Best Shots Extra: Presidential Material

Best Shots Extra: Presidential Material

Presidential Material: John McCain

From: IDW

Writer: Andy Helfer

Art: Stephen Thompson

Color: Len O’Grady

Letters: Robbie Robbins

Cover: J. Scott Campbell

Presidential Material: Barack Obama

From: IDW

Writer: Jeff Mariotte

Art: Tom Morgan

Color: Len O’Grady

Letters: Robbie Robbins

Cover: J. Scott Campbell

Interview with ditor Scott Dunbier and preview here  

Let’s start by giving credit to IDW. I don’t recall a publisher ever previously attempting graphic biographies of candidates that had an Election Day showdown looming in the immediate future. Clearly, it’s an idea that’s ripe for imitation. That aside, the looming question for this kind of project, given the timing, would be twofold: are the books tasteful and artful, and do they offer attempts at legitimately balanced depictions between the two books?

From my standpoint, yes on all counts. Both books wisely eschew trying to recreate too many conversations, and instead opt for a more caption-based, text-driven approach. The issues carry a list of sources in the back, an important point since the books will undoubtedly be scrutinized in partisan fashion. Readers that regularly check into comics for adrenaline in their narratives might find this a little dry, but the books are actually making an honest attempt at something different. It’s interesting to see.

In terms of script, both writers opt for more of a historical narrative. There’s more “dialogue” in the Obama book, but that’s because Mariotte takes advantage of the opportunity to work in lines from some of the Illinois Senator’s more famous speeches. Both books begin in medias res, starting with down moments and winding backward to tell of both men’s lives, and their triumphs over their respective opening situations. The Obama issue opens on the bleak Super Tuesday from February (when Hillary Clinton took the three top states in contention); McCain’s, as you might expect, opens as he is a prisoner of war in Hanoi in 1969.

On the art side, both books are rendered by strong artists. Stephen Thompson (Beneath the Valley of the Rage, assorted projects from IDW and more) does a great job on the McCain book, lending a more “photo-realistic” vibe without looking as if he’s directly aping photographs. He also gets to show off McCain’s various jet mishaps, leading up to a dynamic representation of McCain’s shoot-down and capture in Vietnam. Obama artist Tom Morgan (Captain America and Superman, among many others) invokes a more comic-like sensibility, but his likenesses are dead-on. Both artists are strong storytellers, and they always make an effort to make all parties look good. There are no excessive caricatures in either book.

Perhaps the most impressive thing is that neither book sanitizes their leads. If you’re curious whether or not the Obama book addresses Reverend Wright and other issues, it does. If you’re curious whether or not the McCain book addresses Keating or more, it does. At times, in fact, the books are surprisingly direct about difficulties that both candidates have had in both public and private life.

Everyone is going to come to these books with their own political prejudices. And that’s okay. The important questions are those that I articulated at the outset. IDW does a solid job here, and emerge with two very informative books that, as a pair, are remarkably impartial. IDW and all of the talents involved should be commended for an effort that’s truly presidential.

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