Thursday, 2 April 2009


Pro-Obama merchandise is the new anti-Bush merchandise. Anything that can have his face on it is now getting his face on it. Check out this series of "Barack-sploitation" videos (nice title there. It may be an obvious pun, but it also serves as a reminder of how Obama is frequently tied to mainstream concepts of blackness). Still, comic books are really exploiting Obama-mania. This is partly because comic book companies are usually quick to try and exploit popular fads anyway, and secondly because of the fact that it's made just oh so much juicier by the fact that Barack Obama is actually a self-confessed comic book fan. Check out this wikipedia page listing (some of) the comic books that feature Obama.

Supposedly, Obama's favourite comic book characters are Spider-Man and Conan. The Spider-Man connection has already been somewhat exploited to death. If you can (it doesn't work in Britain, the country that I live in), check out this clip from the Colbert Report where Stephen leaves out a copy of the Spider-Man/Barack Obama Marvel comic book, signed by both Colbert and current Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada as "Obama bait". Still, the Conan the barbarian connection has been somewhat less utilised...

...Until now, that is.

Yes, that's Devil's Due Press' solicitation for some Barack comics that include Barack the Barbarian. I could spend hours unpacking all the ideas about black masculinity that the cover image presents (an unavoibale side-effect of combining the popular image of the president with the world's most famous Cimmerian, perhaps?), but I also want to point out that DDP have proved unable to resist the temptation to create a "Red Sarah" (a take on Red Sonja) variant cover that ties into all of the sexist "sexy Sarah Palin" nonsense that has surrounded Palin ever since she first stepped out onto the world stage. *Sigh*.

Does anyone else find her somewhat static and lifeless face in this image absolutely terrifying? That is some seriously not great comic art right there.

Still, on the positive side, it's good to be reminded that a certain other Sarah is still about.

Going back to the subject of Barack Obama and comics though, I just want to remind everyone about this Sinfest comic strip from November last year that posits Obama as the latest chapter in a history of black super-heroes (Black Lightning, Green Lantern and Steel). There's a nice pun on Washington DC/DC comics (no Marvel or other super-heroes are represented) and I like the fact that here, Obama isn't just standing in for some black superhero (honestly, non-comics fans, had you even heard of Black Lightning or Steel before just now?) but has in fact stepped into the role of the new Superman, a clear metaphor for a black man finally gaining the highest political office in the U.S. A black man is now finally a leader of heroes, not an also-ran.

I'm not a huge fan of the common Barack-Obama-as-a-superhero conceit, though. Like a lot of his fans, I'm worried about the man becoming lionised to some ridiculous extreme, which only feeds right wing concerns about Obama as some kind of vacuous celebrity/false prophet (Sinfest also dealt with the image of Barack as a rockstar ("Barackstar") here, amongst other instances). It's great to have a charismatic, popular individual in such an important political role, but still, a lot of the popular imagery surrounding Obama has that same aura of incredulity that those "Bush/Hitler: same old shit" t-shirts had. Cashing in on Obamania may just have the unfortunate side-effect of turning Obama merchandise into the twenty-first century equivalent of the Che Guevara t-shirt; which'd be a real shame.

Now, just so I don't end on too dour a note, let's remind ourselves of what would be on t-shirts everywhere had a certain other individual won the U.S. Preseidential election:

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Great post, Jay! I also am weary of the Obama-mania going on. As much as I like the guy and feel a million times more confidence in his leadership than I did in the last 8 years, I think he still needs to be held accountable in a "real life" manner. Putting him in comics can dampen the idea that he's just a man, and a man that needs to do a lot of fixin' in this country.