A word of warning: If you voted for Donald Trump to become President of the United States last fall, you are not going to like this collection.
R. Sikoryak has long riffed on classic comic-book art with satirical reinterpretations, such as the recent Terms and Conditions, which recreated the entire iTunes user agreement. His latest work, though, has proven an online sensation as it takes on what he sees as the ultimate supervillain…Donald Trump.
The Unquotable Trump, out this week from Drawn & Quarterly, collects Sikoryak’s hit drawings that repurpose classic comic book covers with a certain president as the lead. Riffing on everything from Watchmen to Hellboy, Uncle Scrooge, Richie Rich, each cover takes an actual Trump quote and repurposes it as dialogue pitting Trump against almost every character in comic books – with 25% of the net proceeds going to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
On the eve of the book's debut, Newsarama spoke with Sikoryak about this series' online success, his process, the possibility of a sequel, and more.
Newsarama: Robert, how does it feel to have The Unquotable Trump collected so quickly?
Sikoryak: It feels almost as surreal as the Trump presidency. Which is... pretty surreal.
Nrama: What were the circumstances of this print edition coming about?
Sikoryak: The project began as a 16-page black-and-white minicomic, drawn furiously - in every sense - between November and December of 2016. I also posted those pages on Tumblr. When Peggy Burns of Drawn & Quarterly saw it, she asked me if I wanted to make it into an oversized color book in the style of a 1970s Marvel Treasury Edition. I was not expecting that opportunity, and I had to figure out how to expand what I originally imagined was a punk ‘zine into a more coherent project.
Between January and May, I researched and drew 30 more images, and revised the original ones, so that this edition would be out before Election Day of this year.
Nrama: What's been the most interesting positive feedback you've gotten for doing these?
Sikoryak: Well, I’m relieved that I’ve gotten so much positive feedback! I’m very gratified to see people laugh at it as much as they have. I hoped it would be funny, but the reality is so depressing, I sometimes find it hard to balance the two.
Nrama: And what has been the most interesting... um, less positive feedback?
Sikoryak: As I said, I had originally published 16 of the pages as a mini comic. I happened to be in Forbidden Planet in New York City one day, and down the aisle from me, I saw a kid laughing at the mini. His mom, who didn’t know I was there, said to him, “You are not getting anything with [Trump's] name on it, not now or ever!” I could totally understand her response!
Nrama: Take us through the process of crafting one of these - how do you find the proper cover to homage? What is the greatest trick in recapturing the aesthetic of the different artists – is there a case where you've had to go through a few different cover archetypes before finding one that was a perfect fit for the quote?
Sikoryak: Luckily, between my memory of old covers, my comics collection, and the Internet, it’s very easy to reference a great deal of comics history. I would look at various sites - like Grand Comics Database, comiXology, and many others – to find the appropriate covers.
So, for instance: I knew I wanted to use Trump’s quote about John McCain not being a war hero. And I naturally thought of Captain America, a war hero who had been captured by the Red Skull in his day. So I went through every Captain America cover image, and found a few possibilities, such as issue #183, where someone dressed as Cap is dead and tied to a rooftop. But if you knew the original story, you’d know it wasn’t really Cap. I wanted to fans to connect their memories of the original comics to what was happening in my revised version. Also, there wasn’t a character on the cover who displayed enough glee at the fake Cap’s predicament.
Looking through the rest, my favorite was issue #212, which featured Cap and the Red Skull, who was easily replaced by Trump. In that case, I also liked that the boulder which the Skull was about to throw at Cap could be replaced by a brick with Trump’s name on it.
As far as capturing the aesthetic of the different artists, the trickiest - and most fun - part was drawing Trump in their various styles. How would Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead) draw Trump, or how would Bob Montana (Archie) draw him? In some cases, as in the "Uncle Scrooge" parody, it was a matter of transforming him into a fatter duck with more hair.
Nrama: If you did a cover based on the cover to Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography, which was itself a homage to Trump's The Art of the Deal, would reality itself implode?
Sikoryak: I don’t know, I thought reality had already exploded when the electoral college results came in.
Nrama: Clearly, your Trump parodies have brought your work to a wider audience and acclaim. Still - if you had a choice between this winning you a shelf full of awards and more money than you'd ever need for the rest of your life or the Trump presidency ending tomorrow, which would you take? You know, this is sort of the opposite of the case of Kennedy impressionist Vaughn Meader, now that I think about it. I don't know, I'm just kind of fascinated with that story.
Sikoryak: Are you kidding? I choose ending the Trump presidency immediately. I think we’ll be living with the repercussions of his administration for years, I don’t know what could compensate for that.
As for Vaughn Meader, I hadn’t considered that connection, but I see what you mean! Luckily, I have other material to work with, beyond politics.
Nrama: What else do you have coming up? Because the last few weeks alone have brought enough poured-over material for a second volume…
Sikoryak: Oh, boy. I had originally assumed this would be my last word on Trump, and I tried to cover most aspects of his policies and opinions. But I hate leaving the story on a cliffhanger, so I may do more covers. We’ll see. For the moment, I'm concentrating on my ongoing Masterpiece Comics series of literary adaptations. I much prefer collaborating with historical authors than living politicians.
Nrama: What are some other books and creators you're enjoying right now?
Sikoryak: The books and creators I read are often influenced by my personal projects, as they rely on so much research. I recently spent a lot of time reading the word game cartoon “Jumble" for my retelling of The Iliad called “Jumbiliad.”
I love the “Jumble" format, as it’s so simple and iconic, plus it’s a lot of fun to parody.
As far as current books: I’m really enjoying Jillian Tamaki’s Boundless, and I’m looking forward to Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing is Monsters.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Sikoryak: I’m currently working on a highly condensed but still epic retelling of Moby Dick. Luckily for me, Herman Melville will be relevant for a long time.