Stephen Byrne talks satirizing 'absurd' Donald Trump and animating Buffy
The man responsible for both videos is Stephen Byrne, the current artist of DC comics’ Justice League/Power Rangers crossover series. And now, he’s turned his attention to animating a much less fictional character: President Donald Trump.
In “The Adventures of DJ Trump” Byrne exercises his art and comedy skills by satirizing current events, including the recent Muslim ban, as well as different figures in the Trump administration.
And this isn’t the first time Byrne — whose work has appeared in IDW’s Love Is Love — has satirized Trump. The first time he did so was early last year with an illustration depicting the then-Presidential nominee backed by many well-known pop culture villains.
EW caught up with the Irish artist to discuss his inspirations, both for satire and his social media viral fan art.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What inspired you to make “The Adventures of DJ Trump”?
STEPHEN BYRNE: Continuing exhaustion and depression about the state of U.S. politics at the moment. I really wanted to do something but didn’t necessarily know what that was. I’ve donated to some causes that I think are helpful, but then I was like, “Okay, what are the tools that I have? What are the abilities that I have, and how can I apply them to maybe making things a tiny bit better?” I don’t know if the video will have any dramatic effect, but I think satire has the power to make people think critically about politics by sort of shining a different light on it.
Animation takes a lot of time, and some of the stuff in the video is very current. How long did it take to make?
I don’t know exactly because I started the first scene, then I just chipped away at it when I had a free moment sitting around the house not doing much. I came up with an idea for another scene and another scene, and so it happened gradually. That’s why it incorporates some stuff that went on over the last several months. But just over the last few days, I found myself with a few days free, so I really went to town. So there are a couple of things in there that just happened… I was more interested in making the jokes and making points in this than I was in making a spectacular piece of animation.
Was there something particular in the news last week that made you want to release it then?
No, I’ve just been working on it, and then I finished it. With the Trump administration, there’s something in the news every few days that resets my bar for how insane things can get, so I was never worried about running out of material. I’m sure in a week’s time there’ll be five new ideas for things that I could eventually use.
You also created the image of Donald Trump being surrounded by all those villains from pop culture. What inspired that?
It was frustration with everything that was going on and wanting to say something about what was happening. I remember I had lots of ideas for things, but I didn’t do any of them. It was months before I actually finally did that image because a bunch of ideas went through my head, but I was like, “No, that’s not right. It doesn’t say what I want to say.” And then when the Trump villains image occurred to me I was like, “That’s the one.” Then I went and made it.
I remember you kept tweeting that you didn’t want to share it anymore.
Well, I didn’t think I would. I thought it would be that just before the election it would be the last time I’d have to do it, and after that, he would lose and he would at least disappear from politics and that would be the end of that. But no, he won, and so now that image has become a little more depressing than it used to be. I remember I was selling prints of it in New York Comic-Con last October, and people found it very amusing. It sold well, and then I had prints of it leftover and I had them at Emerald City Comic Con in March. It still sold, but it had more of a depressing connotation because it reminded people of something that was very real. Now it’s like, “This is your actual President,” and so the image has taken on a slightly different meaning.
Have you thought about tackling Brexit? Or is there no figure that you can really lampoon this way?
I don’t know. There’s something particularly absurd about Trump and the various… absurdities is the best word I can think of for all the things that go on that are just completely nonsensical. If they weren’t so depressing or if there weren’t really intense consequences to it, they’d be hilarious. I didn’t have to change much. I literally just had to draw the things that are happening, and that is funny in and of itself. But Brexit doesn’t strike me in the same way. It’s not as absurd. It’s a relevant political event, but it just seems like two sides with different opinions and different ideas of the best thing to go about things. The U.S. has got the President saying he’s being spied on through a microwave, so it’s different.
You’ve also done animated videos of Buffy, and Doctor Who, and Firefly. Has it led to any animation work?
It’s led to offers of animation work. But I don’t think I’ve actually ended up taking any of those because I do illustration work and comic books and that takes up vast quantities of time. I’ve generally stuck to the day job because I really like it. Every time I’ve put one of these videos out there’s been several hundred thousand views of it so that’s been nice. If it’s fan art it’s always exciting when the people it’s about respond. Joss Whedon retweeted my animated Adventures of Buffy thing. The Doctor Who one was featured on a documentary on the BBC about fans’ enthusiasm for Doctor Who, and stuff like that. When that kind of stuff happens that’s always fun. Although I seriously doubt Donald Trump will be retweeting this one.
A lot of your fan art also does well on social media. Do you have a sense of what’s popular or are you just creating what you want to see?
It’s mostly just what I’m interested in at the moment, what I’m excited about, and obsessed with. It’s not really strategic in that sense. When I did the Star Wars comic I saw Star Wars and was really excited about it. I was still thinking about it weeks after, and then I had the idea for a comic, and so I put it together. That’s how I do it because it’s my free time. I want to spend it doing things that I want to do and not things that I think other people want to see.
What do you hope people take away from this latest video?
Honestly, I hope it highlights the absurdity of what’s going on in the Trump administration to some people, and maybe just makes them cast a more critical eye over some of the things that they say and do. If anybody wants to help they should donate to the ACLU.