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Art in the time of Trump: the Legacy of 'Full Bleed' magazine

Comic Books

Art in the time of Trump: the Legacy of ‘Full Bleed’ magazine

A deep dive into the counter-culture pub that spanned art, politics, and philosophy.

It started on November 9, the day after the 2016 election. 

Like a lot of people, Dirk Wood was left questioning a lot of things. How did this happen—and where do we go from here? A conversation between Wood, who at the time served as the creative director for IDW and Ted Adams, the company’s CEO and publisher, got to the heart of the matter. There was nothing they could do about the election, but they could certainly respond to it. 

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“We were basically lamenting the state of the world,” Wood told me recently. “Ted said, ‘Well, what can we do about it? We can love our families and we can make books.’ And, well, that’s what we set out to do.”

Full Bleed, a 200-page quarterly, hardcover-only magazine, was the answer—to the questions of our politics, our perceived reality, and what was next. Underneath the title reads “The Comics & Culture Quarterly.” Full Bleed contains a collection of comics, comic journalism, prose, poetry, photography, cultural criticism, and more. It featured, among many great pieces, interviews with Alan Moore and Stephen King to round out a strong debut. 

Instead of reading it from front to back as quickly as I could, I chose to slow down. I told Wood, it felt like the biggest cup of coffee in the world.

“That is exactly the kind of experience we wanted people to have,” Wood said. “One of my regrets about the whole thing is that I’m not sure I articulated that very well on the front end. The whole idea was to make a magazine that you could dip into, dip out of, read in any order you want, skip things you’re not interested in, go straight to those things that do interest you, etc. When is the last time you read a magazine cover-to-cover? I’m not sure I ever have. But, the dense hardcover nature of the format, I think in some ways people felt like you were supposed to read it cover-to-cover. And it was just too daunting for that for a lot of folks.”

Wood continued, “Some people figured out different ways to absorb it, and experience it. And that’s great, that was the plan! For those that did, I think the format was really rewarding, but I think in some ways, it was a pretty difficult ask for the general public. So, was it a fool’s errand? Maybe! But, no regrets. And the idea that there are at least a few people out there, such as yourself, still picking it up and enjoying it in chunks, it’s a nice thought.”

Full Bleed

Courtesy of Dirk Wood.

While Full Bleed represents so much of what our culture says about us and what we say about our culture—its relationships, progressions, and setbacks—any piece of art created in response to the 2016 election was bound to circle back to and center around American politics. 

By the time the second volume was published in 2018, entitled “Deep Cuts,” the message was front and center, literally. On the cover is the California state flag bear standing on its hind legs, roaring. As Wood states in his “Cold Open” essay to start volume two, it was created out of post-election anger. 

“The woodcut image of the normally docile California Bear rising in righteous defiance to a federal government he feels betrayed by,” Wood wrote in his essay. “I’ve been in the same mood that bear’s been in for a couple of years now, so it just felt right to me to make that our cover.”

At this point in Full Bleed’s run, volume two of four had been published, falling right in the middle of the Trump presidency. All of the angst and exhaustion of being embroiled in the day-to-day news of the his administration was embodied in this edition, fulfilling the idea behind the initial reason Full Bleed was published to begin with. The nexus of the piece was a Bob Fingerman rant about everything Trump-related. We were in the thick of it, and Fingerman’s piece was the giant exhale that we needed. 

Then something changed.

While Fingerman’s “Trump takedown,” as Wood called it, was obviously the focal point, my attention started to drift towards the escapism pieces, such as the essay written and illustrated by D.A. Cox called “Requiem for a comic shop or the magus of middle Tennessee,” about visiting this random comic book store ran by this old cranky dude when the author was a kid.

That’s when this project really came into focus for me, and why it became so personal. Escape. That’s what we needed now. Politics at this point began to be too much of a weight, and we needed art to comment on anything but that now. Wood agreed.

“It’s interesting to me though, as time moved on, it almost functioned as a bit of an escape valve for me,” he said. “I think in the beginning, I was super fired up about politics and wanted to have something to say, but the narrative of that whole thing was so dominating in every aspect of our lives, I really just wanted to come to work and read some fun stories that nothing to do with it. As time went on, I had to spend so much time pouring over every aspect of the books, the less I wanted to see Trump’s faces in there.”

Art in the time of Trump: the Legacy of 'Full Bleed' magazine

Courtesy of Dirk Wood.

Besides the obvious political turmoil aspect of the reporting and vibe, all of the other pieces were sort of, well, random. And according to Wood, that was kind of the point.

“Well, to be completely honest, I made it up as I went! Some things were our ideas that we pitched to creators we knew,” he said. “Some tings were cold pitches that came to us,” he said.” Some came fully formed. Some things sprung out of matching creators together, either with some editorial direction, or just matchmaking them to find out what would happen. It was a messy, collaborative, and fun process. Just about everything turned out even better than I would have originally conceived.” 

