Books

On the Cathartic POW!er of Appropriating Trumpisms

R. Sikoryak's The Unquotable Trump is devious, dark, disturbing, brilliant delight that will prove the standard bearer for texts from the resistance.

Imagine a renegade Comics Visual Arts Instructor at some distant bucolic college introducing an assignment that will last seemingly indefinitely -- a year or perhaps eight years -- based on the shifting winds of change. The students in this class are expected to place a tyrannical American fascist leader in different, sometimes radical contexts. These are comic hijinks at their most tragically hip, their most pointed and depressing.



The Unquotable Trump

R. Sikoryak

(Drawn & Quarterly)

October 2017

As the semester progresses and the students insert this leader into different scenes, they lift directly from his random musings during the Presidential election and in the first six months of his Presidency. The quotes -- unhinged and ridiculous upon first release during interviews, press conferences, or tweets -- take on a deeper power in the student's scenes. The leader becomes The Hulk, comfortably absorbs himself into Superman's foe, and proves no contest against Wonder Woman. The scenes are re-imagined and re-purposed and the results from each of these students are masterful.

In The Unquotable Trump, pastiche-heavy artist R. Sikoryak is the entire class of eager-to-please art school students. In nearly four dozen full-sized replicas of comic book covers, Sikoryak brilliantly and deviously separates his covers into five parts. In the first section, "The Campaigner", (June 2015-June 2016) he places Trump on the receiving end of a Popeye punch. Trump is on the other side of a brick wall, and Popeye is punching through it. This is a 1948 Bud Sagendorf homage with Trump proclaiming his plans for a great wall between the USA and Mexico at his 2015 campaign announcement.

Go deeper, and there's Trump bashing Captain America and proclaiming "He's not a War Hero. He's a hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured." Trump stands looming above Spiderman in a later panel and discusses his life in business: "I know the greatest negotiators in the world. Some are horrible people… They're terrible people. I love them." Later, Trump is on the cover of an "Archie" Comic, behind the soda fountain, talking to an aghast Archie and Veronica about "…Blood coming out of her… Whatever." We know these quotes. We absorbed them when they came out, and in this context they're even more terrifying.

How far is Trump going to go? Are we properly amused and expecting that this buffoon will simply have no chance to go the distance? That seems to be the only way to properly explain the facts as we now have them. For Sikoryak, so deeply informed in the complex visual vocabulary of comics, the only thing to do is find answers in his world of fantasy, horror, and bloviating exaggeration stereotypes of a leader. This, he seems to be telling us here, is how Trump has packaged himself. Consider the "Richie Rich" cover. Our little bow-tied hero is flustered, perspiring, floating above a table, as he hears Trump reflect on the accusations that he (Trump) has small hands: "…He [Marco Rubio] referred to my hands—'if they're small, something else must be small.' I guarantee you there's no problem. I guarantee." Richie seems to be embarrassed on our behalf, and the Trump quote (like most everything here) is perfectly rendered.

Sikoryak embraces the spectrum of comic history and style in The Unquotable Trump. Still in this first section, we see Trump as the latter half of the famous "Pinky and the Brain" duo. "I'm speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I've said a lot of things." Again, it's something "The Brain" (a malevolent megalomaniac mouse) could have said and probably should have said. It's something that seemed to entertain us when Trump said it in March 2016. It's sourced from Politico. (The inside flap of the back cover features a works cited list for every quote.) A similar feeling comes later when we see "The Flash" speeding past Trump in a hall of mirrors. Trump proclaims: "I know what I'm doing and I listen to a lot of people, I talk to a lot of people and at the appropriate time I'll tell you who the people are… but my primary consultant is myself and I have a good instinct for this stuff."

If the goal for this text is to give us comfort while dealing with the Trump administration, which by the end of 2017 is still tumbling the United States into a darkness, The Unquotable Trump is equal parts hilarious, heartbreaking, and horrifying. In the second section, "The Nominee" (July-September 2016), Trump is standing in front of The Fantastic Four and other characters. We don't see his face, but we see a glow surrounding him, resplendent in his usual blue suit. There are several speech bubbles, but the one that resonates most is: "But one thing; I can promise you this: I will always tell you the truth." Later, in a cover that pays homage to "The Black Panther" we see Trump fighting the title character (here called "The Black Voter") and giving one of his other more troublesome quotes (from August 2016): "You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth are unemployed, what the hell do you have to lose?"

We get deeper into this slim yet profound collection and it becomes obvious that this is the only way we can (or should) begin to contextualize these quotes. There are other novelty books available now as Christmas stocking stuffers, but The Unquotable Trump is driven by a more complex operating system. In section three, "The Debater" (September-October 2016) we get Trump the sexist. He's literally caught in the web of a curvaceous Spider woman and he has only three words to tell us: "wrong, wrong, wrong" (from a debate with Hilary Clinton.) With a cat woman character, (called here by Sikoryak "Cat Pussy") Trump is in the foreground, evil eyes glowing, telling us "Nobody has more respect for women than I do."

Again, these text morsels Trump offered the world in the run up to his Presidency and most every day since his Inauguration have been floating in the atmosphere far too long, and Sikoryak makes them his own. Fans of the form will cheer when they see the "Wonder Woman" homage (named here "Nasty Woman.") Our heroine seems to have pushed Trump over an orange brick wall. As he topples over the wall, his phone in mid-air, he mutters defiantly: "Such a nasty woman!" No matter how many anti-Trump memes or bumper stickers available with these quotes, they're never stronger than in this context.

There are brutal, pointed highlights everywhere. In Section Five, "The President" (January-April 2017), a gigantic Trump is in the sky, fending off Thor, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, The Green Lantern, and others. He delivers the darkest line from his Inauguration: "This American carnage stops right here and stops right now!" In another panel, an R. Crumb character "Mr. Natural" kicks the blue-suited Trump into the air as the latter exclaims: "Very, very Unfair!" In another, all the "Peanuts" characters are camping. They back off in horror as they see a Trump-haired silhouette of Snoopy. In the word bubble we read: "I think that you are going to see a lot of different United States of America over the next three, four, or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening and you're going to see a lot of love." In the final panel, a Trump Godzilla wanders off into the distance complaining about his workload. "I thought it would be easier," he tells us.

The idea of a college credit course based on the tweets, speeches, and off-hand comments of Donald J. Trump is certainly not unreasonable in an era when Americans are trying to process these unfiltered statements from their improbably elected leader. It can also be a little unseemly to do anything with his statements beyond immediately dismissing them. The blessings of awareness, "wokeness" and basic common sense means that we can avoid those who ramble with no filter, no governor on their mouths, and no awareness of the need for propriety or impulse control.

R. Sikoryak's The Unquotable Trump is a master class in coping through unreasonable times. He has taken away the control and power the man's words might have had at the time, the danger they might have inflicted, and repurposed them for what they are. The Unquotable Trump is a devious, dark, disturbing, brilliant delight that will prove the standard bearer for texts from the resistance. If future artistic responses to the consequences and dangers of Trump now will be as good as this book, then we're in for a rewarding season of discontent.

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