When last I looked at the work of UK artist David Biskup – in his graphic novella Seagram, juxtaposing the work of Mark Rothko with the realities of living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – I noted that one of the great triumphs of the piece was Biskup’s ability to bring us “directly into the experience of living with the effects of PTSD without overt exposition but through pure visual storytelling.”
That deft and nuanced handling of comics narrative – Biskup’s capacity to say so much, so eloquently and with such storytelling economy – is one of the central reasons that his most recent minicomic @potus strikes such a heartfelt chord with its readership.
The comic has a checkered publication history. Originally created for the MIT Technology Review (former editor Jordan Awan gives some fascinating insights into events in an afterword) around the 2016 Presidential Election as a fond examination of Barack Obama’s relationship with his Twitter account, it underwent a hasty rewriting after the shocking result of the election.
Exploring Obama’s existential crisis as he prepares to say goodbye to his @potus Twitter account, the strip lasted just a couple of hours on the MIT Technology Review site before it was pulled, In his foreword Biskup speculates on the reasons for this. But, whether it was due to anxiety about mocking the incoming Trump or fear of upsetting advertisers/donors, the online life of @potus was a fleeting one indeed. Fast forward to 2018 and Biskup has saved the comic from being a footnote in digital publishing history by re-presenting it as a print format comic.
What will immediately strike the reader about @potus is its compact size, sparing use of small, often single panels, and expansive utilisation of white space framing them (which admittedly loses something in translation here in an online format!). It creates a sense of fatalism and helplessness, framing the 44th President in a fragment of time that seems all the more poignant for the events we have lived through since the staggering events of that November. Indeed, it reads like a blending of social commentary and a comedic look at social media; one that evolves into a touching piece of metaphor for the despair that so many have felt since that fateful time.
Biskup portrays a Preident in quiet despair, contrasting his last moments in the Oval Office with his online presence and that of his boorish, belligerent and crass successor. With its delicate pacing, measured use of colour and constant switches between the real and digital worlds, Biskup’s short tragicomedy is a carefully crafted set piece that pulls a pure sense of humanity from the depths of one of the most bizarre and unbelievable events in modern history.
David Biskup is arguably one of the UK’s most underappreciated small press craftspeople. In @potus we have a vital showcase for the empathetic storytelling qualities of an artist whose comics narratives always have the deepest and most lingering resonance.
For more on the work of David Biskup visit his site here and follow him on Twitter here. You can buy @potus from his online store here. David will also be a guest at this week’s Gosh! Comics and Broken Frontier Drink and Draw.