Rick Veitch has been pushing the boundaries of comic book storytelling as a writer and artist for over three decades. Best known for his mind-bending work on DC’s Swamp Thing, Veitch has worked on everything from mainstream superhero comics such as Justice League of America to the graphic navigation of the outer reaches of his own dreams in the independently published Rare Bit Fiends.
Veitch’s most recent ongoing series was Army@Love, a black-humored, absurdist mash-up of romance and war genre comics, inspired in no small part by the hype and horror of the War on Terror. In 2006, Veitch released the epic book-length poem Can’t Get No, exploring one man’s soul-searching odyssey in the wake of 9/11. Publishers Weekly called it one of the “Best Books of 2006″.
Now Rick Veitch returns to 9/11 – this time exploring some of the many inconsistencies and contradictions of the official account – in a new book from Image Comics called The Big Lie. 9/11 Truth News spoke to Rick Veitch to find out more about the inspiration behind his new work.
9/11 Truth News: Even 10 years down the road, it takes a lot of courage to speak up about 9/11, that much more so to release a major work calling it into question. You’re putting out a book called The Big Lie on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, so I imagine you must have very strong feelings about it. Why is 9/11 important to you?
Rick Veitch: It’s important to all of us. We all lost something on that morning when that attack happened. It took me a couple years to begin to really wonder about what actually happened in contrast to what we were told happened. Tom Yeates, who is the editor of this book and the guy who did the cover – he and I are old buddies, we went to the Kubert school together and shared a hippie art crash pad together decades ago. He and I would get on the phone and we’d start talking about this stuff and agreed the whole thing just stunk to high heaven. Tom turned me on to some good 9/11 research. And I was a big fan of Adam Curtis’ BBC documentaries, especially THE POWER OF NIGHTMARES. I can’t say that I’m what some folks refer to as a “truther”, but I try to stay informed about events and I’m naturally skeptical of “official” stories. This one never quite convinced me. There are just too many holes in it.
911TN: Where were you on 9/11?
Rick Veitch: I was visiting some old friends, some guys I grew up with. We were in upstate Vermont and we got up in the morning and the television was going and you know, it felt like being kicked in the stomach. For days afterwards I was just sort of moping around, with this cloud over me, thinking that the life that we’d all lived and enjoyed was over and that things were gonna change. I never could have guessed how much they would change for the worse in the decade following 9/11.
911TN: Your earlier book, Can’t Get No, is an epic poem in comic form that tells the story of one man’s journey of self discovery, with 9/11 presented as the central defining event. Was this inspired by the effect 9/11 had on you personally?
Rick Veitch: Sure. I was trying to get to that emotional nexus 9/11 created in me. I was trying to pierce and explore that through poetry and comics. I was also trying to push the envelope of what a graphic novel could be, because I don’t think anyone had attempted a graphic novel-sized poem at that point. So you know, my motivations were mixed, which is kind of normal for my creative work. CAN’T GET NO doesn’t really go into the questions about 9/11 at all; it’s more about the emotional response and one character’s journey.
911TN: It’s a mindblowing book, I recommend it to everyone. When you were working on Can’t Get No, were you skeptical of the official 9/11 story at that point?
Rick Veitch: Oh yeah. When the Bush administration pushed the Iraq invasion through, I was really angry about what a bullshit thing that was. So I began to wonder how a crime like that could happen. That whole invasion thing was so fishy, if not an outright lie. The way that the administration used Americans’ natural outrage at the 9/11 attack and redirected it toward the Iraqis was just awful. That got me thinking, right there… wait a minute, let’s listen to what these people are saying just a little bit more. You know, I can’t say that it obsessed me or that I became an expert on 9/11 or anything, but it just became one of those subjects that I would sort of plug into every now and then to see what the latest thinking was.
911TN: When your skepticism was first raised to the point of looking into it, what triggered it… was there any particular thing that made it hit home?
Rick Veitch: No single thing. It’s more an accumulation of things. Listening to what the architects were saying. Watching the films of the buildings coming down. The discovery of the thermite in the dust residue. The bizarre explanation for lack of air defense that day. The way they just happened to find one of the hijacker’s passports in the rubble.
911TN: It’s coming out four days before the anniversary, that’s great.
Rick Veitch: Yeah and Huffington Post and USA Today picked right up on it, it seems like it caught people’s attention which is a good thing.
