With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 fast approaching, there will be a lot of looks back, some fond, some heartbreaking… And then there will be “The Big Lie,” a comic book by Rick Veitch and Gary Erskine that finds a scientist traveling back in time to the day itself in order to stop the disaster. And while there, she finds out that maybe the truth isn’t as clear cut as she thought.
From the cover – which shows Uncle Sam waving a flag behind the burning Twin Towers – to the logline – Truther comic! – Veitch, no stranger to controversy, seems ready to push the country’s buttons once again. But knowing that the writer has tackled the subject in a raw, heartbreaking manner in his beautiful graphic novel “Can’t Get No,” and satirically in the Vertigo series “Army@Love,” we also know that Veitch isn’t courting controversy for controversy’s sake… Or is he? To find out more, we chatted with Veitch about the book, why it’s the right time to tell this story, and how Uncle Sam turns it into an episode of The Twilight Zone:
MTV Geek: Rick, let’s talk about The Big Lie… Right off the bat, the cover seems to be courting controversy. What’s your thought process on this?
Rick Veitch: The very best thought process there is, Alex! I sat back and let Thomas Yeates handle the cover. I think he’s done a splendid job of catching people’s attention with it, too.
Geek: The content certainly isn’t going to calm down those flames too much… Can you give us a summary of what the book is about?
RV: It’s a time travel drama about a scientist from 2011 returning to the morning of 9/11 to save her husband. She has to convince some skeptical people that the attack is imminent.
Geek: You actually tackled 9/11 before in “Can’t Get No,” which dealt with the tragedy more personally. How does that contrast with “The Big Lie?’
RV: In the “Can’t Get No” graphic novel I focused on one man’s experience of 9/11, looking at it through a poetic lens. “The Big Lie” is much more straightforward storytelling with a broader meta-view.
Geek: And has your opinion on 9/11 changed at all since writing that book?
RV: My opinion started to change when the Bush administration pushed for the invasion of Iraq. I was really angry how that went down, what it meant for America and what it meant for all the civilians caught in the crossfire. I started paying attention to the questions that had been raised about 9/11 then. When Thomas Yeates asked Gary Erskine and I to do the book, I researched the subject more in-depth. There’s a lot of disinformation to cut through, but I’m convinced a real investigation is needed.
Geek: And you’ve certainly been critical of America and the military/industrial complex before, most recently in “Army@Love.” Same sort of question, how does that book compare to The Big Lie?
RV: I’m an unrepentant underground cartoonist so pretty much everything I do looks askance at the military industrial complex. Just can’t help myself after living through the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, Iran Contra and all the other big lies that came unraveled. “Army@Love” was much more comedic and freewheeling. The criticism wasn’t as overt. It was built into how crazy the system was. Catch 22 and Doctor Strangelove used the same technique.
Geek: Given that you’ve run the gamut from earnest exploration, to outright satire, does The Big Lie fall closer to one or the other?
RV: It’s obviously more “propaganda” than those other approaches. Using comics to present a political point of view. My art is usually as far from the realm of propaganda as I can possibly make it. But sometimes, especially for a situation like this, I like to wield it.
Geek: For people who lived through 9/11, even the suggestion of a time travel story can raise their bile a bit… Can you calm them a bit; or maybe rile them up even more?
RV: “The Big Lie” isn’t disrespectful or wise-ass in any way. It’s just the opposite; though not in the jingoistic way the subject has been handled by the media over the last decade.
Geek: This certainly doesn’t seem like a book that would have worked – or been taken seriously at all – soon after 9/11. Do you think enough time has passed? Or to put that another way, why is this the right time to release The Big Lie?
RV: Thomas Yeates not only did the cover, but he conceived of and edited THE BIG LIE. He and I have been talking about doing it for three years or more. When we saw the tenth anniversary was coming up it we stopped talking and started working.
Geek: Let’s talk specifics… When you call this a Truther book, how much is “9/11 was a lie!” versus, “Maybe just all of the facts aren’t out there.”
RV: It’s not a strident approach. We didn’t include any of the far out scenarios. But we do discuss what happened in the wake of the attacks. The character through which we learn the facts is unsure what to believe herself.
Geek: What about your main character, what’s her motivation and journey like over the course of the book?
RV: She wants to save her husband and all the other victims.
Geek: You’ve chosen Uncle Sam as your narrator… Why was that important? What context and tone does that add to things?
RV: Thomas came up with the idea of using Uncle Sam and in fact drew the inside shots of him along with the cover. Old Sam’s obviously got a feisty no-non-sense patriotism, that we think is sorely needed these days. He also signals the reader that this is a form of story they are familiar with. It’s told like an episode of the TWILIGHT ZONE. I was seeing it as one of those character actor ensemble pieces that show did so well. Uncle Sam fills in for Rod Serling.
Geek: What about the other characters? Who are we going to meet there?
RV: Our scientist from the future, Sandra, has a husband who works in the North Tower. He’s part of a high-powered risk management consulting company. They deal with security, military and political issues. When Sandra shows up and warns them of the attack, they refuse to believe her. She has to debate them as the clock ticks.
Geek: You’re also, beyond referencing real events, also name-dropping some very big people in the first few pages. But at the same time, it’s a time travel story. Do you think this is more fantasy wish fulfillment, or a realistic story with elements of scifi? Or something else?
RV: It’s a drama that carries a lot of information within its dialogue. It’s meant to entertain but also enlighten. Sort of like how Cameron did “TITANIC”.
Geek: Can’t wait for the Celine Dion song for this! Just to ask this… “The Big Lie” was a phrase famously coined by Adolf Hitler when writing Mein Kampf… Ummm… Care to comment on that?
RV: Leave it to that douchebag to accuse the Jews of the same crimes he would one day gleefully commit while launching the Second World War. Since then, there’s been some usage of the term to describe a certain totalitarianism of belief, from George Orwell to Frank Zappa. That’s what I was going for here. That and I thought “The Big Lie” had a real “comic book” feel to it.
Geek: Just to bring it back around, I’m guessing a lot of people are going to come out and say you’re doing this just to get attention. With a long career of pushing the envelope, I’m guessing that’s not necessarily true, but end of the day, what buttons do you want this book to push?
RV: People on the internet say all kinds of nonsense. Polarized extremes have taken over the on-line debate about everything. Most reasonable people avoid reading or taking part in on-line political discussion. It’s to those sensible folks we want to say: “Hey! There are major questions that were left unanswered.”
The Big Lie will be released by Image Comics on September 7th. You can check out more of Veitch’s art and work on his website, http://www.rickveitch.com/.
Read a preview of The Big Lie below: