[29 November 2011]
“Barack Obama #1” is the first issue of a clever comic series, but as a biography it is not skillfully executed.
BOOM! Studios new Decision 2012 series is a comic industry first; by structuring the release of each candidate’s comicbook biography based on the number of pre-orders, BOOM! is effectively polling the their reading community. BOOM!’s experiment is laudable, I am not certain that the end product will help anyone make a decision.
While this biographic piece is certainly informative, providing a detailed account of Obama’s early life, it is a study in strange dichotomies. The comic tries to be comprehensive, but reads like an exceedingly brief Wikipedia entry. The biography covers minute details of Obama’s childhood and his major accomplishments, but fails to address any of the controversies of his career.
Strikingly, Damian Coucerio’s art creates several absurd juxtapositions. For instance, there is a two-panel page in which the top panel shows that President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” The bottom panel, however, is simply a world map marked with stars where the US has deployed combat troops, which notes that Obama has twice increased troop levels in Afganistan, left 35,000 – 50,000 troops in Iraq, and ordered air strikes in Libya. We are left to wonder, is this a comment on his Peace Prize and illiberal war-making or a simple diachronic representation?
In addition to these strange artistic juxtapositions, “Obama #1” is noticeably one note. What I mean is, the anonymous author renders only two voices in the entire comic: an omniscient historical narrator and President Obama. By exclusively quoting Obama, the author gives us a sense only his words are important to his biography. This counter-intuitive notion is further emphasized by the selection of quotes used. The author cherry-picks selections from Obama’s most famous, and perhaps most televised, speeches. In one panel, Obama is quoted saying:
“In recent years, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research—and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly”.
I am inclined to think that this quote is about stem-cell research, but the panel provides zero context and zero information. It makes me wonder, why include it?
While reading this comic, with its strange juxtapositions and cherry-picked quotes, I was struck with several inescapable conclusions. Living in the Bronx, I am reminded every day of our current economic crisis. As of April of this year, the Bronx has an unemployment rate of 12.5%, nearly twice as high as Manhattan. The US Census Bureau reports that a little more than one in four people in the Bronx lived below the poverty line in 2010. As of September the number of people on food stamps in the city was 1,831,882. Everyday, when I go to the grocery store and everyone in front of me pays with food stamps and everyday when I go down the street and see an increasing number of homeless people, I am reminded that things have not gotten that much better under President Obama.
This comic biography, by focusing exclusively on Obama’s accomplishments, whitewashes the economic realities of his presidency and most importantly his response to them. Whether you already plan to vote for him or not, this comic provides too little information to help readers decide either way. If your hot-buttons are banking regulations, gun control, and gay marriage or if tax reform, border control, and public employee unions get your goat, this comic does little to help judge Obama’s fitness for reelection. It provides a stale list of political accomplishments and does not provide any sense of context.
On a final note, I hope “Decision 2012: Barack Obama #1” foreshadows the tone and style of the GOP candidate biographies. If the Republican candidates’ comics focus even ever so slightly more on the controversies of their careers, or provide a more detailed style of near-photographic art, or are even less boring than this biography, they’ll have another liberal media bias to complain about. I hope BOOM! deprives them of that cliché.