911TN: The USA Today story was great, I was pleased to see such thorough and unbiased coverage of the project.
Rick Veitch: I think what kind of amazed me was the response on Huffington Post, where so many people replied. Unfortunately, it just turned into one of those polarized gotcha-fests that people on the internet seem to go for but what I could glean from reading it was that up until the point of this article being published, Huffington Post had sort of had a moratorium on even discussing anything about 9/11. One of our goals with THE BIG LIE is to get a discussion started in the mainstream media.
It’s hard on the internet though because, like I said, people are just sort of screaming at each other. The internet gives voice to the polarized extremes and they are so strident and insulting they don’t allow real information to discussed. I think the normal, middle of the road people don’t even read the on-line debates. I’m not sure what the solution is but I think a discussion, an honest discussion, would be a really good step forward.
911TN: So did you and Tom come up with the story for The Big Lie together?
Rick Veitch: Tom conceived of the whole project but wanted me to shape it creatively, with him acting in an editorial role, which I think was good. We started in a different direction originally. Have you ever seen a book that Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz did called Brought To Light? Any comics fans out there who’ve read that will know what I’m talking about. At first we conceived of this project in that manner; kind of like straight propaganda, where you just lay out the facts and get people to read them. But when Brian Romanoff came on board, he pointed out that parts of our approach probably wouldn’t fit in with what people needed to discuss. One of the things that Tom and I had done in our first version was that we had created a character based on the face in the clouds, that demon people claim to see in the explosion, and we made him the narrator. And Brian wisely said “we need to get away from the wackier stuff, and focus on the really important questions.” So I went back and had a think and ultimately pitched Tom and Brian a play on the old Twilight Zone episodes where somebody goes back in time and tries to change the past, and that’s how we structured the story. It’s an entertaining melodrama, but within it are embedded all these questions that we want people to think about, because the characters in the story debate these important points. I think it’s a pretty good format, I think people are going to enjoy it and it comes across as less propaganda and more as an enlightening and entertaining comic book story.
911TN: I like the scenario you present of a risk assessment team not being willing to believe that 9/11 is about to happen because the story just doesn’t add up. 27 comic book pages is a small amount of space to convey a great deal of information but I think you’ve done a good job of doing that. Was it tricky to make that work?
Rick Veitch: Yeah, there’s a lot more that’s got to be done and hopefully in future issues we’ll be able to focus more deeply on different aspects of 9/11 and what happened afterwards. But in terms of what we could fit into a 20 page story, I think I fit in the key questions. I have to thank Brian, because he was really instrumental in helping identify what those questions were and getting me the reference information that I needed to research it and shape it into a comic book story.
911TN: So there’s a possibility of doing some follow up?
Rick Veitch: Yes, we are talking about it. A lot will depend on what happens financially with the book, if it can support further effort. But there’s a lot more material about 9/11 that we’d like to investigate. One aspect we’d like to focus on is the money trail. A lot of money went missing in the years after 9/11. And all the budget surpluses just disappeared. Now our country is on the verge of fiscal bankruptcy. We also want to cover the Patriot Act. Most people don’t know that there was a pre-9/11 movement to take away our personal freedoms that looked much like the Patriot Act. Personally, I wouldn’t mind going beyond 9/11 and tackling some of the other big lies.
911TN: We’ve seen the rise of a militaristic global paradigm – the “war on terror”, with perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives lost, multiple ongoing occupations, along with the attendant decimation of civil liberties – all based on 9/11. But even many of those who acknowledge every other documented lie that led up to this situation are hesitant to apply the same skepticism to the events of the day that started it all. Why do you think this is?
Rick Veitch: Well it’s kind of like a natural patriotic response. You know, if the governement tells a story that we’re at war with these terrorists, then it must be true. I tend to be more skeptical about those things. I grew up in the 60s, I remember the Pentagon Papers and Watergate and Iran-Contra and the secret bombing of Cambodia and all that mad shit, so I tend to take the official story that the government provides with a grain of salt. That’s my personality and I’m unrepentant.
911TN: And we like that.
