Road to the White House: Dan Goldman on "08"

08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail

"08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail" on sale this week

After a long and contentious Democratic primary, having triumphed over his Republican rival in the general election, and following an unusually active period of transition, Barack Obama finally took his place last week as the 44th President of the United States. Throughout this journey, New Republic journalist Michael Crowley and artist Dan Goldman, whose most recent book was the hyper-political thriller "Shooting War," have been chronicling the campaign in preparation for an original graphic novel titled "08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail," reporting each development as it happened, regardless of how the race would ultimately play out. Published by Three Rivers Press, an imprint of Crown Publishing, "08" will be released this week in bookstores and comics shops. CBR News caught up with Goldman to discuss the project's history, style and significance.

"This election was one of immense historical importance, less in my mind because of race than it being a sea change of values and priorities about what Americans want their country to stand for, and a break from a dirty century of secretive politics and a desire for openness in Washington," Goldman told CBR. "We finally have someone intelligent driving the bus again after the darkest times I've lived through in my life, so we certainly won't be the only ones to write about it. But '08' is unique in its concept and its execution. It's a first for comics to do this kind of political reportage-as-it-happens in a graphic novel format."

"08" tracks the ups and downs of not only Obama's and McCain's campaigns, but also the intense primary challenges of candidates such as former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and incoming Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Given the narrative structure of a graphic novel, though, CBR asked Goldman if earlier chapters of the book would have needed to change if the election's outcome had been different. "Not at all, because we set out to tell the story as it happened," Goldman said. "So whatever was the trail's end would've been the book's ending."

Goldman continued, "I've been designing and planning '08' since late summer of 2007, and Mike Crowley and I have both been working in earnest since the Iowa caucus began in late 2007. Other than magnifying a few early key moments in the visual storytelling, a McCain victory would've only heavily affected the last ten pages of the book.

"It's a comics experiment, what we've done, and not knowing the ending forced us to stay firmly on top of the events/details on a daily basis so we didn't lose our grip on the larger plot. It wasn't until the book was delivered and I brought the 'News/Politics' folder in my Google reader from 87 feeds down to 4, and the cranial swelling went down a few days after that."

Goldman described the experiment as scripting/drawing/designing/editing from the hip. "When things would take a natural pause or the shape of the race would change in a major way, we'd take a breath and make sure our framing and perspective still served the greater story of the election," the artist said. "For example, we took a breather after Super Tuesday as we were expecting to have a Democratic candidate after that, and the race forced us to wait and see for a few weeks. As Clinton wouldn't let go of the race, it became clear how much **THAT** was a large part of the story itself, and our arc for the story focused on the battle for the candidacy as an Act Two of the larger story.

"There were also moments where, in a 24-hour news cycle, things seems all-consuming but ultimately didn't factor into the larger arc of the story," Goldman continued. "Like the 'lipstick on a pig' circus that lasted a few days. If anything, it was a great example of the slavering media and how Obama's higher ground served him better, shaming both the media and the McCain campaign's below-the-belt tactics."

As a journalist for the New Republic, Crowley did have special access the campaigns, but as Goldman discovered, this privilege was not always as exclusive as one might suppose. "Mike's been living in DC for eight years and covering all things political much of the time; his day job as a Senior Editor at The New Republic had him covering the primaries already, and he's been writing articles and appearing on news programs throughout '08's' creation," Goldman said of his partner. "When I joined him in New Hampshire to live the trail experience for a spell, I didn't know how easy it is to get into the press areas, which I did with a smile and no credentials. I'd always assumed it would be more exclusive behind that press cordon, but the truth is that 'access' is really there for the taking; we sat there watching Hillary Clinton speak a few seats from Chris Matthews and it really was no big deal.

"That said, Mike was invited to the ABC/Facebook debates, where I was not, due to his standing in the field. I watched it from my grungy hotel room while eating greasy takeout; in that sense, those two levels of access/experience went into Harlan and Jason, our two fictitious reporters whose narrative we follow through '08.'"

Goldman's artistic style for "08" features photo-referenced images of the major personalities, often set against abstract or stylized backgrounds. "I wanted '08' to be modern and retro at the same time, as the campaign memoir (outside of comics) is its own genre," he explained. "I spent much of 2007 boning up on all sorts of graphic design, propaganda, manga page designs, old pulp stories with gumshoes and reporters, pulling everything together into a stark black-and-white book that's textured with a lot of zipatone patterns used in an abstract, almost aggressive way. My thinking was to let the story unfold and the ziptones and design to communicate these exaggerated emotions almost subconsciously as the reader rolls through it."

In tune with this approach, the page layout and design allows space for loads of images while also including large "headline" captions. "Working with Mike Crowley, who's really given the book a strong journalistic core, the book really had to work on this level and be both visually appealing and fun to read while transmitting a huge amount of information and detail about the race," Goldman said. "This is probably my favorite aspect of the book; I knew early on that between its subject matter and being published by a nonfiction-heavy imprint like Crown Books, '08' would likely reach a very broad audience. It was in my mind from the beginning to create a mutant graphic novel that combines sequential narrative storytelling with design tropes from newspapers and propaganda posters and magazine layouts to create something that would speak an understandable visual dialect to someone who'd never picked up a 160-page comic before, while giving seasoned comics fans something smart they've never seen before.

"Even my mother praised how easy it was to understand, and it took reading Scott McCloud to get her to be able to decode my previous work; that's 'mission accomplished' as far I am concerned."

"08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail" goes on sale this week from Three Rivers Press.

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