The subversive imagery of Micah Ian Wright Micah Ian Wright"s resume makes him seem like an unlikely Internet-age left-wing hellraiser, slinging arrows at John Ashcroft, the Bush Administration and Pyrrhic Democrats alike.
His career includes four years as an Army ranger, work on animated shows such as "The Angry Beaver," the never-aired "Constant Payne," "Invader ZIM," co-writing the animated film "Wonderful Days" (the most expensive film ever made in Korea) and scripting the McDonald"s training video "Sexual Harassment and You." Currently he is the regular writer on the comic book series "StormWatch: Team Achilles." Last year Wright created an Internet-based collection of posters parodying propaganda art past and present. The work proved to be extremely popular, and will be collected May 1 as a book, "Back the Attack: Remixed War Propaganda," with introductions by Howard Zinn and Kurt Vonnegut. Recently he discussed his career and political viewpoints with NUVO. NUVO: Army ranger to animation writer to Vonnegut-approved left-wing hellraiser - how"d that particular chain of events come about? Micah Ian Wright: I had what alcoholics call "a moment of clarity" as I gazed out over Panama City burning to the ground, Christmas 1989. I resolved to learn about what had led me there and how to avoid that type of situation in the future. NUVO: Related issue: How did the propaganda posters make the jump from WEF-thread-gone-awry to Internet superhit to printed form? Wright: I did about 30 posters for the Warren Ellis Internet forum after Warren posted some REAL World War II-inspired posters that the U.S. government was putting out. The idea that the government was going to use the anti-fascist imagery of WW2 in order to justify their war with Afghanistan struck me as funny. Once I had started making them, however, it was like eating potato chips ... I just couldn't stop. NUVO: What experiences in your background have led you to the stands you take now? Wright: Everything from being in the military and seeing a lot of nastiness in South and Central America during G.H.W. Bush's regime which never made the papers at home to working in Hollywood and being blacklisted out of animation due to unionizing a popular cable channel ... There's always something which comes along to radicalize me at just the right moment in my life. NUVO: How did Kurt Vonnegut and Howard Zinn come to lend their names to your book? What are your thoughts on having those notables backing you up? Wright: It's great ... They're two of my favorite authors. Either one of those intros would have been enough for me to last my entire life, but to get them both ... wow. My publishers showed them the Web site and they responded to the images right off, both as nostalgia and as a wry commentary on what's going on today. They're both WW2 vets, so they felt a certain affinity to the imagery, I think. NUVO: We"ve seen a serious deficiency on the part of the traditional progressives in the last couple of years; the Democratic Party seems willing to roll over a lot, and then there"s whatever the hell has happened to Bill Maher. What kind of future does the progressive movement have right now? Wright: The Democrats decided on a strange series of policies once they blew the 2002 election and Florida recount. I believe that Gore should have called for an immediate statewide recount of all votes ... the media recount bears this out, but by asking only for a partisan county recount, he appeared to be weaseling and the American people and press turned on him with a rabid viciousness. That aside, the man should have clobbered G.W. Bush in the election even more heartily than he did. The fact that he lost his own home state is humiliating and a sign of his hubris. That defeat, though, seemed to bring about a strange Pyrrhic streak in the Democrats, though. I suppose they think, "Yeah, we'll give him whatever he asks for and then when things go wrong, we'll slam him for it in the next election." I can't think of any other reason they should have rolled over and played dead on all of G.W. Bush's pet projects (tax cuts for the wealthy, bloating the Pentagon budget, war with Anyone He Wants, Homeland Security, etc). This is an idiotic strategy, though, because it makes Bush look like a Man Who Gets Stuff Done - even if it's AWFUL stuff. I've actually had people tell me, "Well, I don't agree with what he's doing, but at least it's not gridlock up on Capitol Hill any longer." Exactly ... it's not gridlock because the Dems give Bush whatever he wants, no matter how outrageous. Strip 800,000 workers of their union protections? Fine. Pick fights with Iran, Iraq, Korea, etc.? Fine. Destroy the balanced budget? Sure. Whatever you want. Then they sit back and boo-hoo-hoo when they lose the next election due to there being NO DIFFERENCE between themselves and Bush. Like I said, Pyrrhic. NUVO: What are you thoughts on other online hellions like Russell Mokhiber ("Ari & I") and David Rees ("Get Your War On")? Who else, in your view, is out there making statements that really matter? Wright: I love "Get Your War On." As for people whose stuff I read every day, you can't go wrong with Joshua Micah Marshall's online site www.talkingpointsmemo.com - he's the guy who broke the Trent Lott story and pushed it until it gained so much momentum that the mainstream press couldn't ignore it any longer. He's on a story now which is astounding ... Republican tricksters playing Election-Day games in the Northeast of the country by hiring telemarketing