Edward Robertson: There is a quote attributed
to you that says "Anyone who takes the time to
draw a comic by hand is a maniac." Did you ever
think of being a maniac prior to getting started
in the strips?
David Rees: I drew cartoons by hand for
years, starting in middle school and continuing
through college. I didn't like how long it took,
and since I'm left-handed I always got ink all
over my hand and smudged the drawings, which drove
me bonkers. So I farmed out all the art-making
to Microsoft PowerPoint clip art (personally rendered
by Bill Gates, I heard) and, later, to Dover Publications
clip art. That meant I had more time free for
writing the dialogue and watching TV and eating
chips and cheese, which is my real passion.
Edward Robertson: During those years when you
were still hand drawing, did you think comics
were something you were going to "do", or was
it just a hobby until you were free from the ink?
David Rees: Cartooning was always a hobby.
If I ever hoped to make a living being creative,
it was to be a professional indie-rock musician.
That particular dream died a thousand deaths.
Edward Robertson: You're still involved
in a band though, right?
David Rees: No, my band broke up years
ago. I haven't been performing music. In fact,
I have a gig on Tuesday (1/30) that will be my
first music gig in three years.
Edward Robertson: Are you getting going
on a whole new band, or is this just a one-time
David Rees: I'm performing solo acoustic
singer/songwriter stuff...very short songs (like
ninety seconds each). I'm opening for famous internet
singer Jonathan Coulton.
Edward Robertson: Is your stuff somewhat similar lyrics-wise? I've heard a few of his songs, and they were fairly amusing...
David Rees: My songs are less amusing
and more abstract. Also, shorter.
Edward Robertson: Is working in two different
mediums a challenge? In terms of finding time,
David Rees: Actually, I work in six different
1. Cartoons (this takes approximately two minutes
2. Music (forty-five minutes per day.)
3. Television watching (three hours per day.)
4. Ice-cube sculpture, ie micro-sculptures of
D&D characters in ice cubes (twenty minutes per
5. Mud-slingin' painting with dirt brushes and
leaves-and-branches frames (every other Saturday
in the woods.)
6. Performative levitation (two hours per day.)
Edward Robertson: Sounds rewarding—but
only three hours for TV? Do the cartoons often
write themselves, then? What's your process like?
David Rees: The cartoons do not write
themselves. However, I don't write them either.
I have a computer program I developed that generates
each week's cartoon automatically. It scans New
York Times headlines (a most liberal newspaper),
then inputs keywords into a profanity-filled "dialogue
template." The text is then dumped into a graphical
interface with three pieces of randomly selected
clip art (randomly selected from a library of
five pieces of clip art). The whole thing is then
compressed to squeeze out any remaining humor
or subtlety, and then emailed to my editors. That
gives me more free time to watch TV and cash my
fat checks...which I then spend on upgrading
my cartoon-generating supercomputer.
Edward Robertson: How did Get Your War
On get started?
David Rees: After 9/11 I wanted to read
jokes about the War on Terrorism, but I couldn't
find many I liked. So I made my own and sent the
comics to my friends. And they sent 'em to their
friends, etc. etc.
Edward Robertson: There's also a sense
of angry confusion in those jokes, like maybe
we were moving too fast to war, which wasn't exactly
a commonly-expressed sentiment a month after 9/11.
Did the response to this come as a surprise?
David Rees: I was surprised anyone other than
my friends found the comics interesting or meaningful.
But it turns out a lot of people shared the same
skepticism and mixed emotions in the fall of 2001.
I was surprised by the attention the comic received,
and I think others were surprised the comic existed.
Edward Robertson: How mixed were your
emotions about the national response? Did making
GYWO clarify them any?
David Rees: I was bothered by how little
skepticism there was about launching a "war on
terror," and how little discussion was given to
the possible humanitarian consequences of a bombing
campaign in Afghanistan. I also thought some of
Bush's "good versus evil" talk was hyperbolic—
but, again, there wasn't much skepticism about
it. I don't know if GYWO clarified my emotions,
but it felt good to express them in such a concise
way—and then, to find out that other people
shared my concerns.
Edward Robertson: The particular rhetoric
of the president and his staff seems to be one
of GYWO's focal points. What role do you think
language plays in the war on terror?
David Rees: Language is really important.
It is the only way we can figure out who's evil—
if Bush says someone is evil, then we know! Also,
words on banners are REALLY important!
Edward Robertson: How long do you see
the comic going?
David Rees: I'll stop making GYWO when
Bush leaves office.
Edward Robertson: How did you get involved
with Rolling Stone? Webcomics haven't had a ton
of success in print.
David Rees: Rolling Stone picked GYWO
as their "HOT COMIC" for 2002. They were about
to undergo a big redesign and editorial shake-up,
and they asked if I'd be interested in running
GYWO in the magazine. I said: Yes, if Lenny Kravitz
would give me a private fashion consultation.
And the rest is HISTORY!!! I HAVE AN AWESOME COLLECTION
OF BELT BUCKLES NOW.
Edward Robertson: Do you follow other
David Rees: Oh shit, there are other webcomics?
I don't really look at comics online. In fact
99% of my online time is spent hitting "refresh"
on talkingpointsmemo.com. I still think the best
web comic of all time was Leisuretown, even though
it was a bit too nihilistic for my taste.
Edward Robertson: Too nihilistic?
David Rees: Yes, it was really, really
dark. It made me a little uncomfortable, even
as I marveled at its technical excellence.
Edward Robertson: How suggestive are the
shapes in RELATIONSHAPES supposed to be?
David Rees: At first I thought it would
be good to base the dialogue on the physical properties
of the shapes...but I quickly abandoned that
idea because it would require ten seconds more
work per comic. Although, now that you bring it
up, I wonder if maybe I SHOULD return to that
idea—for instance, there was a scene in which
one shape had a sort of staircase appendage, and
that shape invited the other shape to climb up
the stairs ( I.E. CLIMB UP HIS SHAPE-BODY) if
she thought it would be comforting. That was pretty
deep, I must say. In fact, if I may continue to
say, the fact that RELATIONSHAPES has achieved
exactly 0% popularity is perplexing to me. I think
it is the most original comic I ever made. After
all, "IT'S RELATIONSHIPS FROM A NEW POINT OF VIEW...
THE POINTS OF VIEW OF MOTHERFUCKIN' GEOMETRIC
SHAPES!!!" (Relationshapes motto.)
Edward Robertson: It's a little trickier
than your other comics.
David Rees: Yeah, it's trickier because
it's like ten thousand times better. PLEASE HELP
SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT RELATIONSHAPES!!! For instance,
you could draw a big parallelogram and then ask
your friends, "What do you think this guy's inner
emotional life is like?" When their heads explode
and then their exploded eyes start weeping all
over the room, calmly double-click on a RELATIONSHAPES
comic and show them the true pathos of geometric
Edward Robertson: Do you think inner lives
should stay inner?
David Rees: It depends on who you're talking
about. For us regular people, yes—inner lives
should stay inner. But for celebrities and really
attractive people, HELL NO—those inner lives
should get as outer as possible.