Under President Donald Trump, the last four years (and 2020 especially) has been a deluge of non-stop news like almost never befoire. It can be hard to tell what’s actually going on and what it all truly means, and that includes not only politics but world events and culture. It’s sort of like living in a blender — where the setting’s at “slow, extra painful pulverize.”
Luckily, there’s help amid the endless news cycle, and it comes in a form most of us can actually appreciate. Anthony Del Col and artist Josh Adams (House of Mystery, Doctor Who), as part of an ongoing project with Business Insider, have released an series of news-centric “digestible comics.” Whether it’s addressing Trump’s response to COVID-19 or even the drama with the Royal Family, these webcomics have been an effective way to distill and disseminate today’s news in a handy-dandy format.
On the eve of Election Day (and timed with the release of a new comic exploring Trump’s leadership skills), we sat down with Del Col to talk about the project, its ultimate goals, how its shaping news coverage, and what comes next, among many other topics.
You can read all of Del Col and Adams’ work here.
AIPT: What’s it been like for you as a writer/creator to turn real-world events into comics? What goes in on your end to create these pieces?
Anthony Del Col: It’s been both difficult and easy, both at the same time. I’ve told a lot of stories that include “facts” or real-life moments, but most of these have been in the historical fiction genre (something like Assassin’s Creed or my Image graphic novel Son of Hitler). In those stories I include real-life people but can also fill in the blanks with fictional elements, characters, etc. So when we sat down to work on our first story with Insider, about Trump’s impeachment, my first notion was to create fictional aides that explain the story. That was nixed immediately. Everything must be 100% factual and be able to be backed up with evidence.
On the other hand, though, these non-fiction comic stories are just another expression of storytelling. It all boils down to very simple, key elements: Who’s the story about? What does she/he/they want? What are their obstacles? What do they do to overcome them? So when I apply those elements, it’s just like any other story.
Josh Adams: This is an emotional investment. Most good projects are. But this is an unrelenting emotional process from inception to release and beyond. Obviously when you get into the world of politics, you are signing up for some group of people to disagree with you, some even to hate you and what you do. But it does give you a glimpse into the dissonance that rolls over fact and reality.
AIPT: Without downplaying the tragedies and larger controversies at play, is Trump’s presidency the perfect foil or inspiration for comics? Everything about his administration seems utterly perfect for some cheesy pulp comic circa 1958.
ADC: I’d go back even further – Trump’s presidency reminds me quite a bit of a Shakespearean tragic character. Something like Richard III, always jealous of others and desiring to be in the spotlight all the time, and refusing to share said spotlight. And eliminating every other person who dares to challenge him.
So in that respect it leads to fascinating stories. However, as a storyteller, it’s tough to frame a story around him because, well, he’s sorta the villain. That’s why, in Never Show Weakness: Trump & Power, the two parts feature him being forced to make a choice, and we show how he came to that choice.
AIPT: How much are you trying to blend news with some level of editorializing? Does that distinction matter, especially as we’re dealing with someone like Trump who has a tenuous relationship with ideals like truth?
ADC: The most important thing that our editor, Walter Hickey (an amazing editor!) really pushes for is accuracy and the truth. Never Show Weakness is our fourth comic with Insider, and each one has featured less and less narration, which often leads to some version of editorializing. For Never Show Weakness there are no “written” narration elements – everything is direct quotes from the individuals involved, or headlines or broadcast news audio. Walter really wanted us to just “let the images speak for themselves”, and let the narration be very minimal.
AIPT: What advantages do you see in telling or rehashing these stories in comics form? Are there any corresponding disadvantages?
ADC: When we first spoke to Insider about these comics, they wanted us to create a visually interesting deep-dive into world events. Our first comic was about Trump’s impeachment, and at that time every single news source talked about impeachment, but a lot of the details were hazy (Giuliani in Ukraine, the crazy conspiracies that Trump believed, etc.). So Josh and I were able to show all the key moments from 2015 – 2019 leading up to the impeachment hearings. We hope that it makes the journey into the truth a little more entertaining (‘cause some of it can be really, really depressing…).
And yes, there are definitely disadvantages. As already mentioned, I need to stick to the truth and facts. I can’t make up individuals or dialogue at all. So I need to work within that truth and figure out what to include, and what to disregard.
AIPT: Comics have always been a hugely political medium, and one perfect for dissecting social happenings and values. How has that changed or shifted at all given everything that’s happened in 2020 and the sheer size and scope of both the news cycle and the world at large?
