2 Candidates, 2 Comics - Dunbier on Presidential Material

Best Shots Extra: Presidential Material

As Newsarama readers know, next week sees the release of IDW’s two Presidential Material biographical comics, one centered on John McCain and one on Barak Obama. The comics are advertised as straight biographies of the two Presidential candidates, “highlighting key incidents in the lives of the two men.”

Presidential Material: Barack Obama is written by Jeff Mariotte with art by Tom Morgan, while Presidential Material: John McCain is written by Andy Helfer, with art by Stephen Thompson. The issues are available individually, as well as in a flipbook format for those who want both stories in one volume. J. Scott Campbell provides the two covers.

We spoke with IDW Editor Scott Dunbier about the two issues, what they contain and how they got started at IDW.

Newsarama: Take us back to the beginning here Scott - what led to this project even being considered at IDW?

Scott Dunbier: It was at an editorial planning meeting, I was with Ted Adams (IDW President) and Chris Ryall (E-I-C and Publisher) and we were tossing ideas back and forth. I threw out the idea as a one-liner, a joke, and we all laughed. But then I started to mull it over and it didn’t really seem so far-fetched after all, it sounded like something that could be interesting and different.

NRAMA: That said, When did this ball get rolling? This was announced just before SDCC, but still, things on the Democratic side were running to the wire...were there two books being considered for the Democratic edition?

SD: The first mention of it was late May, when Senator Clinton was still a viable contender, and we didn’t know which candidate would come out on top. A major concern was making sure we had enough time to get the covers done in time for solicitations--the deadline for the Diamond catalogue was early July. Once Senator Obama was close to being a mathematical lock we pulled the trigger on the book.

NRAMA: Let's start right at the covers - when this was all being considered, who thought, "Jeff! Jeff would be perfect for these two covers!" ?

SD: Other artists were considered but Jeff got the gig and I couldn’t be happier with the results. Besides being a great caricaturist, and really nailing the candidates’ likenesses, Jeff gave both men a sense of dignity and determination, two very presidential qualities. I do find it funny that some people, on both sides of the political fence, feel his depictions are biased one way or the other.

NRAMA: Similarly, what led to Jeff and Andy being tapped as the two writers? Were they assigned their specific books, or did they pick which ones they wanted?

SD: They were assigned the books. I chose them for several reasons; they are professionals and I knew they would do good jobs and dive into the research the project required. Also, I was confident they could hit the deadlines—this was one set of books that absolutely could not be late!

NRAMA: There's a lot of talk about vetting in the race these days, but how were Jeff and Andy vetted for their gigs? That is, what kind of guidance did you give them in regards to how to approach the subjects and their respective histories?

SD: The three of us had some serious talks before work began on the scripts. These stories had to be told in a balanced fashion, and everything Jeff and Andy wrote needed to be credible and verifiable—we weren’t doing a Mad Magazine parody of the two candidates, but actual graphic biographies—they would have to hold up under scrutiny or there’d be no hope to be taken seriously.

NRAMA: In regards to their material...each man has lived a full life which thousands of experiences. How do you approach each story so as to given a full view without looking like the respective "best of" video presentations that we saw at the conventions?

SD: There is so much that goes unsaid in a project like this, purely due to lack of space. It’s inevitable. We’ve tried to show some of the keys scenes that helped shape both candidates’ lives, but there’s only so much you can fit in—but I think readers will appreciate the amount of detail we have been able to present.

NRAMA: What about the things that have been hooked on by various groups as flashpoints in each man's past? There are drug allegations and the Ayers ties with Obama that the left hook on to; likewise, there's McCain and the Keating Five and cheating on/leaving his wife that the right point out - just to mention two "scandals" for each... how did Andy and Jeff sift through the trouble spots of each?

SD: Andy and Jeff were very thorough. All of the incidents you mention are in the books, as well as many, many others. It really is amazing how much story the creative teams were able to cram into these biographies.

NRAMA: While it may feel that we've learned everything there is to know about these two candidates, did you find out anything new in producing either of the books?

SD: Sure, I’ve learned a lot about both gentlemen while working on these titles and as a result I have a much greater respect for each candidate now. But here’s the main thing I’ve learned--if we ever do another set of Presidential bios we need to hire an outside fact checker; I can’t think of any books I’ve edited that have been as time-consuming or as much work. Verifying all those facts was tough stuff.

NRAMA: There's always some questions about legality when non-autobiographical projects of living individuals come up. How is IDW able to do these two titles from a legal standpoint?

SD: Both candidates are public figures and everything came from credible sources. We also ran the stories through our legal person and she was comfortable with the material in the books.

NRAMA: Have you heard from either campaign since the announcement of the titles went out?

SD: No, but I believe there was an article quoting a McCain staffer who said he ordered a copy through our website. If Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama were to contact us we’d be happy to send them each a box of complimentary copies. Heh, can you make sure they get that memo, Matt?

NRAMA: We can work on both… In the original announcement, it was also announced that IDW would be taking pre-orders for the two books on the website. You've got one for Obama, one for McCain, and a flipbook with both. To date, which one is selling the best?

SD: It’s been tracking pretty steady since we launched the site, this is what it looks like today: Obama at 49%, McCain at 34%, and the flip-book at 17%. But, like any election, it can change on a dime overnight.

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