Barack the Barbarian? Behind the Latest Obama Comic

If you pause for a moment and look at the life of Barack Obama and his ascension to the presidency of the United States, you bear witness to moments that were uplifting and unprecedented. With no shortage of colorful people in the form of allies, adversaries, and people on the sidelines, Obama’s accomplishments have been transformative for his race, his nation, and himself. Taking it all in is hard, but when you try it seems almost… unreal.

Just like a comic book about Obama existing in sword & sorcery times, something called, say, Barack The Barbarian: Quest for the Treasure of Stimuli, perhaps.

But that comic is very real. Originating out of Obama’s home city by way of publisher Devil’s Due, the ongoing series is a political satire on the surface but as writer Larry Hama explains, it’s more of a “character piece” in sword and sorcery times.

Although details are scarce, advance solicitations for the first issue promise a story filled with familiar faces in a distant future where technology is out but politics remain. The series features Obama as well as Sorceress Hilaria, her “demi-god trickster husband” Biil, as well as others that those who lived through the last presidential election season might find familiar.

For more, we talked with scribe Larry Hama and DDP publisher Joshua Blaylock.

Newsarama: Larry, you’re best known for serious military-style writing with work on G.I. Joe and Wolverine. What led you to get involved with DDP’s Barack the Barbarian?

Larry Hama: Josh Blaylock called me and asked if I was interested in writing Obama The Barbarian. I said, "First off, you should change it to Barack the Barbarian, and second, I'm not interested in writing a Mad Magazine style parody and that it would have to be more in line with the more polemical stuff of Swift, Twain and Voltaire (not that I can pull off anything like they could,) and third, that my own leanings are towards Barack and that would be reflected in what I write-- and Josh said 'fine.'"

NRAMA: And how would you describe your leanings towards Barack Obama?

LH: Well, I voted for him, and volunteered for the phone banks. I don't think he should let torturers slide, though.

NRAMA: Joshua, people may not know this, but DDP is based in Obama’s home city of Chicago, Illinois. Did that play at all into your decision to do this?

Joshua Blaylock: Not directly, but I think being a Chicago local we've known about the President, and heard more about him, for a long time now. There are newspaper articles with him dating back to the 90s featuring him discussing the exact same kind of agendas he has now. It's nice to see that his goals are genuine and not something just made up for the campaign trail.

And, any chance to put Chicago into a comic book we usually do so. Mercy Sparx lives in Chicago (for now at least), and in a bizarre twist of affection we've also obliterated the city more than once. It was decimated in G.I. Joe: America's Elite, terrorized in Kore, and I'm pretty sure we roughed it up in a couple of other books too.

NRAMA: Have you followed much the various Barack Obama appearances in comics, and if so, what do you think of the trend leading into this?

LH: I haven't read any of them. I don't really read comics. I just look at the pictures.

NRAMA: Let’s wade into the comic. Plot-wise, what’s this story about?

LH: Way in the future, after the Second Modern Ice Age, an old hunter is passing on the legends of the past to his grandchildren inside an igloo in Virginia. The facts about the distant murky past have coalesced into legends and historical eras have been compressed together and confused. Everything is infused with magic, heroic destiny, and the drama of epic adventure. In other words, the old man is making stuff up as he goes along to fill in the holes.

NRAMA: So how would you describe this Barack the Barbarian character?

LH: Cool, conscientious, charismatic, contemplative, and cynosural.

NRAMA: Certainly. Who else will be in the book besides Barack the Barbarian?

LH: The despot Boosh and his evil vizier in their Elephant Tower, the Old Warrior and his companion Red Sara, and various tricksters, rogues, brigands, demi-mondes, barbermongers, thaumaturges, rampallions, and demonic entities.

NRAMA: This goes well beyond standard political satire. What are you thinking when you write this story?

LH: I just think of it as sword and sorcery, only the characters look really familiar. It's NOT a lot of hoo-ha and jokes. Also, I'm not much of a plot person. I only care about the characters and making them stand up and walk around and be themselves.

NRAMA: It seems this story has a bit of in-jokes such as the “Maddowian Chronicles”, referencing MSNBC pundit Rachel Maddow. Will there be much of this?

LH: That was the closest I could get to "Nemedian." Robert E. Howard, J.R.R. Tolkien and H.P. Lovecraft all created fictional "histories" to support their alternate universes. I can't string words together with the flair of the aforementioned, nor do I possess their attention to detail, but I do endeavor to prevent the deus ex machina drop from descending from the flies.

NRAMA: I have to ask, where did the idea for this come from?

JB: I wanted to do a book a looong time ago about the hypothetical first few months of the Obama administration (before it was known if he'd be our President or not). When IDW beat us to the punch with their biographies I figured it was over, plus I wasn't quite sure if there'd be enough demand for it. When I saw those books on CNN and everywhere else, I kicked myself in the nards really, really hard for about a week. We missed the boat.

Then the cameos came. And again and again and again, they continued to show the demand. When the Spider-Man appearance was announced, knowing the President's affection for that character, I joked about his other favorite comic, and asked if they'd be doing a cameo as well. That led to having Tim Seeley draw what was to be a one-off gag poster with the Prez as a Frazetta like warrior with Dick Cheney in the background. Then the gears started turning and Sam Wells and I looked at each other and just said that this really needed to be a book.

Haters can hate away, but I felt like there was a very unique chance here to do an actual political satire. It could be as crazy as we wanted it to be yet still say something. I think Tim threw out the idea for hiring Larry, or maybe just brought his name up in conversation and the light bulb went off. But that was the clincher. We knew that would bring an element the book needed to make it the real deal.

NRAMA: And what kind of response have you received on the local front to doing Barack The Barbarian?

JB: The press here has been huge. We not only had an article in The Chicago Tribune, but the third page of the Saturday paper. It was about half of the page. That's what really got the word going in the national and international press. We've been contacting the local retailers making sure they're aware of the PR we've gotten (like SnL), so they're not caught off guard with people walking in off of the street.

I think we'll go drop off some copies to the 15 cop cars that are stationed right outside the Obama house at all hours of the day. [laughs]

Twitter activity