In the past, works of graphic nonfiction covering historical events (like After 9/11 and Cartoon History of the Universe) haven’t left me particularly impressed. While they are certainly interesting works, I’ve felt that nothing is added by telling the stories as graphic novels. Rather than the art and story working together to make a stronger book, I feel that too often the pieces were crammed into a graphic novel mold. Such is not the case with Michael Crowley and Dan Goldman’s ’08 : A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail.
The book details the lengthy path to Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential victory, from the 2006 Democratic sweep of Congress to election night last November. Crowley (senior editor at The New Republic) and Goldman (artist of the graphic novel Shooting War) published this book at the end of January, and I suspect they wrote much of it during the campaign – there is a sense of presence and immediacy in the writing that serves the book well. Goldman’s art is simply stunning in ’08. The photo-referenced political figures aren’t exact but are easily identifiable, and never fall into a creepy, uncanny-valley area. The real highlight is the graphic design, which obviously takes a page out of the Jonathan Hickman school of design. Bold contrasting lines, striking captions, and unique and interesting layouts separate this from your typical OGN. In fact, the weakest parts of this title are when it falls into the ruts of conventional comics – word balloons, the occasional page of a half-dozen rectangular panels, and the like. The inclusion of two fictional reporters to cover the campaign, Harlan Jessop and Jason Newbury, was also unnecessary; the commentary they offer on current events in the book doesn’t ever stop the feeling that they were tacked on as a weak attempt to offer additional commentary. Having said that, ’08 is a fantastic account of the historic 2008 campaign. Though I’d recommend it for the art alone, Crowley covered major, minor and memorable events from the two-year presidential race with a reporter’s eye and created a compelling script. Rather than just waiting for the inevitable flood of books about this campaign coming later this year, pick up ’08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail now for a fascinating retelling of one of the nation’s more important elections ever.
’08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail, by Michael Crowley and Dan Goldman – 17.95 – 160 pages – Paperback – ISBN 9780307405111 – Three Rivers Press