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Coloring Outside the Lines 

The George Bushes have taken a lot of mocking for their verbal eccentricities. During George H.W. Bush's presidency, Dana Carvey's Saturday Night Live impersonation caricatured him as a tongue-waggling ball of tics and catch phrases, while Slate's Jacob Weisberg has made an industry of collecting President George W. Bush's more unusual turns of phrase in George W. Bushisms (Simon & Schuster) and two "Son of Bushisms" books. Local writer/publisher G.K. Darby and graphic artist Karen A. Ocker were sufficiently moved by the president's use of language to add another log to the satirical fire and create The George W. Bush Coloring Book (Garrett County Press).

"A bunch of my family members had been bugging me about doing a political gag book about Bush," says Darby, who was initially resistant but changed his mind when he did some preliminary research. "As I read speeches, I started running into amazing language," he says. Where Weisberg chooses malapropisms like "leadership is someone who brings people together," Darby's selections have a more poetic nature. A page of Bush and Condoleezza Rice riding a missile a la Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove emerged from the quote, "Š we must not allow the world's worst leaders to develop and harbor the world's worst weapons. I got a lot of tools at my disposal, and I'm a patient man; and I'm a patient man." Taken as a whole, Darby found the quotes suggested a world view that is, in his words, "hallucinatory."

For Ocker, the whole project is a bit of a blur. "It took a month, minus a week when I had a visitor," she recalls. "I was given the quotes from G.K., and he had some suggestions like the first page," an illustration of Bush in a flight suit standing in front of a jet with a "Mission Accomplished" banner strung across it. She recalls the project being collaborative at first. "We shot ideas back and forth," Ocker says. "We collaborated on the fishbowl for one" -- an illustration of Bush in a goldfish bowl sitting beside a treasure chest of missiles puckered up for a kissing fish. "We had talked about him kissing a fish, and I took that a little bit further."

One page that has special significance for Ocker features scenes of anti-Muslim violence. "I was in New York on September 11," she explains, "and I lived in an Arabic community in Brooklyn, and there was a lot of fear and racism." The page depicts a mosque burning and Richard Reid, "the shoe bomber," passing through an airport metal detector while a woman in a burqa is being searched at gunpoint. "We deleted somebody on the verge of attacking someone who was Muslim," Ocker said, "for fear that it would be misconstrued as endorsing violence."

The George W. Bush Coloring Book is Ocker's first political work of art. "It's also my first coloring book," she laughs. A veteran of more than 100 book covers, she was initially hesitant about the project. "I had never illustrated an entire book before," she explains, but Darby has nothing but praise for her efforts. "It's Karen who turned a sloppy political gag book into something more artistic," he says. "She doesn't go for the easy yucks. She honestly illustrates these quotes."

Part of the challenge of doing political art is getting the tone right: How do you make your point without going over the top? For Ocker, that was a bit of an issue because "it's pretty cautious compared to how I really feel about George W. Bush." To balance that, she says, she thinks about the purpose of the work. "You want as many people to buy this as possible, so you don't want to make it so outrageous that you turn people away because you want to get your message across. In my mind, it's a gentle reminder of what he said."

Darby agrees: "It isn't attack literature. I think it's more thoughtful than a lot of attack literature. I get worried about that, that it isn't just a piece of propaganda." To celebrate the book's release, Ocker has organized an art show featuring artists' treatments of her pages. "I asked people to take a quote or page from the book and color it in," she explains, "but I told them I wanted them to take it loosely." Treatments range from the traditional to glass and silkscreen interpretations to a puppet show. "I have a friend in New York who I think is making a George W. Bush dress," she continues. "My grandmother, who's 87, just sent me hers, and she took some liberties with it and put her dog in it. I have an 8-year-old student and an 11-year-old student, and the 8-year-old is doing her own drawing of George W. Bush." Some may wonder how politically conscious an 8-year-old can be, but as Darby says, "A coloring book is supposed to open kids' eyes to a new world."

click to enlarge Artist Karen Ocker and publisher G. K. Darby collaborated on the satirical The George W. Bush Coloring Book.
  • Artist Karen Ocker and publisher G. K. Darby collaborated on the satirical The George W. Bush Coloring Book.
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