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.