A report by George Gene Gustines for The New York Times.
Is Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York the biggest comic book character of 2019? Her story has all the twists of a comic book origin: She’s a former bartender and activist turned congresswoman; she’s a confident public speaker and a social-media whiz (where she once quoted from the “Watchmen” graphic novel); and she’s a champion for progressive issues and the environment.
Readers will be able to decide for themselves where she ranks among their comic book favorites on Wednesday when Issue No. 1 of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Freshman Force arrives in stores.
The tales in this anthology include the absurdist and the hopeful. In one, written by Nick Accardi and drawn by Travis Hymel, the world of politics is transferred to a wrestling ring — where Ocasio-Cortez participates in a “Senate Slam” against “diabolical special-interest groups.” She is visited the night before the match by someone who introduces themselves as “New York’s Greatest Senator.” When she guesses Hillary Clinton, there is an angry response: “No Dag Nabbit! It’s me Franklin Delano Roosevelt!”
Another story, “Dance Party USA” by the cartoonist Peter Rostovsky, delves into the question of whether dancing and Democrats mix — in response to the dance video of Ocasio-Cortez that surfaced on the internet on the eve of her swearing-in. “Obama danced but was too smooth,” Rostovsky writes, while Hillary Clinton “seemed kind of awkward.” He also says that the key to a social movement is to make it enjoyable. “I suggested we look at AOC’s ‘infamous’ dance video as a promise of things to come,” he writes. “Maybe it’ll be a party if she really gets her way.”
The project, from Devil’s Due Comics, received a lot of media attentionwhen it was announced in February. In his foreword, Josh Blaylock, the founder of the company, said he created the comic because he was inspired by Ocasio-Cortez and other newly elected members of Congress. The result is a 52-page book, priced at $5.99, which has pinups, games and stories. The common theme is the potential of the new members of Congress and their “finally bringing diversity to the legislative body that reflects us as a whole,” Blaylock wrote.
The Ocasio-Cortez comic is not the first or last foray into politics by Devil’s Due. Blaylock published “Barack the Barbarian” in 2009. And on July 3, the company will release an anthology dedicated to Bernie Sanders, “Talk Bernie To Me!” — which is being promoted as “another comic anthology for the 99 percent.”
Comic books and politics have a colorful past. President Ronald Reagan was the subject of a 2007 graphic-novel biography. The next year, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain made an appearance in a Marvel comic, and IDW Publishing presented biographical comics about Senators John McCain and Barack Obama a month before Election Day. TidalWave Productions has a regular “Female Force” series of comics that tell the life stories of Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama, Condoleezza Rice and others. The company also released “Donald Trump: The Graphic Novel” as part of its “Political Power” series and is publishing a biographical comic on Ocasio-Cortez in August.
President Trump is a regular subject of the artist Jon McNaughton, who has been painting for about four decades but whose work turned to politics in 2008, when he painted John McCain. But it was “One Nation Under God” (2009), which showed Jesus Christ holding a copy of the Constitution, that brought him a lot of exposure. “This was when the internet was just starting to come on pretty strong, and it went viral because somebody was making fun of it,” Naughton said in a telephone interview. Then the tide turned. “I’ve come to kind of get used to the fact that half the country loves my paintings and the other half hates them.”
Similarly McNaughton’s paintings of the president tend to take a positive view of him. One painting, “National Emergency,” about the immigration debate, depicts President Trump on one side opposed by Ocasio-Cortez and others. He normally would not paint such a new congresswoman, he said, but “she was an interesting enough character to put in.”
In February, when a reporter for TMZ asked Ocasio-Cortez about her comic book debut, she said she was appreciative that a portion of all sales will go to RaicesTexas.org, which provides free and low-cost legal services to immigrant children, families and refugees. The reporter also asked Ocasio-Cortez what it felt like to be depicted as a superhero. “I’m just a normal person, doing her best,” she said. She added that her comic-book character might inspire young girls, showing them that “we all have a superhero inside of us.”