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Aftermath: Unmasked Obama Joker artist confronts fame firsthand

August 21, 2009 |  7:12 am

Firas-alkhateeb-cubs

Over the last few days, Firas Alkhateeb, the artist behind the picture of President Obama as the Batman Joker whom we profiled on Monday, has become the unlikely poster boy for several issues.

To some, he's a hero for using art to craft an image that embodies widespread frustrations with the president.

To others, he's a fascinating topic of conversation -- one who threw off expectations when he unveiled himself as a so-called liberal.

And the technology community sees him as the most visible representative of free speech after photo-sharing site Flickr removed his image.

But the University of Illinois history student has more important things to worry about: Classes start on Monday.

His e-mail inbox is flooded. In the last few days, Alkhateeb has received 30 to 40 interview requests from online, print, radio and TV stations spanning the globe. He's had to turn a lot of them down and is still trying to find time to respond to the rest.

That's not even counting all the fan and hate mail. "The day after your article, I had gotten 50 friend requests on Facebook from people I didn't know," Alkhateeb said on the phone Thursday.

For the most part, the responses have been positive. People write in to tell him "good job" or ......

call him a hero.

Others aren't so flattering. "I've gotten a couple of e-mails here and there saying, 'What you did was horrible and reprehensible,'" he said.

Alkhateeb has something to say to every camp that has adopted him as its sort-of leader.

To the hyper-conservative fans: Thanks but no thanks. "If I knew that it would have gotten this big, I wouldn't have made it," he said. He doesn't necessarily regret the poster.

It had a time and a place -- shortly after Obama's election. "The point I'm trying to make is that all of the excessively pro-Obama stuff is going a little too far," Alkhateeb said.

"I don't regret making it. I regret the way it's being used," he said, referring to the "socialism" version.

To the leftists who were hoping for a radical right-winger to be their scapegoat: "I'm sorry to disappoint them," Alkhateeb said sarcastically. "A lot of news agencies were expecting a racist, far right, big white guy."

To the outraged tech community: He's with you. "More than anything, it's a free speech issue," Alkhateeb said of Flickr deleting his image. "I really don't think it should have been taken down in the first place." Flickr says it was responding to a takedown notice sent to the company. Alkhateeb plans to file a counterclaim.

Even with that crusade ahead of him, he hopes the whole ordeal settles down fairly soon. "The first day after you published, the home phone was ringing all day," Alkhateeb said. "With school starting next week, I've got other stuff to worry about."

-- Mark Milian

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Photo credit: Firas Alkhateeb

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