The art of politics

by Juan Ortega

Sun Sentinel (MCT)

11 March 2009


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama’s role as an iconic and influential woman, a Weston, Fla., artist has drawn her as an upcoming comic book’s cover star.

Vinnie Tartamella, a freelance illustrator, is the lead cover artist for “Female Force,” a series of four biographical comic books featuring Obama, Hillary Clinton, Caroline Kennedy and Sarah Palin.

Tartamella, 28, expects the Obama issue - debuting in comic book stores nationwide in April - will join the national craze for Obama-themed merchandise.

For example, online vendors in January sold issues of a first-edition Spider-Man featuring President Barack Obama, originally priced at $3.99, for $100. Such high demand led its publisher, Marvel, to do five printings of the comic.

A Michelle Obama comic book has “got all kinds of possibilities” and could sell well, said Al Anderson of Ohio, who has been collecting for 49 years and runs an auction Web site of political memorabilia.

To become popular, the comic would need to offer great artwork, a clever story and portray the president’s wife in a positive light, Anderson said.

Anderson said releasing the comic when Barack Obama was inaugurated in January probably would have been better timing.

“It may be a little late,” he said.

Bluewater Productions, based in Vancouver, Wash., plans to print 10,000 copies of each 22-page issue and may later print more copies if there’s enough demand. The price: $3.99.

The first two issues, featuring Clinton and Palin, will be released this month. The Kennedy comic book will come out in June.

Tartamella is a New York native who grew up in South Florida and graduated from Davie’s Western High in 1998. At 19, he moved to New Jersey to start his career as a designer for McFarlane Toys, a popular provider of comic-book figurines. Since his return to South Florida in 2001, the self-taught artist has spent his days working as a freelancer, including drawing for Bluewater comic books the past two years.

He said he was reeled in for the Female Force gig “at the last minute.”

Bluewater turned to Tartamella after an artist’s attempt to draw the Clinton cover got negative reviews last year.

“We heard from her people that it wasn’t very flattering,” said Publisher Darren Davis. They thought her suit “made her look weird,” or too cartoony, Davis said.

Tartamella had done fantasy-based illustrations for Bluewater’s “Blackbeard Legacy” and “Sinbad” comic books, but this assignment was something new.

He was given two days to redo the Hillary cover. He depicted her in a blue business suit, standing in front of an American flag and smiling.

Bluewater was so pleased that it commissioned him to draw the Michelle Obama and Kennedy covers.

Davis said the series focused on women who seemed to be the most popular and influential, regardless of political affiliation.

Tartamella, who draws with a digital pen on a tablet computer, depicted Kennedy standing at a lectern outside the White House, with the face of her famous father John F. Kennedy above her.

He showed Obama wearing a black blouse and strand of pearls, standing with her arms folded outside the White House, gazing toward the front gates. She is smiling broadly.

“I wanted to make each one look patriotic, not in the very cartoony style like comics are,” he said.

Another artist handled the Palin cover.

Tartamella said he hasn’t heard what Obama thinks of his depiction of her.

He said he hopes to one day work full-time for one of the larger comic book companies, either DC Comics or Marvel.

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