Lil’ Donnie Vol. 1 hardcover comic-strip collection
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Mike Norton
Copy editor: Sean McKeever
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $12.99 US
Man, Image Comics and cartoonist Mike Norton couldn’t have had better timing. While satire and political commentary by way of cartooning is always topical these days, never was such a biting send-up of the 45th President of the United States more relevant than it is the day after two criminals from his inner circle have been deemed guilty by the criminal justice system.
I’ve been following Lil’ Donnie online since Norton launched the strip a year and a half ago, so there wasn’t any material included in this print collection of the strip that I hadn’t seen before. But man, there were a lot of them about which I’d forgotten. Remember Sean Spicer? The glowing Saudi Arabian orb? These oddities don’t face because Norton’s humor and sharp criticisms aren’t memorable, but due to the sheer volume of political and cultural insanity that’s unfolded in the United States since the cartoonist undertook this labor of loathe. While Norton’s perspective on current events is exaggerated to the extreme, it’s powerfully perceptive, and it serves as a vitally important retrospective on developments that seemed unimaginable at the time but now seemed sadly quaint in comparison with the seemingly never-ending madness that crescendos with each passing day.
An aspect of this collection that took me aback was discovering how oddly prophetic it could be. One strip from last year focused on his highly scrutinized meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whom many see (quite rightly) as Trump’s polar opposite. The reference to retaliatory tariffs a full year before they actually came to pass shows just how much Norton is in tune with the scenarios and personalities he’s lampooning, but also proves that life imitates art — as disturbing as it is to consider that.
One thing that Norton has demonstrated with this strip is his versatility as an artist. For those familiar with his work for Marvel and DC or through such projects as Revival, Norton’s style is pretty much unrecognizable here. He achieves a perfect balance between simpler cartooning elements and a realistic style — not surprising, given the subject matter. Norton brings a greater level of detail to bear when it’s called for, so he can make the impact he desires, like with his apple-doll take on Mitch McConnell or the gruesome sight of Trump’s infamous “bone spurs.” He also employs an oddly vibrant color scheme for most of the strips, but that reinforces the loony tone of his characters, his jokes and the reality that serves as the inspiration for the strips.
A credit that brought a smile to this longtime comics reader’s face was that acknowledgement of Sean McKeever as a copy editor on this project. I loved the notion that Norton re-teamed with his collaborator from their indie work, The Waiting Place, for this work, which is bound to be much more visible than those earlier efforts. I should also note that while the cover declares the subtitle for this (hopefully) first volume is “Executive Privilege,” the indicia says the book is really titled simply Lil’ Donnie Vol. 1.
One element of Norton’s humor that makes me take notice of Lil’ Donnie a bit more than the many avenues of satire and criticism is that it’s distinctly developed for a mainstream comics-industry crowd by someone who loves the medium. While he’s plying his trade these days more in the realm of creator-owned properties, Norton spent a good deal of his career in comics working on super-heroes and other genre works. That sensibility peeks through in these political strips on occasion. The most obvious example is through his portrayal of Jeff Sessions, represented here by other-dimensional imp Beauregard.
Ultimately, I think what so draws me to Norton’s work on Lil’ Donnie is that by portraying these politicians and manipulations in such a ridiculous light, he robs them of some of their power – not literally, but culturally. Though the damage this administration is imposing on America is all too real, Norton’s presentation of their machinations as morbidly laughable offers his audience a measure of comfort. 9/10