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#47 [Apr. 14th, 2009|03:29 pm]

100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)

#47 THE NIGHTLY NEWS – Jonathan Hickman

“The Voice says: Are you tired of being lied to?”

The Nightly News ignores most of the language of comics, instead relying on the language of magazine ads. It’s a graphic designer’s version of what a comic should look like, with pages only intermittently split into panels and sometimes just consisting of a handful of dramatically overlapping images. In spite of this, it still impresses itself on your brain with all the clarity of a sniper’s bullet.

It tells the story of The Cult of the Voice, a group composed of disaffected victims of America’s corporate media, people who have been the subjects of smear campaigns or had their lives ruined in an accidental and off-hand way by carelessly researched articles that ignored the facts in favour of dramatic headlines. Building on that motivation, the cultists have been brainwashed by the charismatic, disembodied Voice into believing that only they can see the truth – that it’s everyone else in the world who has been brainwashed by newspapers and the TV. Although they’re clearly crazy it’s also very easy to see their point of view.

Jonathan Hickman’s artwork is so full of symbols it’s tempting to read more into them than is necessarily there. Are the two recurring horizontal lines an equals sign suggesting that what’s happening is a levelling, that The Cult of The Voice’s act of revenge is somehow mathematically justified? Are the diagonal slashes film noir window-blind shadows casting events into moral murkiness? Are the oversaturated colours, oranges and grey blues, a representation of a society saturated by the media? Are the blank signs carried by protesters, their slogans only visible in small-print footnotes in the margin, a literalisation of how marginalised their opinions are? Somebody working on a media studies degree could fill an entire thesis with this book.

Like the plate of mashed potatoes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in The Nightly News everything feels like this means something. Like an advertising campaign, each chapter simultaneously spells out its message while near-invisibly coding its intent behind it. Factoids about the characters sum them up, so that we know the CEO of Vivendi is an über-geek because he can successfully achieve a hostile takeover on a roll of 13 or more on a 20-sided die. Certain characters are represented by their own personal heraldry in the backgrounds; a psychiatric deprogrammer is followed by a map of the brain; members of the cult are represented by appropriate mythological animals. Circles that are sometimes targets, logos, tape reels, the sun, a beggar’s bowl or just meaningless shapes spread across the page like an infection, adding to the hypnotised, brainwashed feeling. The target of a random shooting becomes an icon of a person, dehumanised into symbology like a sign on a toilet. The edges of things splatter, with dirty little hairy ink-splashes showing the moral dirt that’s stuck to everyone and everything. The media’s movers and shakers are depicted as silhouettes, shadowy and impersonal.

It’s tough to feel bad for smug reporters like the newsreader who ends every portentous story with the word “Courage” just like Dan Rather. Watching the people who make you want to change the channel or throw away the newspaper in frustration get what’s coming to them is immensely satisfying. The Nightly News bills itself as ‘A lie told in six parts’ – it was originally published as a six-issue series – but it’s a lie backed up by cold, hard facts presented in glossy infographics about the elimination of fact-checking departments to save money. If you want a lie told in six parts, all you have to do is turn on your television every night from Monday to Saturday and watch the other nightly news.