that pays his rent. He’s also got a new book coming out from Riverhead books called My New Fighting Technique Is Unstoppable.
It’s now a little over a year after September 11 and history is repeating itself. A man is sitting in his office talking on the telephone. “Oh my God, this war on Saddam Hussein is going to rule! I can’t wait till this war is over and there’s no more Iraq!” he says. “I know!” says the voice on the end of phone. “Remember when the U.S. had a terror problem and then we declared a War on Terror and now there’s no more terror anymore? It’ll be just like that!”