Shannon Wheeler Talks Sh*t My President Says
At San Diego Comic-Con there were a few releases I was super excited for. One of those was Shannon Wheeler‘s Sh*t My President Says: The Illustrated Tweets of Donald J. Trump which takes President Trump’s Tweets and give them a comic twist. Wheeler has drawn cartoons for the New Yorker, MAD, the Onion—he’s very, very, good, okay?
But these cartoons, plus the Tweets, it’s absolutely fantastic and a must have for anyone interested in politics and humor, or want a good laugh as the world crumbles around us.
EVERYONE is going to want this book — even the haters and losers (Sad!).
I got to talk to Shannon about the book and what he learned reading all of those Tweets.
Graphic Policy: What got you interested in even doing this? The concept alone sounds like torture.
Shannon Wheeler: I was actually going through my own cartoons trying to put together a book collection. I was sick of looking at my own art. I was complaining about it to a friend of mine. He goes “You don’t want to write your own stuff. Why don’t you just illustrate Trump’s Tweets?”
GP: You’ve gone through his entire history to figure out what to draw?
SW: Through Twitter I found a programmer who had downloaded all of them. I got them as a PDF, started reading through 30,000 Tweets. At the same time there were all these sites popping up that were archiving, a bunch that go through and organize them differently. At the same time there were all these articles about his outrageous Tweets. I’d use those as well. Whenever something would come up in his speeches or in the news and I’d Google search the keyword and his handle.
GP: Going through so much, is there anything that sticks out to you about his patterns, what he says, topics he touches upon?
SW: Yeah. A lot of people have talked about his psychological makeup. The narcisim. The pettiness. The immaturity. That’s well trodden. But, what I thought was interesting was his image of himself. He thinks of himself as a stand up guy, here’s the honorable one. What he’s doing is right. And that’s why drawing him as a child made more sense. There’s a “common sense” aspect to children, “it’s snowing outside, there must be no Global Warming.” That’s the view Trump has, that “common sense” point of view of life.
GP: The end result is Trump as kid-like. Were there other versions of him that you tried to use?
SW: Yeah, I started off trying drawing him as ugly, a large brutish man with tiny hands, and whatever. And slowly there’s a petellence, and maybe that’s the word. I probably drew a hundred different versions. Until a Tweet came a long that felt like a little kid and I felt this works.
GP: Did you always envision a book?
SW: Yeah, it was a book. First I started with can I do this. Then I thought this would be much more interesting than another collection of my stupid ideas.
GP: The one thing I immediately think of is the trolls. Is that something on your mind.
SW: I’m not really good at receiving anger and such. I fully expect there to be a backlash and people attacking me. I’m trying to prepare for that.
GP: That’s what the block button is for. In the back of the book you have a really interesting observation. FDR had radio, JFK had tv, and Trump has Twitter. Do you think this is his tv and radio?
SW: I supposed so. I don’t know how people reacted at the time, but I’m sure both said radio and tv was crazy and the worst thing ever. It’s similar. It’s Trump getting himself out there and exposing himself in an unfiltered way. It’s part of his appeal, a reaction against a super guarded persona, warts and all.
GP: FDR’s chats were clearly scripted, JFK was a natural on tv. This is probably the most unfiltered we’ve ever seen a President, really any politician.
SW: Yeah, but that might be an act too, which I thought about. It could also be a thing he uses for distractions as he passes his agenda. I feel like I’m adding to the distraction, I feel a little guilty at times.
GP: He’s the perfect example of politics as entertainment and you’re doing entertainment diving into politics. Do you see him as the ultimate blending of those two things together?
SW: That’s interesting. Those two things have been blending for a long time. I think, so far. Every generation probably says that. He’s made reality television and taken that to politics. Nobody knows where it’s going to go.
GP: I don’t know if you get the sense but it feels like he’s putting on a show. He’s taking the heel concept of wrestling and as long as he gets the big pop, that’s all that matters.
SW: He does think he’s the hero and he’s putting forward the sense that fake media, the polls were fake obviously, these things that validate everyone is a liar. It’s you and me against the crazy world. He also likes the attention too. It’s a layered thing.
