Political pop quiz: What nationally known colorful character with Midwestern roots gives off a tint even more orange than ultra-tanned Ohio Republican John Boehner?
If you said Garfield the cat, congratulations: Your thinking is right in line -- creatively if not ideologically -- with the campaign satirists at GQ magazine.
The idea to parody the electoral action through comic-strip panels this month was that of the Massachusetts-schooled Scott Brown. No, not that Scott Brown. This Scott Brown, New York magazine's drama critic by day, relished this year's political theater, so he contacted his writing partner, Anthony King -- who by night is artistic director of the improv troupe Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. As they bounced comic-strip spoofs off each other, it all began to click.
"I threw it out there hoping it would work," says Brown, who has also written for Entertainment Weekly and Wired. "I didn't know if maybe these are two great tastes that don't taste great together."
Brown and King, both in their mid-30s, say their humor shamelessly strip-mines the pop-culture reference points of their shared childhoods. (They met in high school in Durham, N.C.) Which is how they arrived at sending up "Garfield" and "Peanuts" and even the untouchable "Calvin and Hobbes" for the magazine.
Brown and King self-identify as "flaming moderates" -- though they say the state of polarized politics has doused some of those flames.
Working with artist R. Sikoryak, Brown and King created nine parody comics for the GQ feature, which is titled "The Midterm Funny Pages." They include:
-- A Peanuts spoof, "It's a Tough Election, Harry Reid," in which Nevada challenger Sharron Angle holds the political football for Sen. Reid.
-- A "B.C." sendup titled "S.C.," in which South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, Senate candidate Alvin Greene and Sen. Lindsey Graham stump from prehistoric perches.
-- "Rand Paul and Hobbes," in which Kentucky would-be senator Paul (as Calvin) plots to found his own country.
-- And the afore-referenced "Boehner," in which the congressman gets a big, wet tongue wag from Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele as "Garfield's" drooling dog.
"The parallel of the relationship with Michael Steele as Odie was definitely amazing," King says. "That one came to us in an orange flash."
Brown and King said almost everything they tried worked -- "We rarely self-edit," King kids -- except for "The Far Side" (they say the strip exists too much on its own aesthetic plane) and the soap strip "Mary Worth." (Confesses King: "We tried hard, but Mary Worth, she defeated us.")
The team then turned over the art duties to Sikoryak, the creator of "Masterpiece Comics," who is himself a master of co-opting other cartoonists' styles.
"I enjoy doing political stuff," says Sikoryak, 45, who has also drawn for "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart." So the New York-based artist scoured digital archives of the comics, striving to be as faithful to each as possible. "Rather than just say, well, this strip has a scratchy line and this one has a smooth brush line, I found specific poses I could redraw and import. . . . I pulled from and slavishly copied the shading and details for [comic] situations that the original strips would never have."
His work, which took several weeks to complete, included an image of a prone, playing-dead Marmaduke -- who in GQ becomes "Blanche Lincoln is Pharmaduke," the "middle-of-the-road" dog having been fender-struck by "Arkansas voters."
Sikoryak -- whose "Masterpiece Comics" won an Ignatz Award at this month's Small Press Expo in Bethesda -- says Brown and King were masterly at replicating the beats and rhythms of the original strips. The three creators cite influences ranging from Mad magazine to "Bloom County" when it comes to satire in comics form.
So, what do the guys plan to satirize next for GQ?
"We've got a Men of the Year project coming up as a year-ender," King says. Brown quickly adds: "We probably shouldn't say much more than that."