Presidential Material (IDW Publishing)

pres_material.jpgIDW offers up an intro to the presidential candidates courtesy of this pair of just-the-facts-ma’am biographies (in comic book form) of Barack Obama and John McCain.




Presidential Material (IDW Publishing)


John McCain: Presidential Material (IDW Publishing)

32 pgs. full color; $3.99

(W: Andy Helfer; A: Stephen Thompson)


Barack Obama: Presidential Material (IDW Publishing)

32 pgs. full color; $3.99

(W: Jeff Mariotte; A: Tom Morgan)

Also available as a flipbook containing both issues

64 pgs. full color; $7.99


Barack Obama, as drawn by J. Scott Campbell. Click for a larger image.I’ve always hated the term ‘Value Voter.’ As a political science student, I know that demographics and voting blocks require names, but this particular label always felt like a misnomer. Almost everyone decides how to vote based on certain values; be they economic, defense-oriented, or in the case of this phrase, social. No matter how you vote, it’s almost 100% likely that you have made your decision because of some combination of personal values.

The values that drive our voting are supposedly reflected in the candidates we choose. And since—despite any conclusions we can make based on observations—politicians are human beings, the values they have that make us vote for them come from their life experience. While it is true that two people who share the same experiences can have completely different beliefs (see the previous sentence about politicians being human), it’s possible to tell a lot about a candidate from their biography. Essentially, some part of a candidates’ biography becomes their stump speech. Sometimes, it’s their legislative background, other times it’s how they grew up, but most often, it’s some combination of those things.

This campaign season, personal biography has become a core issue. John McCain is running on his history as a war hero and sometimes maverick. Barack Obama is running on his legislative record and apparent embodiment of the American dream. McCain’s has attacked Obama’s record, and Obama has attacked McCain’s record. The Presidential Material books aim to set both records straight.

If you’ve been following the campaign (or have passed by a functioning television or radio in the last 18 months), you probably know the basics about both candidates. In that sense, there’s very little new material in either book. They are both fairly well researched, and some new and interesting facts are presented in each. I’ve read Obama’s biographies and I found this comic a suitable—but not nearly as eloquent—substitute for his first memoir, Dreams of My Father. The comic doesn’t get into much reasoning behind the candidates’ platforms, which is where Obama’s second book is helpful. But, with very little time left for research, this comic is better than a Wikipedia page. I’ve also studied John McCain’s life story, but I never read any memoirs or similar material. Since the details of McCain’s time in the military and early political career aren’t as popular or easy to find in book form, the McCain comic is an easy and fast substitute for hours of research.

John McCain, as drawn by J. Scott Campbell. Click for a larger image.Even though it sounds like it, I’m not advocating laziness in political research by suggesting potential voters read comics: Despite heroic and superhuman cover images, these aren’t funnybooks or Justice League-style action-adventures. There has been some hard work put into crafting these books, and as far as I can tell, they’re accurate representations of the candidates’ lives. But, biographies of very well known figures are hard to make interesting (even more so if the figures in question are politicians) and unfortunately, these stories have been referenced so many times that it must have been hard for the writers’ to avoid clichés. In fact, it’s impossible. Despite overall sharp writing, both stories slip into hackneyed territory a few times.

As for the art, there’s very little that’s new in either book. Essentially, these are biographical comics drawn with a slight slant towards superhero aesthetics. Realism seems to be the artists’ goal, but they have the same challenges as the writers. The stars of each book are so exposed to the media that no rendering can transcend scrutiny. While there are a few artistic stretches and questionable choices, the art is more than acceptable. 

But it’s not the art that’s essential with these books; it’s the message. Ideally, Presidential Material will help undecided voters—if there are any—make a choice for President. While they don’t present any actual policy statements, they do offer reasonable insights into how each candidate has come to be the greatest hope of their respective parties. I don’t advocate making a decision based on these books alone, but they are helpful.

I doubt, though, that these comics will convince any undecided voters. They may encourage a few comics fans to vote for or against Obama or McCain, but, like so many other comics, they’ll probably end up being read once and placed in plastic sleeves, like so much collector fodder. Fortunately, political junkies or nostalgic pack-rats, too. | Gabe Bullard

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