CCI: IDW Enters the political sphere with "Presidential Material"

At Comic-Con International this weekend, everyone was going to be talking about comics. But across the rest of America, the loudest talk from now until November will be politics. With the presidential election mere months away, the country is priming itself for endless talk of red state and blue states, and IDW is ready to given them some reading material to quench their political thirst.

Announced Wednesday on the New York Times' politics blog "The Caucus," the publisher will release two biographical one-shots focusing on the lives of John McCain and Barack Obama this October 1st under the banner "Presidential Material" with a simultaneous release online at presidentialcomics.com.

"I was thinking about back in the '80s when they were doing the pope comics - like Marvel did a Pope John Paul II biography and I think a Saint Francis of Assisi," IDW Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall told CBR of the ideas genesis. "I remember them being these fun bio comics, and since this election's been so historic and attention getting, it struck me that these are two guys who would do well to have their stories told."

And each candidate will have equal opportunity for their story to reach readers as both 28-page one-shots will cover their lives and careers up to their winning of their respective party's nomination. "It struck me right around the time that Obama clinched the nomination - there was a nice ending at that point," said Ryall. "They're both heading into the convention for the nomination, and that's where our stories are going to end. That way, the outcome of the election won't matter as much. This'll just be their story getting to this point."

Crafting the lives of the candidates will be writer Andy Helfer (the longstanding comics editor who recently wrote comic biographies for Malcolm X and Ronald Regan for Hill & Wang) and artist Stephen Thompson ("Star Trek: New Frontier") on the McCain one-shot and writer Jeff Mariotte ("Angel: Old Friends") and artist Tom Morgan on Obama.

Ryall said that an important factor in choosing creative teams for the project was making sure that politics took a back seat to story when it came to crafting the comics at hand. "[Helfer's] a right-leaning but he's also a fair and good writer. So he's a pro-McCain guy, but he's also going to just tell a good story. By that same token, we went to Jeff Mariotte who's more a left-leaning creator to tell the Obama story. We have guys who have an affinity for these guys already, but they're not the kinds of guys who wear politics on their sleeves. The mandate to them was 'Tell a good, factual story and don't try to work anything beyond that into it.' We won't have an agenda. Whatever side you're for, or even if you're for neither side, they're both interesting stories."

While CBR was unable to reach Helfer before press time, Mariotte offered his thoughts on writing Obama's life story in comics form, saying that he was "a little nervous, sure, because this is a project with the potential to be a little more significant than your standard fiction comic. I'd hate to think people would rely just on a comic book to determine their choice for president--but when it comes down to it, there are worse options, like that e-mail forwarded by your Uncle Abner. So I was determined to get the facts straight, first of all, and then to present them in the context of a narrative that would be entertaining to read."

To prepare for the assignment, Mariotte dove into research on a candidate he'd known little about beforehand. "Although I had been following the primaries, I did have a ton of research to do before I felt comfortable trying to tell his life story," the writer said. "I did read both of Obama's books as background for this project, but I hadn't read them before. I was impressed--the guy is a real writer, whatever one thinks of his politics. If this whole political deal doesn't work out for him, he could make a living with a keyboard. And he was a comic fan growing up, so he might offer some competition to those of us in this end of the business!"

While 28-pages is a tight space to cover the entirety of one man's life, Mariotte said that his goal is to include the most unique and pertinent elements of Obama's life. "The fact that he was born to a Kenyan father and a white American mother is a key fact of his biography, and it's one of the things that make this race truly historic," he explained adding that he wouldn't go out of his way to dispel the more ridiculous rumors about the candidate but would also not shy away from controversial aspects of Obama's life. "The controversies are on the page as well--the Rev. Wright and Tony Rezko incidents, for example. I didn't try to gloss over the bad stuff or to highlight the good stuff, but to say 'This is who I think Barack Obama is, and this is how he got to be that way.'"

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