08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail (Three Rivers Press)

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Journalist Michael Crowley and cartoonist Dan Goldman dredge through the highlights and lowlights of Barack Obama's historic run for the White House.

 

 

160 pgs. B&W; $17.95

(W: Michael Crowley; A: Dan Goldman)

 

In the forward to Fear and Loathing On The Campaign Trail '72, Hunter S. Thompson wrote, "When a journalist turns into a politics junkie he will sooner or later start raving and babbling in print about things that only a person who has Been There can possibly understand." Thompson compares those journalists-cum-junkies to jackrabbits, the kind that get bored with eating and mating and decide to risk their lives by running in front of cars on the highway. 36 years later, bored with everyday campaign reporting, New Republic editor Michael Crowley partnered with artist Dan Goldman and together they've darted out into traffic.

With 08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail, they made it across the road, but not without having a Mack truck crush a leg bone or two. It's not permanently debilitating, but a wise jackrabbit knows not to risk it again.

08 isn't necessarily bad, but just like many of the other books coming out in the wake of last year's election, there just isn't much of a point.

The idea is noble: Take a reporter's insight and combine it with an illustrator's talent to make a book that will appeal to people who don't typically read books by reporters or comics. But like the new president's attempt to reach a bipartisan agreement on a stimulus package, the book sacrifices too much for hardliners on both sides.

The cover to 08 by Dan Goldman. Click for a larger image.In what seems to be an attempt at balance, political analysis has been abandoned in 08. That's just as well, because books of political analysis are for wonks, and every wonk I know refuses to read comics. Without analysis, the prose in 08 is more of a history lesson. Every candidate in the primaries gets coverage, and Crowley adeptly details their eventual downfall (Spoiler alert: Obama wins). The overabundance of story arcs (Romney's up, Romney's down, Huckabee's up, Huckabee's down, Obama's up, Obama's down, Obama's up again, Obama's down again, ad nauseam) points out the absurd length of the last election cycle, and if it weren't about real events, it would make for a boring book. The natural and truthful drama of the primaries makes up the bulk of this book, which is fine, because in retrospect, the primaries were the most interesting part of the campaign. But in comparison, the last quarter of the book seems glossed over, as if the authors were trying to make a deadline and decided to skip over everything but the most infamous events of the last few months before the election. Maybe Crowley and Goldman could have cut a few of the pages devoted to Ron Paul and given them to Sarah Palin. The book gives Paul more attention than historians ever will.

Aside from the slapdash ending, only one other part of the book feels lazy. The times when the two reporters who are covering the events in the book talk to each other consistently fall flat. These dialogues could have provided insightful commentary or served as more powerful narrative force, but they don't do either. Instead, the heroes show up only to break the monotony of the campaign's natural progress or to crack the occasional joke.

The art is daring, but not in the tradition of daring graphic art. Each page is put together like a campaign poster, with bold type for the narration and iconically-rendered drawings of famous campaign events. While the text takes a fair stance, the art shows a slight bias towards Obama. The words are in a font that's similar, if not identical, to Gotham, the Obama campaign's official typeface and every person in the book except for the two narrating reporters and the eventual president look like zombies. They have dead eyes and excessively lined faces. It looks like everyone who ever opposed the Senator from Illinois was immediately drained of all essential life forces and fluids.

08 is a noble effort, and it's a shame it comes so short of greatness. The idea of an accessible history book is brilliant, especially now; many of the millions of people who suddenly became interested in the democratic process would probably love an easy to read recollection of one of the most historical elections in American history. Too bad they'll have to settle for this one. | Gabe Bullard

For a free 20-page excerpt of 08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail, visit http://dangoldman.net/2009/01/06/free-20-page-excerpt-from-08/

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