The debut graphic novel by Kelly Roman and Michael DeWeese adapts Sun Tsu's The Art of War in a shocking and unexpected way!
It's understandable that there are a lot of people who are concerned about the direction the country is taking. With politics, economics, society and culture all taking some hits lately, it's not hard to believe that people are growing pessimistic. They're probably not as pessimistic as what Kelly Roman and Micahel DeWeese present us with, though.
In their debut graphic novel, Roman and DeWeese imagine an America where, just over a quarter century from now, will be completely subservient to Chinese financial interests. China seems to be the only economic superpower left, and it has completely insinuated itself into all aspects of American business. More than that, warfare has taken on such massive influence that major corporations can't function without it. The world of The Art of War is one in which the Department of Homeland Security can merge with the Department of the Treasury. It's an America where an interview for an internship at a financial company includes dismemberment and torture. It's a place where corporations have their own graveyards, a place to bury their dead like soldiers, a la Arlington Cemetary.
Although the notion of an increasingly corporatized dystopian future is nothing new, Roman and DeWeese take things in a different direction. Corporations are militarized, and they rule the world. Roman and DeWeese do more than just adapt Sun Tzu, they use his text to extrapolate from today's world in order to create a portrait of what the future may look like. It's a dark, brutal vision of tomorrow, but it's also somewhat plausible. There's a lot of science fiction and fantasy at work here in the story, but the extreme setting, or one just like it, is pretty conceivable.
The Art of War follows a dishonorably discharged soldier (a protagonist Roman named after himself) who returns home after a stint in a military prison (due to a bizarre friendly fire incident where he accidentally guns down his own wife, alongside he's serving), to a town in Ohio that's fallen into a horrible squalor. His father is ill with a heart condition, and his brother is dead and buried in the graveyard owned by the corporation he worked for. Kelly infiltrates this corporate world, and ends up on an completely savage and complex adventure. Sun Tzu's The Art of War is mapped directly onto Roman and DeWeese's, with the text from the original slashed violently across every page of the graphic novel so the tenets espoused by Sun Tzu happen to correspond with the events of the comic.
DeWeese eschews panels and gutters typical for most comics for much of The Art of War in favor of a more flowing, collage-style of page design. As images flow into each other, texture and weight are established by the high contrast black and white artwork. The only color used in the book is red, which fits thematically, but also makes for some very indelible imagery.
Depending no how things work out in the next thirty years, The Art of War could very well be the graphic novel of the twenty-first century. Until then, it's a very intense read, with a lot of thematic elements that get a lot of space to breathe. One oblique theme is the impermanence of the body. The science fiction concepts render the body reparable, even replaceable necessity that can be overcome and defied. Roman uses this theme to ground the broader ideas about the world of The Art of War in a very personal, human space. In fact, there is a very human story amidst all the sturm und drang. The Art of War is constantly surprising and always provocative. It's a very dark look at our future, and provides context for Sun Tzu's text, giving it greater life and showing why it has continued to be studied to this day. It's impossible to know what the future of America will look like, but don't be too surprised if it looks something like Roman and DeWeese's The Art of War.
The Art of War is available July 31 from Harper Perenial, a division of HarperCollins.