With the coronavirus pandemic and racial injustice at the top of many Vermonters' minds, it can be easy to forget the urgency of other global issues. With her illustrated project Megalomania, Shelburne resident Gillian Dorfman draws attention to the environment, as well as the Trump administration's dismantling of environmental protection policies.
Part children's story, part comic book and part teaching tool, Megalomania is composed of Dorfman's original drawings and text. It tells the story of a young boy named Reginald who, with his red hat and orangish skin, bears a striking resemblance to a certain commander in chief.
The child is raised to cut corners and get what he wants by any means necessary, and he grows up to become president of a land called Megalomania. "Reginald did not read or study to learn to become a ruler," the story goes. "He lied and bragged. He charmed and swaggered."
Under Reginald's leadership, unregulated mining, logging, building and oil drilling wreak havoc on the planet.
In rendering Reginald, Dorfman pulled inspiration from L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The character appears to be a cross between the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, symbolizing his lack of both a brain and a heart.
Dorfman, who has no formal art training and considers herself an amateur, illustrated the story with colored pencils on multimedia paper. She then scanned the images and made small digital tweaks. The story can be presented as an eight-part serial comic or as a longer booklet.
Now retired, Dorfman is trained in town planning, has developed environmental education resources and worked as a literacy tutor. Her background came into play as she conceptualized Megalomania.
"A lot of kids I worked with had to really rely on picture books for younger kids, but they were interested in other concepts," Dorfman reflected over the phone, "so I really wanted to produce some material and some books that had a good message on the environment but also could be used for literacy."
Adult readers may also appreciate the political commentary and the tongue-in-cheek tone.
Dorfman worked on Megalomania while watching President Donald Trump's impeachment trial in the first months of 2020. "I was just feeling like, 'Oh! We're at risk of losing a democracy!'" she said. "It was just my creative way, I suppose, of expressing my frustration."
Although the character Reginald is clearly based on the 45th president of the United States, Dorfman created some distance between the story and real life by setting Megalomania in a parallel universe with characters that resemble aliens and buildings that look like mushrooms.
"If [readers] are outside of the situation, they're more likely to look objectively at it," she said.
As of last week, Megalomania had not yet been published. Dorfman aims to use the project in homeschool education or as a reward for political donors.
For her next project, Dorfman is working on a children's book series called Common Ground on the theme of diversity in soil and in society. "I'm just trying to use fiction to help kids learn about their environmental history — and how they can make a difference, as well," she said.