The Art of War’s Kelly Roman Talks a Little China

I’ve been talking a lot with Kelly Roman, a friend who’s been busy writing a graphic novel, The Art of War, with his artist counterpart Michael Deweese for these past 5 years.  Specifically, we’ve been conversing about his influences for the book and how the recent media explosion surrounding Action Comics #900 could lead to more mainstream media stories on “socially relevant” comics.

In this short interview we talk about Kelly’s thoughts on China as a world power, an issue I can safely say he’s mildly obsessed about, his inspirations for The Art of War, and comics and politics.

I Speak Comics: First, could you explain what The Art of War is about?

Kelly: On a deeper level it’s a story about how vengeance still leaves you emptyhanded.   From a plot perspective, the book takes place in the future when Wall Street is militarized and China is the dominant economy.  Our hero follows his murdered brother’s footsteps and goes to work for Sun Tzu, who oversees China’s investments around the world. I think the book is a meditation on how successfully waging war is about making your opponent exhaust his resources.  There’s a strange addiction to the fight instinct, even though it destroys us.

ISC: What were your inspirations for the book?

K: China’s rise as a superpower. The Art of War was written 2500 years ago in China, and boy we’ve been seeing it play out, even if we don’t realize it.  Their economy is going to surpass ours in 2016 according to the IMF.  That’s not far in the future.

ISC: Specifically, what current events do you think give credence to the overt Chinese influences portrayed in your graphic novel?  You show Times Square transformed by traditional Chinese architecture and such.

K: I use visual metaphor to raise questions, not to show you a photograph of the future.  I depict Chinatown as 50 times its current size in Manhattan. It’s a metaphor. And there are Chinatowns in every major city of the US.  Did you know that today, in reality, the Chinese government is looking at buying Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae? My images point to that reality.

ISC: Would you call this a cautionary tale for the United States?  Was it ever intended as such?

K: There is something politically seductive about China, because they appear to be very patient and measured and thoughtful in their approach.  But we also need to remember that they brutally repress voices of dissent.  And we need to remember that they have an enormous, sometimes nationalistic population that requires access to vast natural resources.   People like to take comfort in the size and strength of the US military, but a military like ours is not sustainable.  We are already seeing Republicans concede that military cuts will need to occur if we are to have a viable economy.  That used to be unheard of.

ISC: Recently, we saw the American media explode over Superman renouncing his US citizenship in Action Comics #900.  Whether it was canon or not, possible presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee blasted the Man of Steel for his actions.  It was a great example of how comics can influence the media and expose social opinions and ideas.  Do you think that The Art of War is poised to do the same thing?

K: Just like immigration, China is going to be a main focus of the 2012 presidential election, and HarperCollins (my US publisher) are I are going to do our best to insert The Art of War into the conversation. I launched a YouTube channel,, where I’m posting videos of average Americans sharing their thoughts about China becoming the most powerful nation on Earth.  And there’s a free 50 page sample from the graphic novel on the book’s website ( that people can read and, I hope, use to help understand the world we are living in.

ISC: Do you think it’s ironic that you’re using The Art of War, an ancient Chinese manuscript, something that is in fact very “Chinese,” in a narrative that brings to light the looming threat of China as the world’s most powerful nation?

K: I don’t see it as ironic, so much as straightforward.  There’s nothing ironic about a gun’s instructional manual describing how to fire the gun.

Read The Art of War 3-chapter sample here

Follow The Art of War’s protagonist Kelly Roman on Twitter here

And don’t forget to like him on Facebook here


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