Steven Weissman's Surreal Take on "Barack Hussein Obama"

Steven Weissman is a cartoonist best known for "Yikes!" and various titles published by Fantagraphics Books including "Champs," "Chocolate Cheeks," "Don't Call Me Stupid!," and "White Flower Day." In those books, Weissman chronicles the adventures of an oddball collection of characters including Li'l Bloody, Pullapart Boy, Dead Boy, Kid Medusa and others. The books are strange and surreal, but also fun, filled with turns of phrase, colorful digressions and a unique sense of pacing.

Weissman spoke with CBR News about his latest book, "Barack Hussein Obama," which isn't political in the way one would expect. It's a surreal story that features characters with familiar names and job titles, but Weissman is doing something very different with them.

CBR News: Where did this book start for you?

Steven Weissman: Disappointment.

Meaning what?

Mainly professional disappointment. My way of making comics and my ability to communicate with an audience had hit a dead-end. In the course of making this book I found new ways to do both.

If you aren't interested politics what drove you to make the book?

I have a desire to connect with the world around me.

So you aren't a political person or political junkie.

No way.

When I first heard about this book of your I was puzzled because it wasn't what I would have expected based on your previous work. What for you is the connection between this and your other books?

I changed everything that was within my power to change. Whatever's left over is what connects it to my older work. One obvious similarity is how attached I get to the characters.

Obviously you're not trying to draw an exact likeness, but how much time and effort did you spend on coming up with the design for the characters and how much did you want them to resemble their real-life counterparts?

Outside the strip itself, I didn't expend much time or effort at all. Maybe a couple of sketches. The transformations within the strip are pretty easy to chart. As I introduced new characters, the initial drawings would be based on some reference. Then, when I felt comfortable with that person, they'd grow into something more interesting.

It did feel at a certain point that you were consciously trying to avoid being topical and just use them in bizarre situations. Is that what you were going for or what was your plan?

No, I really was trying to be topical. As I drew each strip, I wanted it to either relate to what was going on in the world outside or, failing that, what was happening in my own. I know it gets really fantastic in places, but I was continually trying to tie the comic to these people, here and now.

What's one page or sequence that's tied into the real world in a way that readers might not recognize?

OK. There's a sequence in the book where Michelle, Malia and Sasha are flying home from a trip to Hawaii. Mid-flight, the girls abandon ship (and their sleeping mother) to ride upon the back of a transformed Barack Hussein Obama.  These three are then lost in a "spirit cloud" of ten thousand drowned souls. These events were inspired by the Tohoku earthquake of 2011, the resulting tsunami and meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

At the beginning the book felt more like one-off, single page strips, but toward the end they become interconnected. Was this intentional?

I intend to start simply, knowing work grows naturally more complex.

I really don't want to give anything away but I have to ask, where did the idea of turning the President into a parakeet come from?

The parakeet was for our friend Irene's 100th birthday. She keeps parakeets and one had died, leaving her group unbalanced. The new bird, Tony, didn't get along well with the others, though, so Irene gave him back to us. We got her another bird -- also Tony -- and because our son was interested, we kept the first parakeet. 

Read "Barack Hussein Obama" to find out the rest of this amazing story!

You mentioned that you were attached to the characters. In a way that you aren't attached to the actual people they're based on? To a degree that you might make more comics with them?

Yes. Depending on the outcome of the [election] November 6, I would continue this series. See? Every vote counts.

"Barack Hussein Obama" is on sale now.

Justice League Defeated feature
Justice League: One of DC's Most Powerful Heroes Was Just Brutally Murdered

More in Comics