Steven Cuevas / KPCC
Signed sticker sheet for Steven Weissman’s “Barack Hussein Obama.”
Comic strip artist Steven Weissman is back to work. That's because the main character in his most recent book of comic strips is sticking around for four more years.
That character – and the surreal, darkly humorous strip – have the same name: "Barack Hussein Obama."
The strip began with an oddball comment by Weissman’s 8-year old son as he and his dad watched an old Charlie Brown TV special.
"'Charlie Brown is a Jew.' And I was like, 'That’s a peculiar thing to say!'" remembers Weissman.
"Charlie Brown’s a Jew? We were like, 'What are you talking about?!' I'm the most Jewish person in the house. Maybe he just perceives me as moping around all the time like Charlie Brown," says Weissman.
"In the end, I was like, 'This would be a lot funnier if Barack Hussein Obama said it.'"
And so he does at an imagined news conference that baffles at an imagined White House press corps - and begins Weissman's four-panel comic strip plunge into a White House netherworld.
The confusion deepens when the president meows like a cat. "I'm trying to trick my dog into coming over!" he tells reporters.
In the strips that appeared online after Obama took office, Weissman's characters have the smarts and sass of “Peanuts.” But he transforms each into something darker.
Hillary Clinton: "She just expanded and suddenly all of these veins and arteries started popping under skin, her eyes would pop and her teeth got sharp."
Vice President Joe Biden: "You know, he loses his head and it grows back much smaller. That worked from my idea of him as kind of a diminished person."
And Barack Hussein Obama? Weissman turns him into a bird and sticks him in a tree: "He gets frustrated, he gets lost and turning into a bird ends up being a way of portraying someone trying to kind of free themselves of a situation they are in."
This president also communes with dead presidents and orders Joe Biden to make him blueberry French toast and tuck him in at bedtime.
Weird … and childish, right?
But Weissman’s previous work revolved around children in a "Peanuts" meets 1950s monster movie comic called "Tykes." It centered on Pull-Apart Boy - a kid stitched from body parts - and his wisecracking, bloodsucking sidekick Lil' Bloody. That strip helped set up his "Barack Hussein Obama."
"With this strip, I wanted it to be about real people and have it happening right now," says Weissman.
"Have it be about grownups rather than the children I was working with before. And if I just pay attention to what’s happening right now, it'll be sort of a document of this period of time."
This isn't some kind of polemic for or against the president and his policies. As with any caricature, Weissman takes strands of the real persona and distorts them. His President Obama can come off as a cool, but jerky high school kid who’d rather peep over his sunglasses than answer a question.
He’s a grown-up kid in over his head that gets under the skin of Secretary Clinton in a scene borrowed from "Peanuts."
"Don't talk to me I’m not talking to anyone today!" barks Clinton as Obama saunters into her office.
"And Obama's like, 'I can talk if I wanna talk!' and that's the relationship between Lucy and Linus," says Weissman, referring to the comic strip "Peanuts."
"It didn't start out being that way for them but she is kind of a Lucy!"
Weissman focuses on Obama, Biden and Clinton with cameos by the First Family, the British Prime Minister and a few others.
Notably absent: Republicans.
"I did think about trying to bring them in, but we're in such a partisan America, they don't deal with each other anyway," he says. "And I think it would bring it out of where I like it. I like writing about groups of people working with a level of intimacy. Then you can start making it interesting.”
Joe Biden’s head grows back. And the president eventually returns to human form – although he remains perched in a tree.
"I'm not up this tree," he tells a furious Michele Obama. "I am this tree."
Steven Weissman promised "Barack Hussein Obama" would return as a weekly comic strip only if the American people re-elected the main character.
They did – and so it’s back to the drawing board for Weissman.