While all eyes are, for the time being, on the coronavirus, there is an equally deadly American epidemic, one that was was well underway before covid-19, and is nearly certain to be with us after: gun violence. Close to one hundred men, women and children are killed with a gun every single day in America; day in, day out, year after year. While a clear majority of the victims are known to the killer, with the number one category of death by gun being suicide, the killings that make the largest psychic impact on the rest of us are those committed by deranged individuals that choose victims at random. And while these mass shootings are often presented as coming out of the blue and inexplicable, there is no question that they grow out of the larger gun culture of which they are they undeniably a part. Also, over time, it has become clear that these mass shootings are cultivated by our dysfunctional media environments in ways that are difficult to describe.
In 4 Dead, 17 Wounded, Pittsburgh-based cartoonist and comics maker, Nils Hanczar (aka Nils Balls) works to depict the landscape out of which these shootings grow. Given its relative slightness, weighing in at 52, horizontally formatted 8 1/2 ” x 4” pages, it is surprisingly successful in doing so. He deftly creates a small set of solid, likeable characters in black and white with grey wash tones, and then proceeds to situate them in amidst their all-American lives – family, schools, social gatherings, shopping, movies and television – but does so through a non-linear temporality that circles back on itself, which works to provide that sharp sense of déjà vu that shootings often inspire. The result is a very effective – and affecting – portrait of how gun culture has become woven into the very fabric of American culture, and the attendant costs.