The Art of Politics Noir

Our politicians walk between the light of best intentions and the darkness of our times.


Graphic storytellers spend their days mired in a world of fantasy and intrigue, where heroes and villains are rendered in black and white. In his book, How to Draw Noir Comics, illustrator Shawn Martinbrough broke down the basic artistic elements used to create these shady characters. So when The Root asked graphic novelist Joseph Phillip Illidge to give voice to Shawn’s art in the murky realm of politics, it was a natural transition.


There are no superheroes in the real world. Looking at the American Dream realized in Barack Obama, many Americans see a red cape on his back, flapping in the wind. They imagine him descending from the sky to lift them up, from despair, from poverty, from unemployment, from apathy. Just like the “S” on Superman’s chest, America has created a new icon with our president’s face. Photographed, illustrated, in color, in black and white.

This icon bolsters the sales of newspapers and magazines. It turns an ordinary T-shirt into a collector’s item. It makes people stand on lines outside comic book stores and hunt through eBay like explorers, looking for fictional stories of our president becoming embroiled in the conspiracies of super villains. It propels an artist into superstardom and spawns imitators in the real and virtual worlds.

But after the first 100 days of controversy and tough choices, Obama’s cape has come off, and the gray road ahead is now in plain view.


There are no super villains in the real world. No one considers themselves to be a villain. In fact, every person is the hero of his or her own story.

Michael Steele couldn’t possibly see himself through the lens of his party and peers.

He’s been transformed into a two-faced figure, handsome and articulate on one side while scarred by cowardice and ineptitude on the other. He is a poster boy for contradiction and the voice of disconnectedness.