Graphic Novel Review: Trump: A Graphic Biography by Ted Rall

A haphazardly assembled cash grab, this is less a graphic novel than a (mostly) illustrated collection of facts about the current president of the United States. It serves as a bare bones introduction to the man and his ascent up the political ladder, but it’s far too superficial to be considered anything remotely close to essential reading.

There are thousands of different ways one could tell the story of Donald Trump in graphic novel form, regardless of individual politics. You could take the obvious low hanging fruit and make it a dystopian sci-fi with Trump as a warlord dictator. You could take the …… considerably more difficult task of turning him into a superhero. You could just tell his life story in straightforward narrative form; a pulp comic style seems like it’d fit pretty well. Creators have a massive amount of options in terms of both style and substance, whatever their thoughts on the American president are.

Ted Rall opts for neither style nor substance with his rushed biography.

Released at some point between Trump’s primary win and election night, the book feels incredibly premature because it ends before the real fireworks began in 2016. It feels a lot like those Beanie Babies pricing guides from the 1990s that were released just prior to the turn of the millennium, when TY was supposed to stop manufacturing them. Not only does Rall miss out on a lot of hindsight that he would have been able to opine on in January 2017, but in his opportunistic hastiness he doesn’t even have a complete look at the entire election cycle.

Not that it really matters, as this isn’t a narrative based work. It’s just a bunch of stories from different parts of Trump’s life:

  • his days in school
  • his early days as a sneaky real-estate mogul
  • his entry into the 2015 political sphere
  • his wild statements throughout the Republican primary

There’s definitely a few bits of interesting information here. The book starts off with the 2008 financial crisis and shows how it set the stage for Trump’s meteoric rise to the top of the polls. Rall also shows readers how Trump’s past behaviour during his school years, his shady real estate dealings, and his reality TV days all affected his political strategy. This info, however, is all readily available on the internet and not particularly exclusive. There are a few blurbs from Trump’s past classmates, but they’re all incredibly tame and obvious. Don’t read this book expecting any bombshells or dark secrets.

This would all be forgivable if the book were at least visually appealing, but Ted Rall can barely draw. Every single person has the exact same face shape, with a Homer Simpson-esque overbite and small, protruding eyes. It’s not particularly nice to look at, and everyone has it. Trump, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Melania Trump, Hillary Clinton, and even Obama all have a slight variation on this one look. Moreover, it suits none of them.

Nobody in this book actually looks like they do in reality. Jeb Bush looks more like Anderson Cooper. Ivana Trump, Marla Maples, and Melania look like the same woman in different wigs. Rall can’t even bother to reproduce the faces correctly, sometimes on the same page. Trump looks different every time Rall draws him, and he gets the infamous combover right maybe once in the whole book. It goes without saying that the rest of the art is passable at best. There are a few decent panels which seem like they may very well have been traced. The figures are stiff and motionless. A lot of the time the page is just one talking head and a big speech bubble.

And it gets worse! Huge chunks of the book are just blocks of text that completely negate the whole idea of this being a graphic novel. Instead of showing Rall just tells and tells and tells. The final straw however, is that many of the pages are either stock photos or just copied and pasted SCREENSHOTS OF WEBPAGES.

It’s cheap and screams filler, showing once again that Rall jumped the gun with this release just so he could capitalize on the furor and say that he was the first to put out a Trump graphic novel. Not much of a bragging point if he didn’t even get to close off the election cycle and have the semblance of a complete “story”. He didn’t even get to throw any Russia stuff in there!

It ends with a vague, inconsequential, and slightly odd panel of a scruffy Trump lying in bed like a twenty-something bachelor and apparently “thinking about targeting his enemies”. It’s kind of bizarre really, a non-sequitur end to an already barely cohesive piece of work. You don’t need to be a billionaire financial genius to know not to invest in this book.

Final Grade: C-