Two frightened young women are huddled in a filthy Paris alley, their backs against a brick wall as three menacing French rugby players harass them. A lone wiry-framed man in business attire dares to stop them, thrusting his body between the thugs and their intended prey.
The defender gets smacked in the face but considers his bruised jaw a “badge of honor.”
This two-panel scene is buried inside Political Power: Mitt Romney, a new book by Bluewater Comics, an independent publisher specializing in 22-page celebrity and political biographies. The cartoon tale of Romney boldly rushing to the aid of fellow Mormon missionaries in the late 1960s is compelling, but also slightly exaggerated, if you believe the version he shared with Boston Globe journalists Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, authors of The Real Romney.
“There were about 20 guys, very large and very muscular, and we were a group of very young and very small American guys. If you get into a fight with Muhammad Ali, you don’t return the punch, you just put your arms up,” he told the authors.
Hey, comic books are entitled to some creative license. Plus, Romney with clenched fists makes for a much more entertaining scene than Richard Nixon taking the U.S. dollar off the gold standard in 1971 — a critical life-changing event in the new Ron Paul comic, also by Bluewater.
“I’m a registered Democrat and candidly hope that Mitt Romney loses in November,” confides author Marc Shapiro, who wrote both the Romney and Paul titles. “But I’m first and foremost a journalist and think I’ve given him a fair representation. Whether you agree with someone’s politics or not, a great story is a great story.”
Shapiro is primarily a chronicler of pop culture, specializing in unauthorized celebrity biographies in both long and short form. His 35th book, focusing on Grammy Award-winning singer Adele, is slated for release next week. For Bluewater, he’s also captured the life stories of Cher, Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, Kathy Griffin, Selena Gomez and John Lennon.
“Let’s face it, people who live and die by every word that comes out of the mouth of Kim Kardashian are not going to have any deep thoughts on Mitt Romney — and vice versa,” Shapiro says. “But we’re creating a whole new audience for comics. We’re giving kids who wouldn’t read full-length biographies a legitimate, balanced look at history.”
Indeed, Bluewater Comics publisher and CEO Darren G. Davis says the company’s strategy includes aggressively targeting schools and libraries.
“When I was a kid, I was a reluctant reader, and my dad was just thrilled when I started reading comics,” he says. “He didn’t care what I read as long as I was reading. But we don’t dumb down our writing, either.”
Comic book publishing, like the entire print media world, has experienced drastic economic changes over the past few years. In 1991, Marvel’s X-Men No. 1 sold more than 8 million copies. In contrast, last year’s top-selling comic, D.C. Comics’s Justice League No. 1, sold 361,000.
Davis says 100,000 copies remains the benchmark for a hit mainstream title. For an alternative publisher like Bluewater, he says, 10,000 copies is the threshold for success.
Based in Vancouver, Wash., Bluewater released its first political comics in 2008 (Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonScarborough: Missed opportunities in Trump’s inauguration speech Chelsea Clinton: Let Barron Trump be a kid Juan Williams: Ethics cloud hangs over Trump MORE and Sarah Palin). Since then, only Michelle ObamaMichelle ObamaMichael Reagan: Trump's fighting words rattle Washington Michelle Obama inauguration reactions become Twitter meme Hillary Clinton holds head high as Trump takes office MORE has been a blockbuster, selling more than 120,000 copies. Clinton and Palin each sold about 20,000 copies. On the pop culture side, Justin Bieber (40,000) and Cher (20,000) have achieved rarified newsstand status for indie titles.
Davis expects Romney to sell around 5,000 copies, far more than fizzled Republican presidential candidates Michele BachmannMichele BachmannEx-rep admires furs amid PETA inaugural gala Why Republicans took aim at an ethics watchdog Will Trump back women’s museum? MORE and Rick Perry. In those cases, sales could not be perfectly timed to their meteoric but brief spikes in the polls.
“We’re taking snapshots of history. We can’t always be slaves to the polls,” Davis says. “We’re still selling Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi books, not in astronomical numbers, but people still ask for them. And we don’t always pick the obvious subjects. Sometimes it’s the people who I personally want to learn more about.”
That philosophy explains why Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich do not have their own comic books, despite alternately serving as Romney’s archenemy for months. But a Herman Cain biography was commissioned months after he dropped out of the race amid allegations of adultery and sexual harassment.
“I think how Herman Cain came out of nowhere from the pizza guy to the Republican front-runner is fascinating,” Davis says.
“When you watch CNN or Fox, their coverage is so polarizing that it’s hard to get a clear picture of who politicians are anymore,” he adds. “We tell you how they grew up, what formed their beliefs and what their biggest life challenges have been. We complete the full picture, but we’re also not afraid to have some fun.”
Bluewater repackages its most popular titles in trade paperback anthologies. Scheduled for release this fall, there are books devoted to Democratic and Republican political icons featuring covers drawn in the style of the 1970s cartoon “The Super Friends.” Placed side by side, it would appear as if Sen. Al FrankenAl FrankenFranken emerges as liberal force in hearings Trump nominees dodge 'climate denier' charge Justice requires higher standard than Sessions MORE (D-Minn.) and friends (Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Barack ObamaBarack ObamaA closer look at McCain's proposed defense budget Scarborough: Missed opportunities in Trump’s inauguration speech Juan Williams: Ethics cloud hangs over Trump MORE) are charging ahead in a fist-based joust with Rush Limbaugh and the gang (Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Arnold Schwarzenegger).
A soon-to-be revamped President Obama comic book (to include the killing of Osama bin Laden) is told from the perspective of an average guy in an Illinois diner chatting with the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. Author Chris Ward acknowledges the outright fan worship of Obama at the time of his election, portraying him as a spandex-clad superhero at the beginning of the story. He also doesn’t shy away from the numerous controversies during Obama’s first bid for the White House, such as his ties to controversial preacher Jeremiah Wright and former Weather Underground radical Bill Ayers.
“I tried to capture the passion of the last election,” Ward says. “Everyone was all worked up on both sides. I don’t feel that this time around. People seem to be tuning out.”
According to Davis, comic books are a fresh way to break through the apathy.
“I used to base my vote on skimming the headlines,” he says. “But whether you like a candidate or not, you should know what you’re voting for or voting against. We’re just doing our part to keep people informed.”