It started out as a goof, just a one-liner that Special Projects Editor Scott Dunbier dropped at a meeting for comic book publishers IDW. Comic books and presidential candidates? His colleagues laughed.
“Then I started thinking about it more and more and it started to sound like maybe it wasn’t so funny,” Dunbier said inside Melrose Avenue comic book outpost Golden Apple as Lee Greenwood’s song “God Bless the USA” played in the background. “Maybe it could be done. Maybe it would be something that would be interesting and fun and informative. Something different.”
That “something different” is Presidential Material, a comic book double-header featuring one graphic biography of Barack Obama and a similar 28-page life overview of John McCain (for the totally fair and balanced, the set is also available as a flip book containing both efforts). Released on October 8th, Obama’s bio was penned by novelist/comic book writer Jeff Mariotte (River Runs Red, Desperadoes) and illustrated by Tom Morgan. Andrew Helfer, who previously wrote graphic biographies of Malcolm X and Ronald Reagan, worked alongside artist Stephen Thompson for the McCain book. J. Scott Campbell (Spider-Man) provided cover art for both pieces.
On Thursday night, the writers appeared at Golden Apple for a night of “debate and drink.” Although the longstanding store’s hosts events on an almost weekly basis, this was, according to manager Ryan Liebowitz, its first politically-based event. Inside the popular comic book shop, customers indulged in such all-American fare as hot dogs and Jack Daniels while discussing health care and the latest comic books. A handful registered to vote and much of the crowd purchased copies of Presidential Material. Although Obama supporters clearly outnumbered McCain’s followers, party lines did not necessarily dictate the purchases of the evening. Signed copies of comics with presumably limited shelf-lives are a prize regardless of your affiliation and it wasn’t unusual to see people walking away with multiple copies of each book.
While comics have never shied away from politics, Presidential Material is unique in that it consists of two straightforward, well-researched biographies. The goal isn’t to sway readers, but simply to inform them.
“[The candidates] aren’t going to give their whole curriculum vitae every time they give a presentation and I think that they incorrectly presume people know these things already,” Helfer explained. “These books will fill in the blanks.”
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“And there’s a lot of misinformation out there in the form of those crazy viral emails that go out and tell lies about them both,” added Mariotte. “I think some of that can be corrected by reading the comic book.”
In an age where hectic schedules and constant outside stimulus means that people often don’t have the time or energy to dig into a few hundred pages crammed with tiny fonts, the folks behind Presidential Material see the comic book, with its slim size and eye-catching artwork, as an ideal medium to educate citizens.
“A comic book distills the characters, the people, down to an essence,” said Helfer. “I think that it becomes more valuable than ever to get a working knowledge of the candidates to the readers, to the voters.”
Words and Photographs by Liz Ohanesian