Voluminous side-swept bangs, an aristocratic demeanor complemented by a cold stare, and impeccable outfits are standard features of bishounen, the “beautiful boys” that populate Japanese comics (manga) and cartoons (anime). Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle, King Endymion from Sailor Moon, and Yuri Plisetsky from the ice-skating phenomenon Yuri on Ice all come immediately to mind. Now, thanks to Brooklyn-based artist Joy Ling, a rather unexpected figure has joined that pantheon: Barron Trump.
Ling recently released the first chapter of The Adventures of Barron and His Loud-Mouthed President Father, which sees the First Child — a Pokémon-obsessed 10-year-old who is nonplussed by his father’s presidency — team up with Sasha and Malia Obama to investigate a “mysterious anomaly” brought about by the rise of the 45th president. “His father sees this as rebelling, but all Barron wants to do is live a normal life,” Ling told Hyperallergic. “He tries to persuade his father to do certain things in order to solve the problem, but that in itself is an obstacle that Barron must overcome.”
Like many Americans, Ling was surprised by the results of the presidential election. When she stumbled upon a Japanese meme by Yusuke Hori, portraying a very despondent Barron in tears standing next to his newly elected father — the headline over the picture reading, “My loud, annoying dad is president, so the quiet unassuming life I wanted is completely over” — she saw it as the perfect peg for a manga series. “All I want to do is watch Netflix and play Pokémon,” Barron mutters in the comic, and in fact, to Ling, Barron’s desire for a simple life was the ideal way to portray him as a foil to his father, whom you could hardly define as “simple.” “I thought that there could be a lot of hilarious situations arising from these two types of personalities interacting with each other,” she said.
Rather than being overtly political, Ling opted for a narrative approach rooted in fantasy and comedy, which she sees as a way to help us process shocking and disappointing situations in a positive way.
Case in point: One poster for The Adventures of Barron features Bernie Sanders with a bird on his shoulder summoning eagles over the Mexican border (a nod to the March 2016 Oregon rally in which a sparrow visited the candidate onstage). Another companion artwork sees a bare-chested and jacked Vladimir Putin riding a polar bear and holding an AK-47, a humorous riff on the alpha-male image he projects in photo shoots in which he rides horses shirtless. An artwork-in-progress has Barron lounging in his 5th Avenue penthouse, his room filled with pricey Nintendo merchandise.
Ling, who credits Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli and surrealist director and animator Satoshi Kon as her main influences, chose to draw in anime style because of how expressive it is. Looking at her character art, in fact, one is reminded of the clean lines that made the Studio Ghibli creations such as Nausicaa, Howl, and Ponyo instantly recognizable. Yet this artistic choice was not without challenges. “There is a balancing act I have to play so that readers can look at these characters and go, Oh my gosh, that’s Donald Trump!” she explained. “But at the same time, it has to fit into the exaggerated anime universe that I’m trying to create.”
As for Kon, his influence on Ling’s art can be seen at the end of the first episode of The Adventures of Barron, where Trump’s America looks like it has been ripped from the anime Paprika (or, for that matter, the movie Inception).
Currently, Ling is testing the waters with The Adventures of Barron. If she is able to sell more than 500 copies of the first episode, she will develop it into a full four-volume series — ideally producing one volume per year of Trump’s presidency.
What’s more, since she is well versed in video-game design, Ling is also toying with the idea of developing a Barron-centric game that she envisions as “a cross between Final Fantasy and Pokémon.” As for Barron’s abilities as a fighter, she sees him as a summoner, someone who calls upon mystical spirits and beasts during battle. “I don’t think he is the type of person to fight on his own,” she mused “but there would be lots of people willing to fight on his side.”