This Wednesday sees the release of three election themed stories by DC Comics in two comics. Catwoman: Election Night Special features a special Prez back-up story while The Flintstones #5 also tackles the topic.
Written by Meredith Finch and Mark Russell the two stories skewer, satirize, and reflect the current Presidential election.
I got a chance to talk to both about their stories and a bit about the election itself.
Graphic Policy: Meredith, I read the Catwoman: Election Night Special. You’re clearly channeling a certain politican with Penguin. Is there any reason you went with that as opposed to having him do his own thing?
Meredith Finch: I think the whole idea of doing the election issue was to have, to be a charicature of the current election. I wanted it to be, at least on some level, play up the fact. He’s clearly not Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump is a politican who you wouldn’t expect to be a politician. That’s exactly what Penguin is. They have a similar background coming from business, never having done politics before, and being larger than life personalities that say what they’re thinking without any consequence of it actually sounds when its out there. I felt it was a good fit for Penguin to take on that role.
GP: Is there anything about Penguin in particular that makes him fit for that role? When you go through his history, he’s run for office a bunch of times, weirdly often in Presidential years. You don’t see that as often with Harvey Dent for example, and he’d have had to run for District Attorney. So what is it about Penguin that makes him perfect fo this type of story?
MF: When you’re looking at villains within the Gotham universe, in a lot of ways he’s the one that seems the most sane from an insane point of view. You couldn’t imagine anyone voting for the Riddler, the Joker, or any of these other characters which are much darker with a murderous undertone. People have an almost cuddly association with Penguin. He’s been made fun of a lot more in the Batman universe than any other character. People, I think, love him in a different way. He’s a fun character and works so well for this. Even though there’s some darker undertones to the story, it’s intended to be a fun take on the election. It’s supposed to be enjoyable and Penguin lends himself to that.
GP: How’d the issue come about? What was the genesis of the story and issue?
MF: I was talking to DC about some ideas I had for a Catwoman story. They threw out the idea to me about this election themed one-shot. I thought it was great. I thought it’d be a lot of fun. I’m Canadian, so it’s fun to sit back and look at what’s going on. We just had gone through a election, so I could look at what’s happening south of the border for the election, and bring a neutral bystander approach to the story and to the candidates.
GP: Is there any particular reason you used Catwoman for the story and the overarching murder mystery in it?
MF: I think Catwoman lends herself to this simply to the fact that whether it’s an election or not in Gotham, she has nothing to lose. She doesn’t care if Penguin is the Mayor. She doesn’t care if Hill is the Mayor. She doesn’t care if some ten year old kid is the Mayor. She does not care about anything but Catwoman. So it makes sense to do wat we’ve done with this election issue, she’s going to be the one perfectly willing to blow it all up because she has nothing to lose.
GP: With the end of the story, we get to see a certain character show up and proclaim she’s going to be President some day.
MF: We wanted to lead in to what was coming next.
GP: It’s as simple as that? Nothing more to it?
MF: It’s a dark story and it’s a challenging time in politics and you always want to know there’s hope and optimism. Putting that character at the end of the Catwoman issue is a way of saying “things may be really tough right now, they really suck, there’s always something new and positive coming up. There’s always a possibility of that.” Putting that character at the end of the issue is saying in Gotham there’s hope and optimism. In the DCU there’s hope and optimism. And hopefully at the end of the election cycle there’ll be some hope and optimism.
GP: Mark, at the end of the issue there’s back-up with Prez and Beth. Looking over the story as a whole, not just this one piece, everthing you’ve written with Prez has been prescient in many ways with this election. Looking back as a writer, how does it feel to see these satirical ideas brough to life?
Mark Russell: That was kind of chilling to discover how hard it was to make up something so far afield from how crazy things have gotten, to be constantly be outflanked by the reality of the political circus. But, it’s not just the politics, a lot of the inventions that populated Prez have become real. I was shocked, because I set this thing 20 years in the future. The taco drone and a lot of these things are coming out right now, happening sooner than later. I don’t feel very prescient so much as I feel that I’m writing about a reality that’s becoming increasingly incredible.
GP: The story in this issue is interesting in that you take on a lot of real world issues that are debated today. As a writer, how do you decide what you want to comment on? This issue deals with gun control and birth control. How do decide what you want to take on for each story?
