Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ronald Reagan: A Graphic Biography by Andrew Helfer with Art by Steve Buccellato and Joe Staton

Ronald Reagan seems to be a perfect subject for a graphic novel biography, especially one in black-and-white. As an actor, he often played rather comic book figures, and his world view was rather uncomplicated. There were good guys and bad guys. Ronald Reagan: A Graphic Biography by Andrew Helfer with art by Steve Buccellato and Joe Staton reflects these ideas and presents the former president as simply a man who sought fame.

The statement on the back cover claims that Reagan would have enjoyed this telling of his life. He might have, as he seemed to be a person with a sense of humor. He was rarely upset. Besides, for an actor there is no such thing as bad publicity. His fans and the people who worship his legacy may not be so please. I notice that the book is not for sale at the website for the shop at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Foundation.

The book starts in a reverential tone as it tells about Reagan's death and funeral. Then it shows his birth and childhood, college days, early days in radio, and arrival in Hollywood in a mostly positive tone. Only when the story reaches his involvement in the actors union and politics does he become flawed. As depicted by Helfer, Buccellato, and Staton, Reagan seems to have no qualms about the political positions he takes. In his mind he is always right and there is no doubt about it. Winning elections and pushing his agenda become more important than truth and fairness. When Reagan refuses to let his speech writer correct an easily-verifiable factual error in a State of the Union speech because he insists it makes a better story than the truth, the reader knows that Reagan's act has become more important than actual service to the nation.

The final pages seem reverential again. The effect is like tacking a happy ending to a tragic movie.

With so many of the recent books portraying him positively, Ronald Reagan: A Graphic Novel can be seen as a needed balancing viewpoint. Being somewhat sketchy, it can only serve as an introduction, but it does suggest further reading in the back pages. It can go either in the graphic novel section or biography section in public libraries.

Helfer, Andrew. Ronald Reagan: A Graphic Biography. Hill and Wang, 2007. ISBN 9780809095070

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