Rick Veitch: The thing is, if you begin to doubt the government’s story and look at the evidence, both physical and circumstantial, it’s not all that hard to theorize that these incredible crimes might have been committed by our own government or by some shadowy organization within it. At the very least it was someone trying to make our government look bad. Most people just don’t want to go there and you can’t blame them. It’s just too scary. But as long as our eyes tell us one thing and our government tells us another it’s very easy for our imaginations to fill in the gap and start to see some mad conspiracy. I’m not entirely convinced that it was some sort of conspiracy. It might very well have been, but I think there are other possibilities that might explain the actions of the government and how the buildings came down.
911TN: We’re at a point now -
Rick Veitch: You’re supposed to ask me “well what are your other scenarios?” (laughs)
911TN: What are your other scenarios?
Rick Veitch: Well there’s a couple. One is, perhaps those buildings weren’t built to specifications. Perhaps the materials used to build the World Trade center were substandard. It wouldn’t be the first time that it happened. Maybe they weren’t as strong as they were supposed to be or the basic design was flawed. That’s one possibility and that’s something that should be investigated. The other possibility -
911TN: You’d think people would want to know.
Rick Veitch: Yeah. And the second thing that sort of came to me, which I’ve never heard this discussed anywhere, is the possibility that when they build a giant skyscraper like that, they pre-load it with munitions to take it down in case of emergency. And that what we saw after the strikes was that they were worried that the damn things were gonna tip over and so they took them straight down. And of course if it is the case that some of these buildings are preloaded with explosives then they couldn’t tell people. I’m just imagining this, of course. But in the absence of a real investigation that’s kind of what happens.
911TN: The corporate media has successfully framed the issue of questioning 9/11 in a way that seems to have trained a good percentage of the public to ridicule, dismiss out of hand and/or shun anyone attempting to get some truth about 9/11. There’s been a systematic effort to link those who question 9/11 to the craziest-sounding theories and even violent extremism.
We’ve also seen a multitude of essays over the years, mostly targeting a liberal or progressive audience, attempting to psychoanalyze the supposed pathology of the so-called “truthers” and explain why on earth so many people feel the need to “believe in conspiracies” and how this somehow comforts them and brings them a sense of order in such a crazy, mixed up world. This is a very convenient method of belittling and stigmatizing the cause of 9/11 justice while simultaneously avoiding dealing with any actual facts about the attacks whatsoever.
Can you talk about this kind of media manipulated stigmatization? And possibly how it’s effected you?
Rick Veitch: Having grown up in the sixties, it just seems to me the media has shaped the discussions about politics continually, in a very false way. And the 9/11 thing does come across as a bit more than the normal twisting and obfuscation that media kind of naturally offers us. What’s odd about it though, is it came at a time when the internet happened. And we were all expecting the internet to become this really great, socratic place where we could talk about the issues and free ourselves from the programming of the broadcast networks. But I have to say, it seems like it’s worked just the opposite. People’s positions have hardened and rational discussion is in short supply. That’s not a big deal if people are debating the merits of the latest Batman movie or something. But in the case of something as huge and far-reaching as 9/11, it’s a sad state of affairs. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I think if we’re goning to have to solve these things if we want to survive as a free civilization.
911TN: Churchill was famously quoted as having said that “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” This would seem to never have been the case more than with 9/11. The average person looking for answers about 9/11 has to deal with a ton of disinformation from the government as well as an equally murky swamp of disinfo coming from many who claim to possess the real truth about the attacks. In this climate, how does one discern actual truth?
Rick Veitch: Well, that’s the big question. That’s the big answer to the big lie. That’s why someone stands up even though they’re gonna get hit with rotten tomatoes from some corners. I’m a firm believer that Abe Lincoln’s adage of “you can’t fool all the people all the time” will actually come around and people will demand a real investigation.
911TN: What do you say to someone who sees the book and says “Oh that’s just some truther bullshit”?
Rick Veitch: That person, I’m never going to convince. Those are the polarized people. They’re all yelling at each other on the internet and they’re never going to convince anyone or be convinced. What we’re trying to do with this comic is reach the more sensible folks who don’t pay attention to all that and who have probably never really looked into this thing because the experience was just so horrible that they want to put it behind them. Hopefully our little comic book might have some slight success in opening a few people’s minds.
911TN: Most people don’t realize that the first organized effort for 9/11 truth was led by family members of those killed in the attacks. I don’t think you can get any more legitimate than someone demanding honest answers about the murder of their loved one. Especially when those deaths are used to launch wars.
