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Barack Obama in Amazing Spider-Man 583
Marvel Comics
President Barack Obama’s 2008 appearance in Spider-Man’s comics was one of the most commercially successful instances of real people appearing in comics books.
updated 7/7/2011 9:45:08 AM ET 2011-07-07T13:45:08

Slower than a speeding bullet. Not nearly as powerful as a locomotive. Completely unable to leap tall buildings. Yet real people, many with all-too-human foibles, are muscling in on the likes of Superman and Spider-Man on comic book racks these days.

It’s not like flesh-and-blood people have never ventured into the four-color medium before. Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis starred in long-running comic book series back in the 1950s and ’60s. Once-popular actors like Alan Ladd and Buster Crabbe had their own titles, as did western stars like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and John Wayne.

But those comics were fantasy narratives about their on-screen personas, not the actors themselves. The same could be said about the rock band KISS, who battled Marvel Comics super-villain Doctor Doom in a 1977 comic.

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Nowadays, in contrast, popular musicians are appearing in more realistic accounts of their real lives; Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, and Madonna are a few examples. But you don’t have to be a rock star to get your own comic: You can be a politician (Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton), a TV star (Martha Stewart, Betty White), a business mogul (Mark Zuckerberg, a planned Donald Trump bio), or just notorious (Lindsay Lohan appears on the cover of a series called “Infamous,” and a future issue on Charlie Sheen is in the works).

Related: Zap! Pow! Bow wow! It's Bo Obama, superhero

Many of these biographical comics are coming from a Vancouver, Wash.-based publisher called Bluewater Productions, which started out publishing fantasy, science-fiction and horror — time-honored staples of comic books — but more recently has ventured into the less common biography genre with titles like “Female Force” (profiles of prominent women), “Political Power” (politicians) and “Fame” (entertainment celebrities).

Powerwall: Politicians get the superhero treatment

“Bluewater’s biographical comics are good sellers for us, and it’s great to use this medium as an introduction to various political figures and celebrities,” said Gerry Gladston, co-owner of Midtown Comics, which operates several comic-book stores in Manhattan.

“Lady Gaga didn’t like it,” Gladston acknowledged of Bluewater’s profile of the pop diva. “But the book sold.”

Related: Obama, Palin make peace (in Archie comics, that is)

Sometimes real-life celebrities rub shoulders with superheroes in the same comic. President Obama has made prominent appearances with both Spider-Man and Archie, for instance. “Project Runway” star Tim Gunn once put on Iron Man’s armor . Even comedian Stephen Colbert (a comics fan in real life) has swung on a web side-by-side with Spidey.

Marvel Comics
Tim Gunn of TV’s “Project Runway” seems like an unlikely crime-fighter — but he donned Iron Man’s armor in Marvel Comics.

“It’s inherent in our creations that they live in the real world,” Marvel Comics writer Paul Tobin told TODAY.com when Gunn guest-starred in a story he wrote.

Related: ‘Project Runway’ star turns Marvel superhero

But why are so many ordinary humans (well, OK, maybe not so ordinary) crowding the superheroes on comic-book racks these days? To make money, of course.

“Real-people comic books sometimes sell very well,” Gladston told TODAY.com. “The appearance by President-elect Barack Obama in 2008 on the cover of Spider-Man was the best-selling comic book of the decade. Sometimes, however, a guest appearance by a real person may not do anything to increase sales — it happens quite often.”

Slideshow: When real people star in comic books (on this page)

Which just goes to show you: Pop stars and politicians may be fine when it comes to stuff like making hit songs or running the country. But serious work like selling comic books?

That’s a job for Superman.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Photos: When real people star in comic books

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  1. Comic books starring real people

    Not everyone in a comic book is faster than a speeding bullet or swings on a web. TV stars, musicians, politicians, popes, comedians and even accused criminals often show up on comic book racks next to superhumans in spandex. Here are some colorful examples.

    Paula Deen

    Deen lost book deals, contracts and her television cooking show on Food Network after she admitted using a racial slur, but at least she gained a comic book: "Female Force: Paula Deen," detailing her career and fall from grace. (Bluewater Productions) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Lindsay Lohan

    Lindsay Lohan’s lifestyle has been wild enough to seem like the stuff of comic books ... and in 2011 it became one. Titled "Infamous: Lindsay Lohan," it featured the actress in a prison jumpsuit on the cover. (BlueWater Productions) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Mark Zuckerberg

    How did a nerdy computer programmer wind up the youngest billionaire in the world, the subject of a high-profile film, and now the star of his own comic book? It's complicated ... but this biographical comic from Canada's Bluewater Productions tries to explain it in 48 pages. (BlueWater Productions) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Justin Bieber

