In the original graphic album Unpresidential, it would seem that no-one gets a free pass, whether they be the easy targets of Trump, his goon gang, or even SJWs, as co-writers Kevin Bieber and Victor Reynolds and artist Jeremy Labib take aim and fire potshots at the grotesque gargoyles of modern politics and modern life. They add even further layers of grease grime to their already tainted characters through caricatures that remind me at times of the much lamented Spitting Image TV satire show of the 80’s. And, given the current state of American politics, I would argue there isn’t too much exaggeration to do.
Still, this is a book of extremities, where the Republicans set sail on a Russian cruise liner after their Commander in Chief mysteriously disappears and a new election has to be called just a year after his election. Enter, stage left, Kim Jong-un, ready to claim he was born in the USA and so eligible for election. But, has anyone seen his birth certificate to prove this, I wonder?
What then unfolds seems to be a series of satirical and ironic digs at almost anything that seems to have made the news, or passed by the creators’ eyes at some point in the past few years, while Kimmy sets about building his election team, seemingly made up of every stereotype out there. As well as hipster/SJW, Zelda Goldstein, Kim recruits a gay activist and some kind of dog/human hybrid, that wouldn’t be out of place in a Kamandi comic, onto his rag-tag team. But, given the time and hours spent in producing a book of this length, some of the gags are less than topical, which isn’t what you want from a book hoping to be on-trend, as any politically satirical book should aim to be.
There’s a reason the best of the best are usually daily strips like Doonesbury, shows like South Park or even, at a stretch, monthly comics like UK’s Viz. Unpresidential take stabs at Sony and indirectly, the hacking of their systems that was news, what, three years ago? They even go after perennial favourites, hipsters and craigslist, but it can often come across as stale, or even worse, old hat. It reads almost as though they’ve taken a scatter gun approach to their humour and I would have rather seen something more focused and less reliant on the need to get at least one gag per page, on every page. It’s not the creators intention, but satire cannot afford to be stale, I’m afraid. Not in today’s fast moving internet age.
This is no Team America, I can tell you that, but one has to admire the blood, sweat and tears that they’ve put into this. And, while the bigger comic book companies would argue that there isn’t room for politics in comics (based somewhat on Secret Empire, a comic that I feel wasn’t ignored by readers because of the politics, but rather because of their screwing with Cap, and the ultimate reset button surely every knew was coming?), I feel that books of this kind are needed, and I can only commend them for trying to get an oft-times ignored genre back into the funny books and onto shelves. Even if they had to print the book in Korea (I kid you not).
With the art being somewhat rough and ready, it feels more like an underground comic than a graphic novel, and possibly that could have been a route they should have taken if the medium is the message? The art is aimed to be shocking, but does that make it funny in itself? It’s a poor man’s Family Guy at best, as Kim Jong-un takes a bizarre ride to the far side of America, meeting among the evil corporations personified in a Ronald McDonald parody, a demonic and demented Hilary Clinton making a slave out of Bernie Sanders and branding him (so he feels the ‘Bern’ – geddit?).
Overall, it’s a kind of Piers Plowman for the modern age, or a Medieval morality play. Almost a nightmare-like episodic journey around America where each character is larger than life, with Kimmy the largest (literally and figuratively) of the lot and having more in common with President Trump that one should find comfortable. And, as he journeys across America rather than coming across, and being tempted by, the Seven Deadly Sins, Kim Jong-un is more the catalyst for these sins, along with a whole rogues gallery of ne’er-do-wells and charlatans. Kim Jong-un comes across as the crass, dictatorial fat man he most assuredly is in real life, but with added bitterness and bile.
No doubt, from the imagery and the caricatures within, this has all the markings of a comic courting controversy. And, for every miss, there are plenty of humourous hits too, making this a satirical graphic novel that many would find hilarious. Not me though. Maybe I’ve seen one too many Family Guy episodes perhaps?
Unpresidential is out now at $14.99 from Z2 Comics. Go vote with your wallets.