ADC: Well, I feel like everything’s political today. Whether it’s Captain America or social media or even TikTok videos. But for comics specifically, I think that as more people become comfortable reading comics, it allows for us to create stories for audiences that normally wouldn’t touch the medium. There’s a history of great non-fiction graphic novels for decades now, and someone like Joe Sacco is, in my opinion, one of the world’s best writers (not just of comics). But I think people are starting to look more at non-fiction comics as something exciting to read – and this will really continue on moving forward.
JA: It’s a difficult concept. And I don’t think “political” is the right word for it. Relevant? Moral? DC Entertainment really did a wonderful job with Christian Cooper’s “It’s a Bird,” and I’d love to see more of that. Outside of the superhero comic world comics have been all that for years and I think the effects of 2020 are yet to really be seen in comics. That’s why I am so excited about what we’re doing. We’re trying to bring relevant comics to readers while they’re still relevant. With how crazy the news cycle is these days, one new crazy thing happens right on top of the last one and we feel like we’re taking important stories and raising them above the noise with this medium so people can absorb it a different way.
It’s like dynamic learning. If all the information you take in comes at you in one particular way, chances are a lot of it gets filtered out, but we’re giving you a different way to absorb and retain that information. In fact, the number of teachers alone who have reached out to us about this is staggering.
AIPT: Does being Canadian provide you with a different take or perspective on all of this (even if you were to reside in the U.S.)?
ADC: One would think it would give me some distance, but since my wife and I live in the States now I feel like I’m just as invested – if not more so – than anyone else! I’m so nervous about how election day is going to go this year.
What being Canadian does provide me is an understanding of other political systems. I grew up in a “first past the post” system of deciding our leader, with its accompanying advantages and disadvantages. So I can look at the American political system and point out what works better than in a place like Canada, and what doesn’t work as well.
AIPT: Do you think this approach could be continued in 2021 and beyond? Are “news comics” going to be the next big thing?
ADC: Absolutely. As mentioned, I think it’s a growing trend. Axel Alonso and the team at Upshot Comics are doing some cool stuff, and I know other places are looking to do more. I really think that the comics industry is evolving and finding new audiences – and current affairs readers are some of those.
AIPT: How has working on these changed your own perception of Trump, world events, politics, the news, etc.?
Well, it’s definitely forced me to read the news more than I did before. I’ve always been a news/political junkie and familiar with what’s happening in the world, but now I find myself soaking up as many stories as possible (which means less time for reading comics and novels… ugh.). I’ve joked over the last couple months that I’m less of an optimist because of it…
However, that’s just a joke. In all seriousness, becoming more aware of what’s happening around me (and around the world) has opened my eyes to new stories, situations and individuals I’d love to focus on. And not just for our non-fiction comics work – I’ve put together a new concept for an audio fiction podcast based on research I’ve been doing on some international events.
JA: Honestly the president doesn’t leave a lot of grey area for one’s opinion on him. I’ve always been very interested in politics and world news. What has changed a bit is my understanding of the process of writing stories for the press. It is an intense process and I’ve gained a massive amount of respect for all the journalists who we humbly share a platform with, especially in 2020 of all times.
AIPT: What’s the response been for this project? Do you think more people need help cutting through the noise right now for more facts or insights?
ADC: This is the first year any of my projects have trended on social media. The first time was for my Dynamite Comics’ series The Death of Nancy Drew back in January. And then our Impeachment comic went wild with celebrities, politicians and everyone else commenting, sharing, etc. With millions of page views for each of the four stories we’ve written, these might actually be the comics that are the most read of any I’ve written!
And yeah, you’ve hit the nail right on the head in your question. With so much information available, it’s tough for people to really find a trusted source that allows them to find out all the details on specific news stories. That’s what Josh and I bring to the table – the ability to dispense the news in a 100% accurate and also entertaining fashion.
AIPT: What pieces or ideas are in the works right now? What happens if we don’t have Trump for a second term?
ADC: Insider’s really happy with the results of our first four stories and want us to do more, and Josh and I have had a blast working with editor Walter Hickey and global editor-in-chief Nicholas Carlon. So, yeah, we’ve got more on the go. We’re aiming to have our next story – which will include action, politics, violence and fascinating characters – out at some point in December. Wait for it – it’ll probably be our best!
As for a scenario where Trump isn’t around for a second term… well, he’ll still be around, so I’m pretty sure we’ll be doing something about him in the future, even if he’s not president…
(And Josh better get used to drawing Biden, I hope…)
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