Wood’s selection of volume three, entitled “Heavy Rotation,” continued the success. His “Cold Open” essay was particularly crabby, (and I mean that in the most endearing way possible) as Wood refers to himself as an “old fart, yelling at a cloud.”  Wood clamors for art, for good writing, and thoughtful analysis.

That desire is met with essays by the likes of Jarrett Melendez (who contributed in volume two with a great piece on traveling to Iceland), Jon Raymond (whose serialized essays in these volumes made me stop and think of little else for hours on end after reading them), and Abdulkareem Baba Aminu, as well as fantastic fiction by Benjamin Percy.

Then came the aptly-titled fourth volume, “The End.” It included part two to the Grant Morrison interview, a piece on George Perez, “The Five most important underground cartoonists,” and the concluding chapters to a comic that started in the first volume called “The Lost Boys of the U-Boat Bremen.” But it was the opening remarks penned by Wood, again aptly named “Case Closed, “in August 2020, that intrigued me the most. 

First, he writes about a sense of accomplishment. Wood doesn’t dwell on any of the regrets, except to say there were a few projects that fell through in the collaboration process that he would have loved to see realized. But he seems content in the idea that Full Bleed was imperfect and complete.

“When Ted Adams and I talked about doing this a couple years ago, we had some high-minded goals and ideas,” Wood wrote in the opening essay that began Full Bleed volume four. “Some of the things happened and even exceeded our expectations; some came directly from us, and some were happenstance, or driven by the same talented creators that came along for the journey.”

Art in the time of Trump: the Legacy of 'Full Bleed' magazine

Courtesy of Dirk Wood.

He adds, “But for its occasional messiness, for all its ups and downs, I’m extremely proud of these four books. I’m looking forward to seeing the boxed set up on my shelf collecting dust, and realizing I had something to do with it coming into the world.”

This stuck with me. In many ways, it embodied the ideals that launched Full Bleed, the idea of creating art in the face of despair no matter how difficult it felt, was the very philosophy Wood used to land the plane, so to speak. 

When I talked with Wood, I asked what his overall feelings were now that he’s left IDW for Image and that Full Bleed is over. He reiterated that sentiment from his final cold open, saying, “When I see those books, I can say to myself, ‘Hey, with the help from a lot of people, I made those.’ That’s pretty cool.”

The second interesting point Wood brought up was the idea that this was a print-only project. He wrote these words in August of 2020, right in the thick of the pandemic, right before the 2020 election. How would this all end? Wood noted that project—which started in response to the state of our politics and world immediately following the 2016 election—was wrapping up before the 2020 election, before we knew where we were headed in terms of a potential post-COVID, post-Trump world.

“One of the odd things about writing for a print-only publication these days, is something that used to be standard, obviously; you have no idea what will be happening in the world when it finally sees print,” Wood wrote in his intro essay.

The print-only aspect of this project immediately rang out to me when I first clicked on Full Bleed’s Kickstarter campaign video way back in 2017. When I asked Wood why this thesis was so important, he admitted that he’d never considered it one until then, and acknowledged the unavoidable irony that comes with wanting to publish print in the age of the internet.

“I hadn’t really thought of it as a thesis statement before, but I think you’re right, it kind of was! Although arguing with the internet, and going print-only, was that a little bit Don Quixote? Sure. But I figured there would be some like-minded people out there that felt similarly. Of course, it’s at least a minor tragedy that the only way to really reach those people and let them know about our print-only project was…the internet,” Wood mused.

Art in the time of Trump: the Legacy of 'Full Bleed' magazine

Courtesy of Dirk Wood.

He added, “When I scream about the internet, I guess it’s mostly on social media, and what I think it’s done to discourse, and the collective attention span to society,” Wood said. “But who am I to say—I’m on social media myself.”

Wood told me that while he didn’t think Full Bleed’s impact would necessarily make a difference in larger narrative, it was ultimately worth it.

“I just thought going print-only said something, and (perhaps cynically) thought it would be an interesting hook,” he said. “I probably thought that was a better idea at the time than it maybe turned out to be, but c’est la vie.”

Full Bleed was born out of the ashes of civil and political unrest, and concluded before we saw it through to the end. But it never ends, really. These four hardcover volumes encapsulates a moment in our time. Keep fighting, and take rests along the way.

“They say that we have the best punk rock during Republican administrations,” Wood wrote to me. “I don’t know if Full Bleed was punk rock enough (I’m too old for that kind of energy), but more than one person referred to it basically as something of a ‘MEGA-ZINE.” So maybe there’s something to that.”

He concluded, “I was mad.” 

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