firms to tie up Democratic headquarters' phone lines in crucial districts. Just when you think you've heard it all, the Reps pull out something sickening like that. Only a true right-winger could conceive of marrying telemarketing and electoral sabotage. NUVO: What sorts of reactions have you been getting to your posters? Are people "getting" the humor? Wright: Eighty percent positive, 20 percent negative. Most people seem to get it ... it helps a lot if you're familiar with the originals. I had one guy write me complaining that the painting I drew of Rosie the Riveter looked like she was a lesbian. I just shook my head in sadness that some people are so unaware of their own culture. NUVO: What sorts of messages are you hoping people will carry away with them from the propaganda book? Wright: That they're not alone ... that we can affect regime change here at home ... that they need to be alert to the stealthy theft of our freedoms. That sort of thing. NUVO: Have you been influenced by other propaganda satire, such as the many submissions you got when you first started this on the Warren Ellis forum? Will the book feature any posters by anyone besides yourself? Wright: Ehhn ... I try not to be. Occasionally, I'll see a funny editorial cartoon which sums up an issue in a clear, concise funny way and I'll try to incorporate that theme in a poster. Editorial cartoons and advertising are the closest cousins to what I'm doing ... the original posters were all created by admen of the 1940s. I get a LOT of admiring e-mail from advertising professionals who love my copy sense. NUVO: On the comics end: The reaction to the anti-superhero notions of "StormWatch: Team Achilles" has been well documented, especially after the recent crossover with the "Authority." What kind of reactions have you been getting regarding the political subtext, which you've described as "left-wing subversion masquerading as right-wing fascism"? Wright: Well, No. 7 was the crucial issue ... it really laid out one vision of the team's political agenda. I got so much hate mail after that issue that it's difficult to understand that these people don't understand that it's all fiction. I mean, it's comic books, not the real world, but some people HATE having real life intrude on their spandex-suited power fantasies. NUVO: With the march to war seeming ever more aggressive and no end in sight to the War on Terror, what, in your mind, can be done now by the opposition? Wright: Drive George Bush from office. That's it. He doesn't care what we say, he doesn't care how often we demonstrate or how loudly we agitate. If he has his way, we'll all be in camps within the next few years, so the only thing we can do is to hold him accountable for his failures and to remind our fellow citizens of his complicity in those failures. He sheds blame VERY WELL ... and now all he has to do is put out an Orange Alert and his approval ratings jump 7 percent. He ran one of those on the morning of the last election ... is it any wonder that all the scared soccer moms of America ran out to vote for Republican candidates when there's an Osama under every bed? We can't allow him to get away with this culture of manufactured fear when it comes to 2004. NUVO: Aside from the propaganda book and what we can hope is a long run on "StormWatch: Team Achilles," what else can we look forward to from you in the future? Is there still any chance at all of "Constant Payne" on the airwaves? Wright: "Constant Payne" is dead as far as TV goes ... I have hopes of someday making it into a film. In comics, I have a few unannounced projects coming out, but you'll hear more about them as we get into convention season. NUVO: And now, our series of either/or non sequiturs: "I was the fellow who wrote the story about the guy in the grocery store who kills a woman with a can of peaches." True life story or wild revenge fantasy? (Referring to an anecdote on his Web site.) Wright: Oh, fiction only ... it was a college writing assignment. I had two semesters of creative writing with the incomparable Terry McMillan right as she was on the cusp of major fame. We had an assignment to write about food, so I first wrote about a woman who is killed by a can of peaches flying forward from her bag after she was in a car accident, but I changed it at the last minute for some reason. I think because they car accident story was real and had just been on the news weeks earlier and I didn't want to seem like I was taking advantage of her misfortune to get material. NUVO: Cassandre: Great ad artist without a hint of intentional subtext or subversively creepy guy? (Cassandre was an artist mentioned several times in the propaganda project). Wright: Brilliant artist. One of the best. Him and Capiello and all the anonymous American WPA artists who followed in their footsteps. NUVO: "Sexual Harassment and You": Stepping stone to success or soul-deadening labor? Wright: Loved it. A weird job I got through a film school teacher: writing an industrial film for McDonalds to show to their employees to teach them to keep their meaty paws off of one another. The best part is that I've never seen the final film, so I have these really lurid images of it in my mind as leering shake machine operators cop feels off of the fry cooks and make sneering remarks to the new guy about his implicit homosexuality. Great stuff (at least, in MY head). Micah Wright"s Web site can be found at www.micahwright.com. His propaganda posters can be seen at http://homepage.mac.com/leperous/PhotoAlbum1.html.