KANSAS CITY, Mo. (July 30) – Trading sound bites for word balloons, the presidential race is coming to the world of comic books this fall.
A month before voters cast ballots, comic book biographies of John McCain and Barack Obama will hit book stores and be available for reading on cell phones.
But don’t expect Captain America-versus-Superman hijinks or super-villains threatening the electoral process. The books purport to tell McCain and Obama’s true life stories, independently researched and illustrated by a team of veteran writers and artists.
IDW Publishing in San Diego, better known for stories of robots (“The Transformers”) and vampires (“30 Days of Night”), commissioned the books with no input from either campaign.
“We’re not doing anything that is sensational here,” said IDW special projects editor Scott Dunbier. “We’re sticking to the facts.”
Comic book biographies have been written before _ Marvel Comics had a best-seller in 1982 with a biography of Pope John Paul II. And books intended to be read on cell phones have been gaining popularity worldwide this year and last.
Dunbier said the company is breaking new ground getting out fully researched comics on two candidates before Election Day. And the nontraditional storytelling and visuals of comics may reach some voters more effectively than other types of media can.
“We’re not in the business of doing textbooks, but I think comic books really do have the great potential to inform and teach,” he said.
IDW will sell the books through cell phones with the help of Kansas City-based uClick, the digital arm of newspaper feature distributor Universal Press Syndicate.
uClick already sells a service allowing customers to view comics over their phones but the presidential comics will be part of a push to begin allowing customers to order whole books over their phone, said Jeff Webber, vice president of product development.
“We’ll be looking at how many people download to phones versus read them in print, which IDW should find interesting, as well as which (book) gets downloaded the most,” Webber said. “This is a great opportunity to show people that there are comics on the phone.”
Customers can pre-order printed versions of the books, due out Oct. 8, online through IDW.
The McCain book, with art by Stephen Thompson, is being written by Andy Helfer, who helped develop the books that later became the movies “Road to Perdition” and “A History of Violence.” He also wrote comic-book biographies of Ronald Reagan and Malcolm X.
Obama’s biography is being written by novelist Jeff Mariotte, who has done comics on Superman, Spider-Man and Star Trek, and artist Tom Morgan.
J. Scott Campbell, who did both covers, said it was inevitable they would generate controversy. Some online commenters already are saying the reddish tinge to the sky behind a smiling McCain looks ominous, while Obama followers are unhappy their candidate’s expression is stern.
“I was really trying to go out of my way to be extra sensitive to the fact that I didn’t want anything like that (bias) to come across,” Campbell said, saying he based his depiction of the candidates on photographs he found on the Internet. “That wasn’t the purpose of the book.”
Helfer and Mariotte said they consulted the candidates’ own books, books by others, news articles and other sources _ including a documentary on a disastrous fire aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal in 1967, during the Vietnam War.
Helfer said he couldn’t help but be moved by McCain’s war experience, including being imprisoned by the Vietnamese. But he said he also included less-flattering experiences from McCain’s youth as well as political setbacks during his time in Congress.
“My objectivity is in finding support, multiple kinds of support, for whatever I state,” he said, adding that both books will include a full section of annotations. “I’m trying to create _ as much as you can in 28 pages _ a portrait of a human being. I think it’s a balanced portrait of the guy.”
Mariotte said he too kept to specific scenes in Obama’s life, although he said he sometimes touched on some of the rumors of Obama’s past that continue to resonate among his critics.
“I think anyone who reads it will see it’s heavy on facts, light on opinion,” he said. “I did kind of glance off some of those rumors just to point out this happened and this didn’t, but I didn’t dwell on those.”