Barack Hussein Obama by Steven WeissmanBarack Hussein Obama starts out as an unassuming, slightly offbeat, four-panel comic wherein our great nation’s leader, Barack, goes about his business. It looks like it has been hastily scribbled with whatever pen was on hand into a small Moleskine notebook. The melancholy, but humorous tone is almost Schultzian (as in Charles, of Peanuts). Barack is long, tall, and oval-headed, not particularly recognizable as our president–thankfully, the title of the book clears that one up for us. Joe Biden shows up to idly ponder life’s little mysteries.

But things get weird–Biden spews blood (or are they lasers?) from all his orifices, Hillary Clinton appears with a grotesquely bloated and veiny monster face complete with crazy fangs, and suddenly you know something’s up. Then, Barack turns into a beautiful bird and gives Sasha and Malia a ride to Hawaii. And so it goes, until the world is topsy-turvy and everything you thought you had a grip on has more or less gone to hell.

So what does it mean? Does the devolution of the story into absurdity and nonsense mirror the devolution of our society today? Is Steven Weissman vehemently anti-Obama? Does he really see Hillary Clinton as a vein-popping rage monster to be reckoned with and Biden as an unassuming, but dangerous fool? My answer, and you may have a different one after experiencing this comic, is no. It would seem to me that his messy and meandering surrealist narrative is meant to say something about how we view our politicians and shape their images to suit our own opinions. In this case, those opinions are largely negative and vitriolic. Weissman seems to be holding a mirror up to our ideas of America more than he’s skewering the politicians themselves, creating a series of political caricatures carried out far beyond their logical conclusions. And it’s scary–this book is certainly only for mature audiences who can deal with lots of monstrous surprises and a few (albeit scribbly) decapitations.

But in the end, I’m grasping at straws for a meaning or purpose here. The absurdity and black humor of Barack Hussein Obama cannot truly be summed up in a review–they must be experienced. I started reading this as a web comic on the website What Things Do, and it works better on a strip to strip basis, I think. The build to total dada-ness is slower, and you can savor each strip individually for its meaning or lack thereof — as a book it all rushes and mushes together as a swift spiral into madness. BHO is not for the faint of heart (or stomach) or for those seeking meaning in their comics, but it’s a good choice for those prepared to experience an impenetrably, almost insanely personal commentary on the way the world works today.

Barack Hussein Obama
by Steven Weissman
ISBN: 9781606996232
Fantagraphics, 2012

  • Emilia Packard

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! Emilia has been reading graphic novels rabidly since her best friend handed her Craig Thompson’s Blankets over winter break during her sophomore year of college. From that day, her fate was sealed — at Grinnell College, she created, edited and drew strips for a student comics magazine called The Sequence. As an MLS Student at the University of Illinois, she spent way too much time filling up her backpack (and her roommate’s backpack) with the treasures of the Undergrad Library’s comics collection — never less than 40 books at a time. Just in the past few years, she’s worked at libraries and archives in Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Indiana, and Austin, Texas and consumed their graphic novels collections with great gusto. She has been drawing her stick-figure avatar, Flippy-Do, since she was about 10 years old.

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