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2008 Presidential Election

Political cartoons

The road to the White House runs through comics

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J. Caleb Mozzocco

There’s no doubt that Americans are more fired up about this presidential race than most, perhaps due to its historic nature. By November 5, we’ll either have elected our first black president or our 44th white president (and first female vice president).

That excitement has apparently carried over into mainstream comics. That, or comics companies saw the enthusiasm for the race, and went to work trying to exploit it.

IDW was the first publisher to latch onto the election, and had the strongest offering. They’ve generated plenty of press with their Presidential Material biographical comics of Barack Obama and John McCain, which went on sale at the beginning of the month. Both comics—sold separately or combined—draw heavily on news reports and the candidates’ autobiographies, and are remarkably balanced; rather than lionizing either man, the bios leave in all the rough edges.

Of the two, McCain’s is probably the worse read, simply because his life’s story is so much longer than Obama’s, yet they’re both allotted an equal page count. So while Obama’s story has room to breathe, with a nice positive momentum to it, McCain’s is jam-packed with wordy narration boxes. The compression of 30-plus years in politics does him no favors: In two pages he goes from the Bush-bashing, straight-talking maverick of 2000 to the McCain so many have come to know and loathe this year.

While IDW has taken an objective approach to the election, at least one comic-book creator has decided to baldly editorialize on the cover of his comic. Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon No. 137 featured the title character proclaiming, “I endorse Barack Obama for President of the United States,” while gesturing to a rough caricature of Obama. The story inside was more about the Dragon than Obama’s candidacy, though.

Larsen’s hardly alone in his endorsement in his line of work; there’s a Comics Industry for Obama organization—one the Cryptkeeper probably belongs to.

The cover of this month’s Tales From the Crypt No. 8 will feature a Sarah Palin caricature taking a hockey stick to the Cryptkeeper and his fellow horror hosts, saying, “Didn’t we get rid of you guys in the ’50s?” The issue will contain an editorial by Cathy Gaines Mifsud, taking issue with reports of Palin’s inquiries about having books banned from her hometown library. Mifsud’s late father, Tales publisher William Gaines, drew the most ire from the U.S. Senate in the mid-’50s for his comics like Mad and Tales From the Crypt.

DC Comics is taking a much more careful approach in its attempt to cash in on election-year excitement with miniseries DCU: Decisions. It’s supposedly about Batman, Wonder Woman and other DC heroes’ political alignments, but the company has opted to use fantasy candidates, so instead of Obama or McCain, you’ll find liberal-ish Davis Brewster and conservative-esque Bob Ridgeway.

DC has also endeavored to keep the characters as vague as possible. So, for example, when Lois Lane comes out as Republican(-ish), she does so only by stating that she’s “for a strong military, small government, low taxes and maximum individual freedom.”

Meanwhile, Marvel Comics has eschewed fake characters running fake campaigns for a real fake candidate running a fake campaign.

Stephen Colbert may have abandoned his presidential campaign in the real world long ago, but he’s still running in the Marvel Universe. Until now, his presence has been nothing more than bumper stickers and billboards in the background art of various Marvel comics, plus fake news on Comedy Central’s Indecision 2008 website, but with Amazing Spider-Man No. 573, Colbert himself appears in the Marvel Universe.

In the 10-page back-up story by Mark Waid and Patrick Olliffe, Colbert is campaigning in New York City, when he stumbles upon a fight between Spider-Man and bear-themed supervillain the Grizzly, whom he mistakenly assumes is a Democrat-hired assassin sent to kill him.

Like the Colbert-branded Tek Jansen comics, it’s pretty weak tea, in large part because Colbert and his writing staff are much better joke writers than Waid, and a drawing just can’t match the delivery of the real, live Colbert.

It may still be too early to call the real election, but I think we can safely rule Colbert out—who bothers campaigning in NYC in October? Or is he trying to siphon some votes from the Democrats, to throw New York to McCain? Perhaps McCain is polling better in the Marvel Universe than he is in ours.

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