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Obama And McCain, In Black And White

Over this past election cycle, many Americans expressed dissatisfaction with media coverage of the presidential campaign. They decried the media's obsession with tracking polls, fundraising and the relative strengths of each candidate's ground game. Forget the horse race, they implored; let's hear about policy.

Michael Crowley and Dan Goldman's 08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail is not for those people.

This boisterous chronicle of the longest presidential campaign in U.S. history is a paean to the who's up, who's down gamesmanship of American politics. Every thrown elbow, cringe-worthy gaffe and desperate 11th-hour gambit of the past two years has been gleefully documented between its covers. New Republic senior editor Crowley successfully wrangles into compelling narrative shape what could easily have devolved into a cacophonous blur of debates, stump speeches and photo-ops. We watch the fortunes of presidential candidates rise and fall in the span of a few pages, and go into the trenches with political reporters as the 24-hour news cycle churns through its recurrent storylines about momentum, nigh-impossible comebacks and, yes, pigs in lipstick.

If daily journalism is history's first draft, this illustrated compendium of the campaign's most memorable moments is closer to history's raw edit, a series of strung-together images and sound bites that collectively reveals how America came to choose the leader it did.

The book's bold black-and-white design scheme — artist Goldman's page layouts incorporate elements of collage and poster art — adds a defiantly impolitic layer of playfulness. Drawn entirely on a computer, 08 depicts the world of politicians, pollsters and pundits in stark detail as Goldman's heavy line work lingers over every wrinkle, every blemish, every double chin. The result, though rarely flattering, hammers home the unglamorous realities of political life after the balloons drop and the spotlights fade.

In one sense, 08 belongs to the burgeoning genre of docucomics that includes Josh Neufeld's sobering Web comic AD: New Orleans After the Deluge; writer/illustrator Rick Geary's multivolume, painstakingly researched true-crime books; and Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon's 2006 graphical adaptation of the 9/11 report.

But while those nonfiction treatments adopt the classic narrative conventions of comics, 08 strikes out on its own to create a method of visual storytelling that owes as much to '60s magazine layouts as it does to modern Web design. It's largely thanks to Goldman's singular graphical style that this book, essentially a time capsule of the campaign's conventional wisdom, feels so defiantly and refreshingly unconventional.

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Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.