Comic-book biographies of presidential candidates are nothing new; the Democratic Party published one in 1948 to sing the praises of Harry S. Truman, noting his boyhood ability to plow the straightest furrow in the county. The modern version for the 2008 race, Presidential Material Flipbook, was produced without the assistance of either contender's campaign; the writers (Angel and Desperadoes writer Jeff Mariotte handled Obama, former DC comics editor Andy Helfer took McCain) relied on news reports and the candidates' own books. In spite of the heroic poses on J. Scott Campbell's covers, both text-heavy tales have more facts than action. Both stories—also available for mobile-phone downloads and as separate books for readers who refuse to reach across the aisle—stay mostly fair and balanced, amounting to a pair of presidential-biography Cliffs Notes.

Considering how ugly and divisive the race has become, that isn't bad. But more action or at least better art would have been more fun. Although Obama's youth and pop-culture-friendly personality seems to lend itself to graphic-novel treatment, McCain's story, with its early Sgt. Rock overtones, is actually better suited for the medium. Even when not at war, The Mack's explosive personality allows for more exciting moments; in one panel, the soon-to-be senator threatens to "personally beat the *#*@*!" out of an early political opponent.


Obama's years as a law student and community organizer are difficult to dramatize, and Mariotte doesn't really try. Still, his details are revealing. A scene where Obama visits the 2000 Democratic convention shows how far he's come in only eight years; not only was his credit card declined there, he had no access to the convention hall, and was forced to watch the speeches on television. As for the candidate of the Joe Six-Pack party, his second wife, Cindy, bought a house in an Arizona district so McCain could run for office there. (At least she used Anheuser-Busch money.) Both books successfully present the facts in a straightforward manner, which makes for a decent but slightly dull read. Anyone who knows who they're voting for is unlikely to be swayed, but undecided voters looking for a peek into the candidates' backgrounds could do worse.