September 3, 2007

The Biography As A Comic Book

Slate will serialize the latest biography of Ronald Reagan this week -- a "graphic" biography that will appear in five installments. After reading the first installment, I can report that it's everything one would expect from a comic book. It lacks insight, fresh perspective, and any kind of context -- and that's just the text.

In the first 19 pages of what appears to be a biography of less than 100 pages, Andrew Helfer provides nothing but the same anecdotes that everyone who has read any Reagan biography already knows. We get the "lose the glasses" advice from a co-worker who made it to Hollywood, the ad-libbed baseball announcing, the alcoholic father -- all de riguer material for any Reagan biographer. In fact, that's all we get -- the stories we know married to comic-book representations of the anecdotes.

The art, by Steve Buccellato and Joe Staton, hardly qualifies as even standard comic-book fare. It looks more like Office Clip-Art, with Reagan getting a Batman "Ooof" when his ad-libbing turns out to be wrong. In most of the images of Reagan before Hollywood, one would be hard pressed to distinguish the drawings of Reagan from those of Clark Kent. It's flat, lifeless, and almost unrecognizable as the Reagan known from a multitude of pictures from that era.

Of course, one can't expect much of a comic-book biography. In a comic book of less than 100 pages, which is what this appears to be, how much actual text -- you know, the actual biography -- can it contain? Twenty normal pages? Thirty? The notion that one can write a biography of any person of substance in such a short form is ludicrous, let alone a modern United States President. It's nothing more than a long-form tract, a pamphlet with as much insight as a protest placard.

The biggest question this raises is not why it got written, or what attention-deficit audience it intends to reach. The biggest question is why Slate felt compelled to serialize such an intellectually and artistically bankrupt effort. Slate readers should feel offended that this is what Slate's editors think of them.


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Comments (8)

Posted by red | September 3, 2007 11:36 AM

I predict the DNC will be producing ever more comic book explanations of their politics, in both English, Spanish, and Eubonics.

Posted by Carol Herman | September 3, 2007 12:33 PM

I wonder how long it's gonna take for people to spot it?

Spot what?

Well, let me go a bit "backwards" in time to Martin Luther. Who understood the personal sacrifice of a priest not allowed to marry a woman. And, he also knew what was going on inside the (french) Vatican.

Had it "up to here," he did. Why, people used to be burned at the stake for daring to translate the Bible into "vernacular."

What came along? Well, in the 14th Century; that's the 1500's, Magellan discovered how to circumnavigate the globe. And, an army of ships not only went out; they brought back RICHES.

And, so, suddenly, a middle-class was born. Parents then, who wanted to give their kids educations. And, the VERNACULAR took over. The Catholic Church hit a few bumps (from which it never recovered). And, people today not only read the Bible, some think Jesus spoke English.

Any-hoo, that's where we stand, now. No. No Martin Luther. Just a bunch of kids falling in love with computers; who sailed far above their parents heads; starting in the 1980's.

And, from that beginning, we now have the Internet.

Sure, the "old priests" are there; just like during olden times. But it seems they can't sell their "Indulgences" anymore.

The sounds you hear the pundits making? Anger,for the most part, of having lost the stage they thought was theirs.

As the computers, and other things, have raised the levels of profits ordinary people can get. (Even some just selling "stuff" on eBay.)

In other words, it's not the "old economy," when a new one comes along, and replaces "same."

Yes, Red, even the writers of textbooks will keep grabbing at taxpayer dollars, producing stuff no one is paying attention to at all.

Regurgiation has become the educator's "game."

There's no respect in that.

Of course, the "playing field" has shown to be "evenly divided." Sort'a like saying "day and night." Without accounting for the "changes in between."

Still if you're gonna peddle the written word; it pays to treat your customers nice.

Did you know that starting about the 1880's; as Americans became more affluent, salesmen were trucking around encyclopedias; knocking on doors, all over the place.

And, then? People were buying.

Sometimes, you can tell affluence by the lengths Encyclopedia Brittanica went; to sell its wares door-to-door. They didn't publish laughing stock material.

As to the lowest level of AMerican society? Where women use school, still, as a place to find sex? Those people escape the system without being able to read.

Sure, we're told they vote.

But some of them also fill our jails.

While the politicians are looking like out-of-touch aristocrats.

Though, today. Up at Drudge, is the headline, "Hillary runs for change." Sure, she does.

On the other hand, changes are in the air. And, the worst of the GOP horse-manure characters, have left congress. What's so bad about that?

We will stay at 50/50, though, as long as the GOP "queens" get into leadership roles.

Well, it's theater.

And, from the theater we know we derived John Wilkes Booth. And, the Bernhart family. A small cluster, in a huge universe.

Since people with power don't want to lose any, I'm hoping for the best when it comes to DC.

The real "comic strip clowns?" I wouldn't even give you that one for the likes of Hastert. What a stupid fool.

I will remind you of what Lincoln said, though: You just can't fool all of the people all of the time."

Honest Abe, more than a moniker; he led the republicans to their first real success; in spite of rivalries and factions.

Posted by daytrader | September 3, 2007 1:35 PM


As much as I usually try to follow your free form posts, this one had an unusual quality of being readable for most.

I don't know if that is because I have read you enough to earn the decoder ring or maybe on this holiday I have enough beers under my belt to get an epiphany about what you are trying to say.

Heck I do it enough myself.

One blog I posted on had a response to my comment asking if I was related to you.

Now that got me head scratching for a moment or two as to what they were aiming at with that comment.

Posted by daytrader | September 3, 2007 1:40 PM

Hey folks if you get around to reading here today, please go here and read this story.

I can't express enough how important this thing is to read.

Trust me , you will thank me later.

 Hat Tip goes to Villianous Company Cassandra via Glenn Reynolds.

Now get off your butt and go read it. 



Posted by daytrader | September 3, 2007 1:48 PM

Oh and BTW I read Cassandra because she is an astute commenter, the graphic she has a the top of her page only reminds me of other days.

Posted by Flakk | September 3, 2007 6:34 PM

After reading the first installment, I can report that it's everything one would expect from a comic book. It lacks insight, fresh perspective, and any kind of context -- and that's just the text.

That seems like a rather needless, ad hominem attack on an entire art form. Don't get me wrong, I've had to quit reading many titles due to their increasing leftist lean and fascination with moral equivalence (Captain America punches out the U.S. SecDef and moves control of S.H.I.E.L.D. to the U.N.?! Hah!).

Nevertheless, I think that comics are one of the most promising and vibrant art forms at work in society today. Sure, Slate's book about Reagan would probably be about as balanced as a book about Clinton if it were penned by Limbaugh, but it's hardly worth demonizing comics as a whole because of an occasional saddle-stitched voyage into Fever Swamp Central.

Posted by Ted | September 4, 2007 11:35 AM

I agree with Flakk. Just because someone has done a bad comic biography, doesn't mean it's impossible to do a good one. "Comics" as an artform are much more than Marvel & DC's superheroics.

Posted by the bizarro | September 4, 2007 3:43 PM

This certainly reads better than that silly comic book featuring Sean Hannity and G Gordon Liddy draw like superbuff steroid abusing pro wrestlers with cyborg parts.

Why do conservatives fear art?

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