Today’s mail brought plenty of politics. I’m just back from vacation and there was a large pile of parcels waiting for me in the newsroom, and the first one I opened contained "MAD About Politics" (Insight Editions, $34.95), a fancy new pop-up book from "the usual gang of idiots" at MAD Magazine, and the second one contained a T-shirt featuring an especially heroic vision of Democratic candidate Barack Obama drawn by Alex Ross, one of the true superstars in comics since his landmark 1990s work on "Astro City" and "Kingdom Come." It’s pretty clear it’s election season, isn’t it?
First, the book: I’m a big fan of MAD and, in fact, I don’t really trust people who don’t like it. I was talking to the novelist Brad Meltzer last week and he mentioned that MAD usually seems to be the common link between him and the people who become his closest friends. Roger Ebert has said on several occasions that MAD inspired his entire approach to film criticism and Joyce Carol Oates and Patti Smith are other vocal devotees. So I expected big things from this pop-up book. And it delivers — although it’s not as long as you would hope, neither in page count nor in historical depth.
The book is only 12 pages long but, of course, with its intricate assembly of pop-ups and pockets, this is a book you climb into, not one built for a "scan and flip" reader. There’s great stuff in here, all previously published, but still great to see again. I especially enjoyed "Goodnight Room," a parody of "Goodnight Moon" as ode to the winding-down days of the Clinton administration ("Goodnight lies, Goodnight fries.Goodnight soft money with Chinese ties") and a recovered legal pad covered with George W. Bush’s notes and doodles from a cabinet meeting ("Change name of state to Oilaska!").
Alfred E. Neuman first ran for president in 1956 and, as a press release for the book noted, he handles his defeat every four years with "grace and apathy." That’s a long history but, with this book, you only get the savage wit of MAD from the Clinton administration forward. Too bad. I would love to revisit some of the Nixon era material when the magazine’s subversive gags seemed to have a intense generational urgency to them. Still, this book is a great collection, especially if you loved MAD as a kid but haven’t seen the issues over the past decade and a half.
The Obama T-shirt from Graphitti Designs, meanwhile, looks pretty spiffy — Ross has a majestic yet photo realistic style that has made him a towering figure in comics — and I chuckled when I saw it. It’s the classic Clark Kent pose, although this time the symbol beneath the coat-and-tie resembles an patriotic version of the Oregon Ducks logo. There’s been plenty of criticism of the press for treating the senator from Illinois with something akin to hero worship, so maybe I will send this over to our political desk and see if anyone with a mischievous streak has the guts to wear it on the campaign trail. I’m guessing not.
I told you a few weeks back about the competing graphic novels presenting the biographies of Obama and his Republican opponent, John McCain. I just checked and, according to pre-order totals for the October releases, Obama is clearly the Man of Steel when it comes to funny books: IDW Publishing reports that 49% of sales have been for "Presidential Material: Barack Obama" while "Presidential Material: John McCain" has 33% of the on line pre-orders. The undecided vote is at 18%: That’s the percentage of pre-orders for a special "flip book," a combination of the both graphic novels (it has each candidate on one cover, the stories run in opposite directions inside).
– Geoff Boucher
"MAD About Politics" image courtesy of Insight Editions and MAD.
Barack Obama T-shirt art by Alex Ross, courtesy of Ross and Graphitti Designs.