Neither Barack Obama nor Sarah Palin were running for office in this week’s midterm elections, but their presence was definitely felt, as both endorsed candidates and stumped for their respective parties in key races.
In December, they’re getting involved in another hotly contested political battle with far-reaching implications on the nation’s future: the race for student body president at Riverdale High. The two-part “Campaign Pains” storyline starts in Archie #616 and concludes with January’s Archie #617.
Writer Alex Simmons said the challenge of crafting the story was in not letting his own personal opinions affect the script.
“It’s tricky,” Simmons told Newsarama. “You definitely want to make sure that you’re telling a good story, and at the same time you’re not allowing your own biases or your own political viewpoints dominate the story. That’s not the goal.”
To achieve an objective stance, Simmons took the approach of writing both Obama and Palin as people, and not putting either one on a political pedestal — and of course, maintaining the zany all-ages humor that’s been at the core of Archie Comics for decades.
“Fair is fair,” Simmons said. “Neither one of these people are absolutely’s God’s gift. Everybody has their flaws. They’re major political figures coming to Riverdale — how can I work with that? How can I keep a balance? How can I not play favorites? I defused some of the more touchy areas with keeping the focus on Archie and the gang.”
In the typically far-fetched Archie manner, Obama and Palin get involved when the student body president election between Archie and Reggie gets out of hand. Veronica serves as Archie’s campaign manager, and Reggie’s working with Trula Twyst, an obscure character known for pestering Jughead.
“Those four teens are in trouble,” Simmons said. “The Secret Service is looking for them. There’s a lot of that craziness going on. What happens is that you’ve got Obama and Palin reacting to how they’ve been used as public figures, and they did not endorse anything. You’ve got these kids running from the trouble that they’re in, and then you’ve got some of the political tensions that’s going on, and all of that with humor.”
When the story was first announced in September, the publisher drew some criticism for allegedly positioning Obama and Palin as equivlaents, given that one is the president of the United States, and the other doesn’t currently hold office. That interpretation was drawn from the released cover images — one depicting Obama and Palin sharing a soda, the other with them both arm-in-arm with Archie — but Simmons said that’s not necessarily indicative of the actual story.
“The cover for the first issue is absolutely funny, fantastic and crazy, because it’s got the two of them sipping the soda together. That right there grabs public attention,” Simmons said. “The effort on my part was to be respectful to both. It was more about making sure that we were fair to both in representation of their personalities and their character within the story, but I didn’t make an effort to give them equal power.”
Simmons has a background in teaching and writing for young audiences (both for Archie and beyond), and founded the New York City-based Kids Comic Con. Though he shies away from labeling his upcoming story as educational, he acknowledges younger readers might get something more out of it than just humor.
“I think that the kids are going to have fun with the story,” Simmons said. “I think they’re definitely going to see what it’s like when one kid is more popular than another, they’re going to see what happens when you make a bad judgment call. Whether or not it’s a ‘lesson,’ I don’t know.”
Simmons shared that his initial pitch for this story was “edgier” than Archie Comics was comfortable with publishing.
“I had taken an event that was going on at that time — that impacted tremendously on our environment, I’ll put it that way — and I had that as part of the story. That was part of what brought everybody together in that particular place,” Simmons said. “I could see where that might be too sensitive in some places.”
“Campaign Pains” is far from Obama’s first appearance in comic books — he’s been in Amazing Spider-Man, the cover of Savage Dragon, biographical comic from IDW, and even in an Archie comic from earlier in this year, Veronica #199, where he enlisted the wealthy teen's help in fixing the economy.
Palin has also been featured in a handful of comics, including a biographical comic from Bluewater Productions and as a villain in Barack the Barbarian, which imagined the commander-in-chief as a Conan-style warrior.