It may be the "Right State" but is it the right graphic novel we're looking for?
In "Right State," Johnson's newest graphic novel featuring art by Andrea Mutti, the writer turns his eye towards a new topic: the influence of the media on politics.On the surface, it might sound like something honest and respectable for a change. But then, further into the interview, there's comes something that can give pause to anyone who understands where Johnson's coming from in research:
Centering on conservative media pundit Ted Akers, the graphic novel follows Akers as he goes undercover in an extremist militia group to ferret out an assassination plot against the second black President of the United States. With "Right State" slated for release in August, right in the middle of the 2012 presidential elections involving America's first black President, CBR News spoke with Johnson about the book, touching on everything from the criticism "Right State" is already receiving to race and identity in the White House.
CBR News: "Right State" deals with the investigation into a possible assassination attempt against America's second black President, and it's coming out just in time for the election. What's the genesis of this story? Did you begin writing it with the intention for it to be released during the 2012 election?One possible problem is that they seem intent on tying it's release in with the elections, which is decidedly absurd and potentially politicized. Another is the interviewer's claim that "hate groups" popped up after Obama's election, and if by that they mean right-wingers, that's subtle incitement on their part. What about the Occupy movement? And still another problem is that Johnson relied on data from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which once did have a good reputation but today is otherwise a leftist bastion:
Mat Johnson: No, that's more the publisher, which understandably wanted it to come out in a topical way! I came up with the story three years ago as I was working with my editor at the time, Jon Vankin. We basically followed each other on Facebook and we were looking at a lot of the militia stuff that was happening and finding it interesting, and we started coming up with the idea there. The book was written over two years ago, but they delayed it coming out until around the elections so it would be more topical.
You rely extensively on research. While you were looking at American militia groups did you spend a lot of time researching the explosion of hate groups that appeared after Obama's 2008 election?
Usually my research is based around stuff that I'm already doing. Instead of coming up with an idea and then going and doing the research, usually I'm reading tons of things and that's when I come up with an idea. I was reading stuff on this and checking the press reports coming out of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which follows different hate groups, and I was interested. But I didn't want the book to be some sort of left-wing polemic. The thing that interested me the most about the militia groups is they represent a political ideology but in physical form. The ideas they represent -- some of them are extreme, some of them are less extreme and their representation of them are extreme -- but they give kind of a physical form to those ideologies. So if you're writing an action story, and the stuff I've done with Vertigo has been stuff that mixes history or contemporary politics with genre writing, it seemed the perfect story to do something like that. And I always loved '70s conspiracy movies like "The Day Of The Jackal" and half the movies Gene Hackman was in, so to be able to write that type of story seemed like it would be fun.
In recent years the SPLC reports have been utterly tainted — weaponized and used against the leftist group's ideological and political adversaries. This is a despicable, bad faith abuse of others' good will, and of the SPLC's past reputation.National Review has more about the disaster the SPLC has sunk into. If Johnson is setting out to do a straightforward focus on making a conservative the good guy in this new graphic novel, and doesn't want to do a leftist polemic, why does he rely on the reports of a business that's been overtaken by leftism?
Case in point: Recently, the SPLC came under fire for comparing the "Tea Party" movement and other grassroots conservatives to "terrorists." Potok slandered "Tea Party" goers, suggesting that "they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism," and are widely linked to "hate" and "vigilante groups." Of course there are always a few nuts in any movement, but clearly Potok's intent was to defame tens of millions of patriotic "Tea Partiers," simply because he disagrees with them.
To be fair, he is at least better here than the interviewer, who even went so far as to ask:
Talking about the line between punditry and action I can't help but think about things like the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords last year. Did that influence your writing at all?Unless CBR edited out any reminder that Giffords' attacker was a leftist, Johnson failed to make it clear what the true leanings of the crackpot were. For now, this does tell quite a bit about the interviewer's (Josie Campbell) political leanings, and that she can't keep from going under the false claim that right-wing commentary was connected.
I already finished the script when that happened, but when I saw that -- the person responsible is mentally ill -- but when I saw that, that's the thing I worry about. I'm a general optimist; I think most people are fairly sane and even when they say horrible things they aren't going to do them. Mostly through history people do keep their heads. It's the exception when people act crazy. But there are a lot of crazy people out there, and that's what I get scared about it -- when I saw that, watching the event and then watching the reaction to the event and the jump to blame one side or the other which muddles it further, it made me know that I was on the right track at least to talking about those ideas.
On the Dixonverse forum, the posters aren't sure if this graphic novel's story will work out. If Johnson had been clearer about what kind of elements will turn up in the story and not keep it hidden beneath a bushel, he could at least ease up any conservative's concerns about whether this will be straightforward or a botch job.