Trump After Trump: the Comic Strip

Trump After Trump comic strip logo

I am announcing the launch of my comic strip Trump After Trump, which I plan to post regularly, though not daily since I only have time for one full-time job. I will be publishing the strips here on the blog, on YouTube and on Instagram.

Even though I don’t intend to undertake the intense work pace of daily publishing, I do plan on telling this story in the classic Monday-Sunday format, releasing strips in the familiar rhythm of six 4-panel, black-and-white comics then capping the week with a big, full-color “Sunday” strip.

The strip explores one of my favorite questions: can a person really change? I am moved by stories that show a selfish person becoming generous, or an abusive person becoming compassionate, or a close-minded person discovering the joy of learning.

A few weeks ago I asked myself, “What if President Trump were to lose the 2020 election, gracefully accept defeat, and decide in his 70s to become a better person?” Normally, when I wonder about something like this, I just space out for a few minutes; but, this time, out popped a fully-formed comic strip idea that started writing itself in my head! So, I followed the inspiration and here we are.

Trump After Trump comic strip face icon

My goals with Trump After Trump are to become a better visual storyteller, practice the crafts of writing and cartooning, and see what happens when this character tries to change. I’ve seen people in my life make extraordinary changes in their interests, habits, and worldviews when they reached retirement age. The cliché “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is not only untrue but kind of presumptuous. Old dogs may not need you to teach them at all; they can surprise you by learning the new tricks on their own. I don’t know where the Trump in this strip is going, but – to mix up our metaphors – let’s have fun watching him try to turn over a new leaf!

This strip has only come into being because of a virtual class on 4-panel comics that Amy Kurzweil gave a couple months ago, which my friend Sean Slattery suggested I attend with him. Thank you, Sean and Amy!

Squirrel Gone Fishing

Squirrel fishing comic, May 9, 2020, by James Hough

Yesterday evening I attended “Draw a Comic with Amy Kurzweil and The Believer,” hosted by Believer Magazine, via Zoom. It was an hour well spent! Amy had us warm up with a 60-second self-portrait, then she gave us a crash course in 4-panel comics, showing us a strip each from Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts and Roz Chast. Thanks to Amy Kurzweil for holding the class, which was well- and enthusiastically attended, and to Sean Slattery for giving me the heads up!

Aside from the drawing activity itself, my favorite part of the class was listening to Amy describe what she saw in each comic; it was a chance to see cartoons through the eyes of a professional. Is there a beginning, middle, and end? Is there a lot of continuity between panels? Is the end a surprise?

When we got down to business, Amy had us draw along with Charles Schultz. We each made our own version of a strip of Snoopy dancing with a falling leaf. (Hers involved a monkey blowing a bubble that turned into a medical face mask. Sean’s a handstand, a loss of gravity, and a tombstone.) I love this approach to making something: follow the footsteps of a master, using their work as a template.

I made a quick version during the class, then later I thought of a better (imho) punchline in the fourth panel. I also wanted to draw foliage inspired by Bill Watterson. Below is the original, to show the thinking process, how the story evolved. I think it improved.

It’s good to see where creative things come from, the path from beginning to final product. People often can shrug off paintings, drawings, logos, etc., because, in hindsight, these things can seem like they were easy to make. But, pretty much always, the simple final product is deceptive and the result of false starts, second guesses, bad ideas, bad drawing, and so on.

Squirrel fishing comic version 1, May 8, 2020, by James Hough

On that note, I’ll close with one of my favorite song lyrics and quotations, from Iris Dement.

Sweet is the melody, so hard to come by.
It’s so hard to make every note bend just right.
You lay down the hours and leave not one trace
And a tune for dancing is there in its place.