I read The Big Lie

16 Dec

by Mike Hansen

The Big Lie coverOkay, things are going to get political for a minute here.

I thought today’s report that a major paper owned by the King of Right-Wing America (Rupert Murdoch) advocates one of the major arguments of the Joker of Left-Wing America (Michael Moore) in his film Fahrenheit 9/11 – that there is compelling evidence that the Bush administration ensured that a number of Saudis and bin Laden relatives were safely escorted out of the U.S. in the wake of the 9/11 attacks – made today a good time to talk about a comic book that makes me really uncomfortable.

There are few comics that I’ve been truly embarrassed to have bought (Holy Terror being chief among them), but Rick Veitch’s The Big Lie comes closer than most. It came out in September 2011, “commemorating” the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by advocating an already-debunked conspiracy theory that explosives helped bring down three World Trade Center buildings.

The Big Lie p13

The best conspiracies mix in plenty of truth to sound more convincing…

Julian Darius at Sequart has already written what I consider the definitive review of this work, so click over there and check it out. Then check out these cool pages of outtakes from The Big Lie on Rick Veitch’s website.

What makes me so squirmy about The Big Lie is that it’s a very well-done story, heavily inspired by 1950s horror and sci-fi EC Comics like Tales from the Crypt and Weird Science, with terrific artwork by Veitch and inker Gary Erskine (who did admirable work together on Veitch’s Army@Love a few years ago). But the story is just one piece of a propaganda package: the credits page cherry-picks quotes about 9/11 to suggest that this particular (likely nonexistent) conspiracy was covered up; there’s an ad for a Truther documentary film (one of many produced in the last 13 years); there’s another page created by a Truther group seemingly designed by people who create pamphlets for religious cults (with LOTS OF BOLD AND CAPITALIZED STATEMENTS); and there’s an almost-impossible-to-read list of the victims of the 9/11 attacks on the back cover: probably intended as tribute, but in this context appears to me as tasteless at best.

Fortunately, this is a short, self-contained work: Veitch understands the power and energy of short, focused stories. Had this been stretched to novel-length, it would have likely been dreadful and unbearably boring. Even with its tight focus, it comes across as shrill and preachy, bordering on insulting (Veitch’s Uncle Sam is not a polite host of this tale, referring to those who don’t buy into this conspiracy as “plain folks” who “fall…for the shuck-and-jive”).

Perhaps it’s not the best idea for me to revisit this comic and possibly draw more attention to it; two years after its release it has been generally forgotten. But it stands to me as an example that even the greatest talents can find themselves blinded by their passions and produce work of dubious merit.

The Big Lie p19

Veitch does an amazing job with his layouts and balloon placements to easily lead the reader’s eye.

A lot has changed in America in the last 13+ years; I think it’s safe to say the country hasn’t been this polarized since the 1960s. It’s unquestionable that the 9/11 attacks created a distortion in Americans’ perspectives for a long time, even as the global economy tanked. But despite all of the bad (a bloated and inefficient Homeland Security and spying apparatus) there’s also been a lot of good: chiefly, an unprecendented level of awareness among U.S. and global citizens of the problems we face (thanks in big part to the uncensored internet) and, more importantly, the many solutions for them – heck even Germany, the loudest pro-austerity voice of the last several years, is implementing a minimum wage for the first time! Thinking about this current era of our history doesn’t create anxiety or P.T.S.D. in me; it gives me hope for a better future. In order to make things better, one has to think about uncomfortable, even dangerous ideas – and I’ll give the creators of The Big Lie credit for addressing some very uncomfortable thoughts, even if they got the wrong message from them.

Veitch and his co-conspirators (Erskine, cover artist/editor Thomas Yeates) have all produced great work in the past: Veitch with Brat Pack, The Maximortal, and Swamp Thing (among others), Erskine with Knights of Pendragon, Yeates on various non-superhero pulp stories (most recently Tarzan last year). But Veitch has practically disappeared from the comics landscape since The Big Lie was released – which is a shame, because he has a unique voice and, despite this misstep, deserves a platform for his work. I hope these creators can see beyond the distorted tunnel-vision and despair that led them to this project, and I hope they use their still-significant talents to produce more work of lasting value.

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