A powerful look at the events and issues surrounding the October 1, 2017 shooting at the Route 91 festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, including themes of gun violence, gun control, and the aftermath of tragedy has the power to move even the most hardened of hearts to stand up and say, “No More.” (You can learn more about this anthology in our interview with creator and Las Vegas native J.H. Williams.)
Written and Illustrated by Various
Curated by J.H. Williams III and Wendy Wright-Williams
Edited by Will Dennis
A riveting collection of both fictional stories and actual eye-witness accounts of the October 2017 Las Vegas shooting, told by an all-star line-up of the top talent working in comics today. The book includes a variety of perspectives with key themes exploring gun violence, common sense gun control, value of a compassionate society, mental health stigmatization, aftermath of tragedy and how individuals & communities persevere and an appreciation of Las Vegas as a vibrant community.
December 14, 2012. The news of a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut flashes across my social media while I’m at the office. Immediately my fingers head on over to Google Maps to find out exactly where in my still-new-to-me home state Newtown was, since I had never heard of it. My heart sank when my rudimentary driving directions put Newtown a little over a 45 minute drive from my own residence of Norwalk, Connecticut.
No, I thought. Not here. Not this close to me.
I was in college during Columbine and in my 20s during Virginia Tech, but these were far-away places, nowhere near my Northeastern U.S. bubble that had some of the strongest gun laws in the country. As if Newtown’s proximity to my hometown of Norwalk wasn’t enough of a sign, that weekend my partner, his mother, and I went off to the mall in Danbury, Connecticut for some holiday shopping. The city of Danbury is only about a 20 minute drive from Newtown, and the mood within the mall, two weeks before Christmas, was more somber than seasonal. It was quiet, many families in the colors of green and white (the colors of Sandy Hook Elementary), residents attempting to find solace in the mundane stress of completing that Christmas shopping list . . . most definitely not what one expects so close to the holidays. The punch in the gut came when I stopped for a moment in front of clothing store Old Navy to adjust my bags before picking up some Christmas pajamas. In the shop window were the pictures of the children who had died a few days prior, with angel wings drawn on them.
It took me a good five minutes at least to compose myself before I could get up again and then at least another five before I could even walk in the store.
If you don’t think you’ll be affected by gun violence at some point in your life – – either directly or indirectly, though my prayer is for the latter and not the former – – think again. Municipalities large and small throughout the United States have seen gun violence; no one is immune. Newtown. Orlando. Parkland. Sutherland Springs. Littleton. San Bernardino. Even the city called America’s Playground, Las Vegas, was not to be spared, as we discovered on October 1, 2017. With our elected officials claiming to be powerless to enact sweeping legislation for change, the charge for that change falls to artists to use their talents to raise awareness, create empathy, and motivate the populace.
I seem to be self-anointing myself the Multiversity Anthology Queen, having now reviewed four anthology works (counting this one). Many of these fall into a formula: individual stories with unique art styles on a particular topic, interpretations of said topic vast in breadth and depth. “Where We Live” does contain aspects of this formula in spades, but there are a few things that set it apart from the pack.
One is, of course, the inclusion of eyewitness and survivor accounts, diving not only into the immediate events of that evening, but their aftermath. Survivor Aubri focuses on how she connected the event to studying the hero’s journey in her college classes, realizing that her post-traumatic feelings were the nadir of her story and that when one is in the nadir, one can find the way out. Teenage Autumn reminds the reader that while the public moves on after tragedy, those closest to it carry its scars in perpetuity. Tales from Sarah and Savannah (nurse and patient) and Rachel and Bob (journalist and interviewee) illustrate the bonds of friendship forged in grief, and what each learns from the other. The second main difference is the inclusion of prose pieces within the illustrated works. Christina Rice provides a primer to the history of citizens’ relationship to the Second Amendment that probably could have been an illustrated history, but would have been too much to unpack in the format of a few pages and panels where art must share the spotlight with text. Jennifer Battisiti’s “Ordinary Devotion” is a meditation on the city’s cultural fabric of hospitality and how it colored the response to these events. Such a topic had been tackled elsewhere in the graphic format, so it’s refreshing to simply read her perspective in her words and nothing more.Continued below
And yet, some of the most affecting and poignant pieces are the ones without many words. Gustavo Duarte’s “Involution” take two pages and eight panels to present the question, “How far has humanity evolved with the presence of the gun?” without a single letter of text. Gail Simone’s “The Woman and the Man” features only 11 distinct words combined to form four sentences that take on different meanings in a tale of the connection between mass shootings and domestic violence. Jeff Boison’s “A Twist of Fate” uses six words, themselves polar opposites, to set a scene that reminds the reader that you never know what your last conversation with someone will be, so use those words carefully, reverently, and compassionately.
Within these explorations of tragedy, trauma, community, and hope are those that seek to answer that evasive question: Why? The creators here place the blame at the feet of various engineers: a society that glorifies gun culture, legislators that prefer deep pockets to altruistic power, untreated mental illness, the myth of what a monster should look like in order to be detected and stopped. The majority of this “Why?” is at the feet of our own society, including that of the comics we read and love – – such as in Cameron Stewart’s “Stains.” With the word “Bang” superimposed over a variety of panels, from movies to video games to children reading comics, Stewart provides a stark reminder to all who create and contribute art that the artist themselves are not scapegoated under the cloak of expression. Is that question of “Why?” answered? That may depend on your perspective (I know I am one of several minds when it comes to finding that answer), and “Where We Live” does itself a great service in providing many facets by which to explore that question.
For all its powerful messages (and indeed, this is a powerful work), there were aspects of “Where We Live” lacking. No contributor addressed the epidemic of gun violence from police against minority citizens, a troubling aspect that still, in our supposedly “woke” times does not get the attention it deserves. And while I lavished praise in the previous paragraph about the multitude of perspectives as to the cause of this gun violence epidemic, it was too much meditation on “why?” and not enough meditation on “what’s next?” The US 2016 presidential elections have led many to take a more active role in social justice. Based on some of the information I see floating around social media, it’s clear many still lack skills on how to use their voice most effectively to make that change. Some tools on how to channel that anger, grief, frustration, etc. into constructive action could – – and would – – have added a second impact for those past the point of why and at the point of “what do I do now?”
Williams makes it clear in the foreword that this is a work designed to both help those victims of the Las Vegas shooting and shine a light on the social problems the United States faces with guns. At over 300 pages, anyone who picks this up will find something that speaks to them, and moves their heart to stand up and say, “Stop.”
You never know when your community, your school, your family, will be next in the crosshairs of a mass shooting. The way to prevent that from happening rests at our feet.
And it’s time to answer the call.