Thursday, February 21, 2008

Interview with Sean Michael Wilson - Writer : Iraq Operation Corporate Takeover

First off the post says I posted it, but that is all I did. Lee contacted Sean and then did a two part interview which is all cobbled together here.

I liked to thank Sean Michael Wilson for taking the time to do this interview.

Lee: Why this book, this story? What was the inspiration behind it.
Sean: The book IRAQ: OPERATION CORPORATE TAKEOVER came about because I wanted to do comics beyond the normal superhero type stuff. It’s part of my interest to broaden the range of things that comic books are about, also because it’s more interesting for me. So it means I have worked with non-comic book companies before. I knew about War on Want (WoW) and approached them to see if they wanted to use the comic book format to promote their campaigns. They do great work in highlighting poverty and its causes in various countries. The campaign man there, Nick Dearden, thought it a great idea, which is a credit to his insightful attitude. So we picked on their Corporations and Conflict' campaign and decide to do a book about how these corporations are taking advantage of the situation in Iraq.

Lee: You state 'Based on the extensive research' and on the ground contacts of War on Want, can you describe your research process any better? If I wanted to follow-up on the ideas in the book, is there a way I can retrace your steps?
Sean: War on Want produces reports that highlight various causes of poverty around the world as part of their campaigns to fight the root causes of poverty around the world. So of course they have a large system of connections to people in Iraq, like the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions and other organizations. The info in the book is all based on the reports that WoW have done, which are made in association with those various groups on the ground. So all I had to do was read those reports, select with WoW what info to put in the speech balloons and captions, they checked it for accuracy and updated it to the latest situation. You can check their website for those reports if you want to follow the research info. See and for more information

Lee: You state the book is neutral in the statements it makes and conclusions it draws but, War on Want appears to be a fairly 'liberal' (is that the right word?) group. Was there a concern their politics would steer the creative process of the book? Was WoW looking for a message to be pushed?
Sean:Well, 'liberal' means a different thing in the UK to what is does in the USA. Liberals are actually those in the middle of the political spectrum, and have been since the late 19thC. I am curious to know why the word 'liberal' became thought of as meaning left wing in the USA. Anyway, the main campaign function of the comic is to expose the role that corporations play in fuelling conflict, which is a real and very serious obstacle to alleviating poverty in the world today, and which is one of War on Want's main campaign strands and a current issue. For example, Blackwater, one of the Private Military and Security Companies mentioned in the comic has been in the UK national headlines a lot recently where they have been implicated in human rights abuses in Iraq. Also the Oil Law in Iraq is very topical at the moment as natural resources are very important for the future of any country and the subsequent wealth or poverty of its people. So the comic is educational and is bringing together information that many people would find informative and interesting... though as you say, some will think of it as being 'preachy'. But since there is so much right wing propaganda out there everyday, I think there is a need for more from the left. As to it steering the creative process it was not much of a burden. I think we got the balance quite good between the need to put the info in and making the characters and situations engaging. There IS some dialogue that sounds too much like quoting facts and figures, but there is also some really good natural sounding stuff too. About the political side of the book: Actually I think the book is quite moderate in its approach. Everything is based on factual research (which is not to say the facts of such research were 100% true, but at least the statements in the book are based on a real effort at accuracy, they are not just opinion). We did not specifically attack the war or mention about death totals or show scenes of slaughter/bombings etc (all things easy to do and that would affect the reader emotionally). Instead we see small scale things, everyday problems from the point of view of one young man as he discovered them. The story 'Brought to light', by Alan Moore is a far more heavy handed attack on a similar target (CIA to be precise). Which is a good and necessary thing in my view. The whole idea of attacking a book because it has a political message is a waste of time and missing the important issue. It seems to be based on the idea that politics is like karaoke, its a sectioned off thing you go into special sound proof rooms to do, so it doesn't affect the rest of your life. But politics is more like the air we breathe, its all around us everyday, getting into everything. So if agencies like the CIA, big corporations, the police etc are doing various thing to push forward a right wing agenda then it’s important for people with different ideas on how the world should be run to voice them. It’s that simple. We should focus on the issues raised, not waste energy criticizing a book for having political ideas in it. The only point of criticism I can see as valid is: does the info ruin the enjoyment and interest of reading it as a comic book? If it does then it’s a failure on MY part mostly, since I’m the writer. But I think we carry the balance quite well in our Iraq book.

Lee: About the Comic Book side of the book. How did you hook up with Artist?
Sean: I met Lee first in the Bristol Comic Expo in the UK, and decided we wanted to work together sometime. But nowadays I meet most of my colleagues online first, which saves me having to buy them drinks!

Lee: How did you find comics? Or did comics find you?
Sean: I've loved comics since I was a boy, as is often the case for comic book creators - the seeds of it are planted early. That is an important point because it means there is some kind of continuity in your life, to have this art form or interest that has been with you for 20, 30, 40 years, right back since you were 7 or whatever age. It’s kind of helpful psychologically. It seems many people are working at something that they maybe were steered into, without much deep interest, way after childhood, at the age of 20 or 25. Then they just do that work without any real interest in it, and it’s their hobbies after that keep them going psychologically. That’s the thing that really motivates them. But for me I am working in a field that I have loved since I was a little boy, so it helps keep me focused and happy.

Lee: What comics are you currently reading?
Sean: Recently: Macedonia by Harvey Pekar and Heather Roberson (now there is comic with A LOT of political info!); Epileptic by David B, Brought to Light written by Alan Moore and Joyce Brabner; Abandon the old in Tokyo by Yoshihiro Tatsumi; Shakespeare's Henry V comic book adaptation published by Classical comics (I work for them too) with my pal Neill Cameron doing pencils; Judge Dredd Origins book, Joe Sacco's Safe area Gorazde; League of extraordinary gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill...all good stuff!

Lee: What are your other current projects?
Sean: I have written two adaptations of classic books for the Classical comics publisher I mentioned, the first one is A Christmas Carol which is being drawn now. Presently I am writing a third one for them. My first Japanese language manga is coming out next month available on mobile phone, which is big business in Japan. I am also working with a Japanese artist on a new book. Then I have two other stories on the go, MOON MAGICK which I basically a supernatural/ESP story set in Japan (also with a Japanese artist). Then QUEST OF THE EAST is with a well known Chinese artist, and it my first mainstream fantasy type story. Lastly, I want to do an autobiographical book called ONCE UPON A TIME IN MORNINGSIDE (which the area of Edinburgh that I grew up in).

Again thanks Sean. The book that we reviewed and talked about is a very good book and really worth your time to seek out and read it. I actually think that it is an important book as it highlights things that maybe you are not aware of or only have thought of in passing.

Finally a big thanks to Lee for doing the interview. I have badgered Lee for awhile to do an interview and the reason is that Lee, Gwen and I all bring a different viewpoint to our work and that makes Lee's interview unique from Gwen's or mine and that is a good thing.

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