    Having already cemented his place in the hearts of teenage girls across the globe, pop star Justin Bieber took on the realm of comic books. Bluewater Productions devoted 32 pages to the young Canadian’s biography and portrays his swoon-inducing likeness on the cover in a manner fittingly reminiscent of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic children's novella, “The Little Prince.” (BlueWater Productions) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Ellen DeGeneres

    Looking to take the comics medium where it had rarely gone before -- to female readers -- Canada's Bluewater Productions launched Female Force, a series of biographies of prominent women. Bluewater contacts the celebrities profiled and offers to donate one-third of the proceeds from their comic to the charity of their choice; Ellen DeGeneres accepted the offer and chose the Humane Society. (BlueWater Productions) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Martha Stewart

    With a daytime TV show, a magazine, best-selling books and myriad other media ventures, it seems Martha Stewart has no worlds left to conquer -- except maybe comic books. But then Bluewater Productions filled that gap with this issue of its "Female Force" series of women-centric biography comics. (In contrast to "Infamous: Lindsay Lohan," Bluewater chose to show Martha in an apron, not a prison jumpsuit.) (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Lady Gaga

    Her seemingly endless array of outrageous get-ups could put even a superhero's array of capes, cowls and spandex to shame. LIttle wonder, then, that pop diva Lady Gaga was the star of the first issue of "Fame," a series focusing on "culturally relevant celebrities." You hear that, little monsters? You're cuturally relevant! (BlueWater Productions) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Stephen Colbert and Spider-Man

    Is there anything Stephen Colbert can't do? Not only does he make merciless fun of right-wing pundits on Comedy Central and jam with top rock musicians -- in Marvel Comics' fantasy universe, he ran for president and, in Amazing Spider-Man #573, teamed up with the web-swinger himself. Which just goes to show: Truthiness is stranger than fiction. (Marvel.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Obama and Palin meet Archie

    Archie Comics publisher Jon Goldwater called a "metaphoric battle between left and right." The story behind the covers: Archie and Reggie are running against each other for student president and manage to embroil Obama and Palin in their campaigns. "That's what makes our country great," Goldwater told TODAY.com in September 2010. "It's a very brisk and vigorous debate." (Archie Comics) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. O.J. Simpson

    "He Said/She Said Comics" was a short-lived series published in 1993-94 by an outfit called First Amendment Publishing. Successfully capitalizing on the then high-profile saga of "Long Island Lolita" Amy Fisher in its first issue, the comic when on to make hay out of the Bill Clinton/Gennifer Flowers imbroglio (Monica Lewinsky wasn't even on the radar yet), Tonya Harding, and, for its fifth-issue finale, the sensational O.J. Simpson murder trial. (He Said/She Said Comics) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. The Avengers on David Letterman

    The Avengers are Marvel Comics' premier superhero team, with heavy hitters like Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America. But none of those guys was around when the Avengers fictively guest-starred on "Late Night with David Letterman" in this January 1984 issue. Thus it fell to a bunch of second-stringers to deal with the deadly gadgets that a rather incompetent villain had rigged the studio with -- and to Dave himself to clobber the bad guy with an oversize doorknob. (Marvel Comics) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. KISS

    Already boasting a visual aesthetic that borrowed liberally from the wardrobe of superheroes, KISS’s jump from the concert stage to the comic book stand was both natural and somewhat inevitable, given the band’s notoriously insatiable penchant for promotional merchandising. Were the appearance of their high-decibel heroes doing battle with the fearsome likes of Dr. Doom in their own comic book not enough to entice dutiful KISS fans, the band added an extra patina of headline-begging sensationalism by printing the comic in their own blood. On the inner-spread of the comic came photos of the band manfully drawing blood and pouring vials of the stuff into the red ink. (Marvel Comics) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Spider-Man on Saturday Night Live

    Stephen Colbert isn't the first late-night comic Spider-Man has teamed up with. In this zany 1978 issue of his team-up comic, the web-swinger is planning on a pleasant date with girlfriend Mary Jane as part of the audience on "Saturday Night Live." Unfortunately, a villain called the Silver Samurai is after a ring mistakenly sent to John Belushi, and it takes Spidey and the entire SNL cast to outwit him. (Marvel Comics) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Pope John Paul II

    One of the odder projects to come from Marvel Comics, the people who gave us Spider-Man and the Hulk, was this reverent 1982 biography of Pope John Paul II. In fairness, the pontiff did lead a colorful life, living under Nazi occupation in Poland and surviving an assassination attempt. The comic sold in the millions, much of it through religious channels, prompting a 1984 follow-up about Mother Teresa. (Marvel Comics) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Superman meets Pat Boone

    In one of the weirdest chapters of Superman's career, singer Pat Boone, then at the height of his fame as a teen idol, guest-starred in the May 1959 issue of Lois Lane comics. In case you're wondering why Superman is so worried about the song topping the charts, it's because the lyrics contained a hidden clue to his secret identity. Somehow we think he needn't have worried. (DC Comics) Back to slideshow navigation
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