The New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln
Think back… it’s 1998. After revolutionizing the medium with Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud hasn’t published comics for several years. Instead, he’s been talking about micropayments and digital work and how computers will open a brave new world for comics.
The New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln was him putting his theories into practice, created entirely on computers, and oh, what a disappointment it was! The technology wasn’t yet ready for what he was attempting, and the result was very minimal cartoony figures over photomanipulated backgrounds with badly integrated visual effects, kind of snazzy for their time but soon clichéd.
Most readers I knew bought it based on McCloud’s name and quickly put it away, hoping it would be forgotten without damaging his reputation too much. It wasn’t cheap for the time, due to the full-color printing, and original graphic novels were still something of an experiment. It’s now out of print although you can find used copies reasonably priced.
So why am I bringing it up now? Because while setting up my office, I’m culling my shelves, keeping only those books I really want. I pulled it off the shelf to see if it was as bad as I remembered, and I was struck by how prescient it was.
The story involves a ten-year-old student, ostracized because of his interest in reading and history, who winds up having to stop a fake Abraham Lincoln from taking over the country. He’s the kind of kid sent to detention because his overly cheery and superficial teacher doesn’t like his literal answer to what “fourscore and seven years ago” means to him. (He responds, “87 years.”)
So what’s so significant about it? Fake Lincoln acts and talks remarkably like George Dubya Bush. He makes his entry bursting through a wall (in a way reminiscent of Kool-Aid Man) yelling about how he cares and how he plays for keeps. He doesn’t even know his own history but claims he’s driven by a “sacred mission” to make a “great journey”. Instead of truth, he tells the kids myths that support his plans, always emphasizing America (even to the point of insisting that the reptiles they see in prehistory are American dinosaurs).
He gives those he brainwashes guns and points to money as an argument-ender. He speaks in soundbites, rattling off how he stands for “all-American goodness” and “family values”. He cheats at debating, won’t play by the rules, and trades on the stupidity of the average American when it comes to history. I was discouraged to realize that the exaggerated villain of eight years ago has been the supposed head of our country for the last six.
It all turns out to be an alien plot, which the Lincoln Memorial comes to life and stops. (Yes, I’ve spoiled it, but you’re not going to read it anyway.) The message we’re left with is that the symbols are never more important than the freedoms they represent. That’s something it’s always good to be reminded of. For more information and an excerpt, visit Scott McCloud’s website.