October 2, 2009

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Forty Four Presidents and a Letter to a Cat

Written by MZA
Illustrated by Sputnik
Self-published

I love funny takes on history, and one of my all-time favorite skits from Animaniacs is the US Presidents bit, so this one is a natural fit for me.

The mini-comic is exactly what it says it is--a little book about the 43 presidents at the time of the writing, a generic person where 44 will be, and a really touching letter about the anxiety of a left-leaning person about what was then the upcoming 2008 Presidential election.

You should have a pretty good idea of what you're in for when you turn the page and George Washington's description reads "...is the first white president." While there is often a grain (or more) of truth in the irreverent take on a particular president, the focus is going to be on the joke.

So while John Quincy Adams might get a serious comment about the Civil War, it's sure that the follow-up president, Andrew Jackson, will end up with a joke about how people didn't like his wife. This semi-serious, semi-comic patter works quite well if you're inclined to that sort of thing, and I definitely am.

While Benjamin Harrison bemoans his placement between the Grover Clevelands and Taft lovingly remembers the custom-made bathtub, the various other presidents get their day in the sun, biting remark by biting remark. Carter's obsession with the lust in his heart perhaps being the best of the modern presidents.

MZA and Sputnik even take the time to riff on the Bush-Clinton animosity, with both "talking" about replaying the other's most embarrassing political moments.

If there's one minor flaw, it's that some presidents get more space than others. I'd have rather seen each get a full page, and the two-pages (Woodrow Wilson needed a 2 page spread? Really?) get stripped down to one. But that's an extremely minor complaint for a zine that's really quite funny. Heck, even the characatures are pretty well done. I've seen far worse in a newpaper editorial.

The Letter to a cat section is far more serious, though tinged with the same irreverence, such as when MZA suggests he'd like to hang out with McCain and Palin, even if they don't know the difference between a Zapatista and a Zapatero. There is a real sense of concern for why other people did not see the problems a McCain-Palin Presidency might have caused and how hard it can be when family members disagree politically, a situation I can definitely relate to.

Pairing a serious zine essay with a silly set of comic sketches might seem like a bad idea, but it really works. It reminds us that every time there's been an election in this country, there've been real issues at stake. Choose wrong, and we end up with the Buchannan and Hardings of the world. And that's no joke.

If you'd like a copy of Forty Four Presidents and a Letter to a Cat, you can pick one up at Black Light Diner Distro. [A copy of this comic was provided by the distributor for review. It was pretty easy, because I live with her.]