MR: I think I have a lot of ideas that I write down notes for. I choose the ones that work best for Prez. I choose the ones that have the most fleshed out storylines or the ones that relate to each other the most. I have a hundred things I could write about, but only a small fraction of them I can write about in a story or makes sense in conjunction with a backstory about a similar issue. I think that’s what I do. I try to talk about two issues that dovetail in some way so they really resonate with the reader as opposed to writing a polemic in some way that’s divorced from any sort of story conencted to a human being or any other issues.
GP: What strikes me about this story, and much of what you’ve done with Prez, is that you take these issues, mix in some humor, but also have really intelligent solutions to them that seems like they could work in the real world. You present these realistic goofy solutions. It all makes sense in a messed up way. For you coming up with these solutions, what do you do as a writer to think this through and especially how two issues can come together? There’s some really interesting out of the box thinking and solutions you don’t see in real world politics.
MR: I feel like people who are cynical about politics and those that are idealistic are two sides to the same problematic coin. They expect perfection. And if they can’t be perfect then it’s not worth doing anything which I think is a problem in politics. That perfection gets in the way of improvement. I’m more of a pragmatist, I like improvement. I like gradual change for the better. And that’s what I try to write about. You might not get everything you want, but you might be able to coble together some sort of solution that pushes the human race forward a step or two.
Politics is not just about failure and cynicism. It’s also about coming up with solutions. The solutions are going to be practicle, incomplete, and not always what you want. I think that’s the one thing I tried to capture in the election special of Prez.
GP: For both of you. It’s interesting in that both of the election issues, Catwoman: Election Night Special and The Flintstones #5, the main character is a bully that’s trying to get people to vote. It’s obviously a real world thing that’s going on. Out of everything that’s going on with this election, why focus on that in particular?
MR: For me it was the most obvious analog for Donal Trump. The idea of the cafeteria bully. And for me to examine why do people who have nothing, or who have been ripped off and kept down by people like Donald Trump, why they are so adamant about supporting him. In a lot of ways it felt best explained as to why people rally around the cafeteria bully who makes their lives miserable. I just wanted to make that allegory clear about Donald Trump.
MF: As for myself, I wanted it to reflect what was happening in the election. It’s something… bullying is an issue that seems to go from school yards up through the Presidential election and it was necessary to point that out because we need to continue to point that out. There’s other ways to get things done. We don’t need to bully and intimidate people to get them to change their minds. I wanted that reflected within the story.
GP: Both issues, in both of them, the main candidates in both are rejected by the voters. Each in a way gives a nod to third parties and reflects a lot of individuals not supporting either candidate and looking for alternatives. Was that on purpose?
MF: In Canada we have a different election system since we have three parties. I wanted to explore what happens when you have two candidates and neither are great options. Because, for us we always have a third option. In Gotham, they’ll have to re-run the election. I did want to explore that.
MR: For me, I wasn’t really trying to comment on the need for a third party in the American electoral system. I just wanted to say the only way to run against a bully is to call them out on it. Give themsevles enough rope and make it clear you’re not afraid of the bully. I want to make it clear America’s two party system, as flawed as it may be, is a natural outcome of the American electoral process. I think the two party system for better or worse is a result of how its set up. In other countries where there’s a parliamentary system, you have to build coalitions between the parties to form a majority and elect the President. Where in the United States all that coalition building is done within the parties themselves. You have two major parties with constituencies within the party that don’t necessarily have things in common but come together in common voting interests in hopes of getting a majority.
GP: This election is ludicrous on so many levels. As a satirist or story teller, how does that impact a writer? Do you say to yourself it’s so crazy or messed up, there isn’t anything more I can say or comment?
MR: Oh absolutely. And I think I’ve kind of given up on it. I just want to write and let it fall where it may where it might be too crazy or not crazy enough to comment on reality.
MF: I know for myself I really worried about going to far. And I have since learned that I could not have possibly gone far enough to match with what’s going on.
GP: With the election coming up, you’ve each got comics about elections. For each of you, why do you think it’s important for people to go out and vote in November? Or do you even think it’s important?
MR: I certainly do because voting has very real world implications. Depending on who gets elected this cycle, the fate of 22 million people who have healthcare under the Affordable Care Act will be decided. Two or three Supreme Court justices will be decided and will send the country’s legal system in one direction or another for the next 30 or 40 years. You will have massive implications for people not just in the United States but around the world based on who occupies the White House these next four years.
MF: I know for myself I agree with Mark 100% on that. As a woman, we fought so hard for the right to vote, shame on me if I don’t go out and vote. You really can’t sit back and complain unless you make your voice heard and you can do that by voting.
MR: It’s something you can do in the mean time while you work to make the bigger changes you want to see in the world.
GP: Thank you both.