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And so another U.S. presidential election comes to a close. While the incumbent was re-elected, the comics industry didn’t seem to embrace the season like it did in 2008.
Four years ago, the bestselling comic book issue of the year was The Amazing Spider-Man #583, by a wide margin — by such a wide margin that it ended up being the bestselling issue of the decade with more than half a million copies ordered, according to numbers cruncher John Jackson Miller. In fact, this became such a thing that there was nearly a boutique industry of comic books featuring Barack Obama. From Savage Dragon and Army of Darkness to Bomb Queen and Licensable Bear (the first Obama comic), it seemed the president was everywhere. IDW Publishing released an entire line of biographical comics on the presidential candidates, and similar titles were also published by Antarctic Press and Bluewater Productions. The latter’s efforts were so successful that the company continues to mine that niche.
Four years later, this mini-genre has all but vanished. Last year, BOOM! Studios attempted to lead the charge with Decision 2012, the first straw poll conducted through comics: Pre-orders determined which candidates would get their comics published, with the one receiving the highest print run being declared the winner. While a creative idea, the project may have been a victim of poor timing, as the event was held so early in the campaign — it was announced in August 2011 — that there wasn’t a clear line-up of Republican candidates. Despite all of her teasing, Sarah Palin never entered the race, yet she was included among the list of comics. In fact, on the same day the one-time GOP vice presidential nominee announced she wouldn’t be running on the same day that BOOM! revealed the results of its straw poll. Out of the 10 biographical comics offered for pre-order, just four met the benchmark of 1,500 pre-orders: Obama, Palin, Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney came in fifth, but just below the benchmark, so he and the five others never got their comics.
More recently, Image Comics has been promoting Spawn #225, which will be released later this month. Two versions of the issue were prepared, one in which Obama won and one in which Romney won. Based on last night’s results, expect the “Obama wins” version on Nov. 21. Again, a creative idea. We’ll see how readers respond to it.
But other than those two examples, a smattering of appearances here and there (like Godzilla and Archie), and a few more Bluewater comics, we haven’t seen much over the past year from Obama or any other presidential candidate — certainly not to the degree of the 2008 election.
For a good number of readers, the response is probably “Good riddance!” After all, that was just a novelty trend that got caught up in the buzz of the original Obama campaign, right? Well, yes, for the most part, that’s probably true. But there is a potential that I think deserves to be explored, and BOOM!, IDW and Bluewater are on the right track.
Non-fiction comics tend to focus on the past, but there’s also the possibility of exploring current events or the more recent past. I’m not necessarily talking about political comics, which obviously comment on current events every day, but rather longer-form comics that can engage readers, probably younger readers if Bluewater’s target audience is any indication, on the presidential election or other events. The challenge is that comics are ordered three months in advance, and are created over a number of months before that. So this isn’t exactly comics about breaking-news items, but comics that examine in an engaging way events such as the impact and aftermath of Hurricane Sandy (going on now), the Arab Spring or other Middle East events, the story of the Mars Rover and, yes, the 2012 presidential election. Three Rivers Press released something similar for the last election, 08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail, so it’s certainly not like this is completely unprecedented or even a new idea. Breaking down a single event into 30 pages might be a little easier than trying to break down someone’s entire life, and it would be a more digestible and entertaining way to teach kids (and adults) about what’s going on in the world.