Rick Veitch: Yeah, and you’d think that somebody would have looked at the military response that day and said “Wait a minute, what are we spending all these trillions of dollars on if we can’t even stop four airplanes?” No one was called on the carpet for that. Every taxpayer ought to be up in arms over that kind of military incompetence.
911TN: Do you think after 10 years we might be ready to break through the stigma and engage in a more honest public discussion?
Rick Veitch: One can hope. But I betcha what will happen is that it will all be shoveled under and it will be 75 years from now, historians will be able to go back and see the hidden record of what really happened and be able to make a real assessment of the situation. What we see as media consumers isn’t reality, we’re just seeing frosting on the cake. The government has the facts of what really went on and obviously they aren’t telling us. But hopefully in the future somebody will be able to pull that out. Or maybe someone will do a Pentagon Papers or a Wikileaks thing and get the information out there. That would be great.
911TN: We need some good 9/11 leaks.
Rick Veitch: Yeah, because someone in the government must have actually really looked at the situation beyond the cardboard 9/11 Commission. Somebody there must have analyzed it and have an idea what actually happened. So wouldn’t that be cool if that actually got out?
911TN: And yet we do have whistleblowers who have been gagged and ignored and we have people who have been desperately trying to tell their stories, what they know, and they’ve been suppressed.
Rick Veitch: Yeah, which leads a rational observer to point out that “Hey something bad IS going on there”. So you’d think that the government and the previous administration would want the truth to come out because right now it makes them look like James Bond villains. They should be the first ones saying “Yeah, let’s get to the bottom of this, let’s clean it all up, let’s look at what really happened and tell everybody”.
911TN: Unless maybe they’re more interested in maintaining the status quo of the very lucrative military industrial complex.
Rick Veitch: Yeah, I hear ya.
911TN: You told USA Today that “There’s also a lot of disinformation out there and oddball conspiracy theories that need to be debunked.” Can you talk a bit about this disinformation?
Rick Veitch: Well you know, you go on to youtube and you play the videos of the various theories and there’s a lot of them that are pretty wacky. People seeing UFOs and all kinds of stuff.
911TN: It seems that a lot of the more far out there stuff just provides the perfect kind of fodder for the media to sort of amplify and pretend that those are the concerns of the majority of people who are seeking answers and accountability for 9/11 and it just feeds into this loop.
Rick Veitch: Yeah, it does. Just the word “truther” does it. With that nickname someone effectively equates the architects and engineers with the UFO guys.
911TN: “Truthers” is just a label to put on people and make it sound all sound very easily dismissable, crazy, etc.
Rick Veitch: Yeah, make it sound like they’re extreme. I think if mainstream people took the time to really look at the questions, the political center would rise up and say “Hey, let’s have some answers here.”
911TN: When did you first realize you can’t trust the government?
Rick Veitch: (laughs) Boy, that’s a tough one. Probably with the Vietnam thing, when I was a teenager and I was facing the draft. Before Vietnam the country really believed military propaganda. We won World War II and we really were the good guys. But Vietnam was so clearly a horrible mistake and all the incompetence and secret bombings were hidden from us during it. I began reading the New York Times regularly in my teens just to try to follow what was going on in Vietnam. I think that was the beginning of my distrust. But of course in the late sixties, the baby boomers were all counterculture and distrusted most American culture and propaganda.
911TN: Were you ever involved politically, as far as activism, or did you just express what you needed to express through your creativity and artwork?
Rick Veitch: Yeah, I’m an artist. I try to keep informed but I don’t join organizations. I really try to express myself through my creativity and every once in a while, like right now, I see an issue that I think is worth propagandizing. So I’m willing to use comics, which is my art form, and use the skills I’ve got to try to delineate this issue and bring it to the public.
911TN: You definitely have a reputation as a maverick, someone who deals with issues of challenging authority. That seems to be a theme running through a lot of your work, but this book is very explicit and the truth about 9/11 is kind of the political third rail, if ever there was one. So it’s a big step.
Rick Veitch: Yeah. I wouldn’t have taken it if I didn’t think it was something that needed to be done.
911TN: What are your hopes for The Big Lie upon its release?
Rick Veitch: That people read it and that it brings into the national discussion of 9/11 these questions that have been left unanswered. That would make me a happy guy.