GP: With the number of Tweets that are in the book, how much is sitting on the table not in there?
SW: There were 30,000 Tweets and a couple hundred in there. When people cite 30,000, most of them are “buy my book” or “I’ll be talking here.” I think it’s close to 5,000 Tweets. I wanted it to be relevant, so there’s stuff about Russia and his Tweets about wanting to be Putin’s friend. Those are the one’s I pulled. As new events happen, Sessions become more relevant. I pulled one.
GP: As far as what’s in the book, how’d you choose what to include?
SW: I wanted there to be a story arc with a beginning, middle, and an end. So I’m picking them to create a narrative. We probably left about a hundred on the floor. Lots more to do.
GP: You’ll be busy… two to eight years?
SW: Hopefully not.
GP: During the Mueller hearing he was threatening to live Tweet. Then you said you were going to live sketch. When he didn’t Tweet what was going through your mind.
SW: At first I thought “oh crap this is embarrasing and really stupid.” Then I thought somebody hid his phone. So I did that as a cartoon and a series of cartoons as to where’s Trump’s phone. It’s under the couch, in a tree, an FBI agent has it.
GP: At one point did it click to do that?
SW: About 15 minutes.
GP: With the live Tweeting, I’d think most of these have multiple takes. How’d it work with the live aspect, one and done?
SW: Yup, from the hip. A lot of times I’ll do sketches and I’ll put them up on Twitter and Facebook and later rework them into something later. In a lot of ways I’ve become unfiltered, there might be a misspelling or bad drawing, I just put it up and move on to the next one.
GP: I’d think there’d be a point where you’re having fun but at the same time think this shouldn’t be happening.
SW: Yeah, there’s a point I think it’s so stupid and I’m laughing and it slowly becomes awe crap. This is real. We can make fun of this guy for being stupid or petty or mean or vulgar or thin skin, all these things or he’s stealing money from the country. A lot of the things he criticized Hillary or Obama, I think it was jealously. When he saw them, he thought I should be doing those things. The Tweets are relevant in that sense.
GP: Was there anything that was too mean and you don’t want to touch it?
SW: We pulled one Rosie O’Donnell one in there. There was one were I thought it was a really cheap shot, it was his fragrance, everyone built an empire. I thought of him sweating and I had him on a toilet. It was a cheap shot, but I’m not above being stupid.
GP: Is there anything that’s shocked you about this?
SW: What’s shocked me is that its kind of become normal. Where I’m not shocked anymore. The one thing that has shocked me is that I can’t tell parody anymore. I read something and there like “look at this shocking Tweet” and I think “oh my god” and I think it’s parody and he really said it and I think it’s parody and he really said it. That’s weird to me.
GP: I’ve asked this to a few folks in your line of work. Things are so absurd now, does that make your life more difficult?
SW: I don’t know. What I like is the social satire and looking at myself and asking what are the hypocrises I’m living, diving in myself. That doesn’t really change. I liked The Simpsons where they had Homer buying triple chocolate and when they did it, it was such an exaggeration it was ridiculous. Now we have this as a flavor.
GP: The Simpsons had Donald Trump as President.
GP: When you see what should be parody in real life, what do you think when you see that?
SW: One of the jokes I made during the Bill Clinton scandal, in the future politicians would use the scandal to their advantage. They’d sell the sex tape to fund their campaign. I’m still able to be a bit more extreme than what’s happening.
GP: Has there been any reactions to the book that has surprised you?
SW: How enthusiastic people have been. I thought there’d be some enthusiasm and a lot of people would be mad at me. We did a panel at San Diego Comic-Con and it was standing room only. They were turning people away. That kind of shocks me. There’s a hunger for this kind of pushback. It gives me some hope.
GP: You’ve already done an addendum. Will there be a book two?
SW: I hope not. I hope we look back and ask “what’s a Tweet?” where you have to explain what it is. I like to do universal and lingering. I hope this is here today and gone tomorrow, like a pet rock. It’s been piling up and there’s enough for a second book already.
GP: Thanks so much for chatting!