Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Comics and politics: Palin beats Obama, this time

Barack Obama trounced John McCain and, by association, his quirky, not quite lucid running mate Sarah Palin, in last November's elections. But Palin has gotten her revenge on the comic book shelves. Her comic book beats the snot out of Obama's.

You might remember last year that both John McCain and Barack Obama received the comic-book biography treatment from publisher IDW. Bluewater Publishing, a smaller independent company best known for series featuring scantily clad female heroines, entered the fray, too, making a big splash with their comicbook biography of VP candidate Sarah Palin.

Both publishers received scads of publicity for their biographies. There's a big difference between the offerings from Bluewater and IDW, though: Bluewater's biography is fun. IDW's, both of Obama and McCain, were dreadfully boring.

Ever watch a movie biography? Remember the one Ed Harris did of artist Jackson Pollock? The movie was earnest and informative. It strove to teach what made this strange, almost socially inept artist tick. And it was dreadfully boring.

It's a problem most biographies seem to have. There's no real strong narrative pushing these movies along. In short, there's no real story with them. That's what happens with IDW's biographies of McCain and Obama.

Both comics are filled with captions. They crowd the panels. It's like reading a straight biography with pictures thrown in. Neither book takes advantage of the ceativity that the comicbook format allows creators. There are no surprises in these books. Nothing to make a reader laugh or swear. And who wants to read a comic like that?

Bluewater's Palin book, though, goes the opposite route, and it pays off. There's a story here. While Palin is the subject of the book, and the comicbook does illustrate the highlights of her life, the main story focuses on writer Neal Bailey's struggle to write a comic about a woman whose politics he doesn't necessarily like. There's even a floating sort of Jiminy Cricket character who tries to streer Bailey toward the objective path.

This allows for a load of funny asides, and a closer look at the struggles of the creative process.

The Bluewater story, in short, does take advantage of the comic medium's unique qualities to tell a story that can only be told this way in a graphic format. I can't imagine a movie or prose biography on Palin that would be as much fun.

The good news is that Bluewater is planning several more biographies of famous polticians and female leaders. The company has already published books on Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. It is now promoting its upcoming biographies of Colin Powell and princess Diana.

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