Although his (first?) term is just over 100 days old, President Barack Obama has already inspired mountains of published material on his life, candidacy, and his short tenure of the nation's Chief Executive.
Much has already been written about the President's appearances in comic books, from cameos in the pages of Spider-Man and the Savage Dragon to starring as a full-fledged character in Youngblood and Devil’s Due upcoming Obama/Conan the Barbarian riff… but what began it all was IDW Publishing’s "Presidential Material" one-shots.
Originally released last year in the lead-up to the historic fall 2008 election, IDW’s one-shots focused on the two leading candidates – Obama and Republican John McCain. The specials served as graphic biographies of the then-candidates at the culmination of the pivotal election. These one-shots hit a nerve not just with comic books fans but the general public, pushing the Obama editions to five printings and a great deal of media coverage.
This summer, IDW will continue documenting the historic life of the nations first African-American President with a new series of specials covering the election itself, the inauguration, and his first days in office. The creators behind the original one-shot are all returning, and Newsarama recently talked with one of them – writer Jeff Mariotte.
Newsarama: Jeff, were you surprised at all at the huge success that these Presidential comics became?
Jeff Mariotte: I was, and I suspect the folks at IDW were as well. Nobody could know, because nothing quite like it had been done – comics with no political agenda, straight biographies of the candidates. I think it was one of those "lightning in a bottle" things – the right moment, the right audience, the right candidate.
NRAMA: This new series is said to document the final days of the campaign – were you watching those moments thinking of a potential comic book adaptation, or did that come later?
Jeff Mariotte: The decision to do the comic came during the campaign/transition period. I had been following the campaign closely from the very beginning, because I'm just that much of a political junkie. During the process of writing Presidential Material: Barack Obama, I started paying even closer attention. So although I wasn't sure, as the general election got under way, that there would be more comics, I was already following all the action.
NRAMA: Have you had any feedback from the Obama campaign/administration on the comic book?
JM: Not a bit. I assume they know it exists, but I haven't heard from them.
NRAMA: How in-depth did you research the character and person of Barack Obama to portray him truthfully?
JM: The research process is the most time – and labor-intensive part of the whole thing. I've been reading virtually every article in the mainstream press, following news and politics websites, watching news coverage on TV. I've read both of Obama's own books. There have been other books coming along, but they're a step or two behind us – there were no biographies out before our book was, and while there have been some quickie books on the campaign, some of which I picked up, they didn't cover the transition period. Certainly there will be books on the first hundred days, too, but they won't be available in time to help with this. We're ahead of the curve, relying on primary materials – the words of the actual participants in history, whenever possible to get the story right.
NRAMA: When doing this, I’m sure there’s no shortage of material – in fact, one of the challenges must be choosing what to fit in and what to leave out. Is that true, and if so, how did you decide on what would make the best story?
JM: That is absolutely true. For instance, at the moment I'm working on the third book, the first hundred days. The administration has been far more active to this point than most administrations, really hitting the ground running and dealing with a variety of issues, some small but many hugely important. So those are the ones I'm trying to squeeze into the book – but not by sacrificing the human moments that show who Barack Obama and his family really are.
Most of my comic work has been fictional – Desperadoes, Graveslinger, Zombie Cop, etc., so reporting on reality is definitely a challenge (although I have written some nonfiction prose books, so not entirely new to me) – and winnowing the material down to fit into the space available is the biggest challenge of all.
NRAMA: Did you follow politics and the political process as in-depth before you got involved with these Presidential Material comics?
JM: Pretty much, as I mentioned above, I'm a lifelong political creature. I wasn't quite as laser-focused on it as I had to become to write the comics, but keeping up with politics and government has been a daily part of my life pretty much forever – at least since I lived in the Washington, DC area, made regular visits to the places where the government works, and used to deliver (and read) the Washington Post – during the Watergate era, so another time of great excitement and controversy in that arena.
NRAMA: So is this an ongoing or a miniseries?
JM: I don't think of it as either – more a series of one-shots focusing on separate aspects of Barack Obama's life and political career. The idea is to do three books, the first one that covered Obama's life, from birth to the point that he won the Democratic nomination, the second will cover the general election campaign and the transition period, and the third follows him through his first hundred days in office. As of now, that's the plan.