Kuper, Peter 1958-
KUPER, Peter 1958-
Born 1958, in Cleveland, OH; married Betty Russell; children: Emily. Education: Attended Pratt Institute.
Comic-book artist, illustrator, graphic artist, editor. Cofounder of World War 3 Illustrated (political comix magazine), 1979; School of Visual Arts, New York, NY, instructor (alternative comix), 1987—; INX, art director.
Named Comic Book Artist of the Year, Rolling Stone, 1995; awards from American Illustration, Print, Communication Arts, and the Society of Illustrators.
(Illustrator) Robert E. Howard, The Last Cat Book, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1984.
(Illustrator) Janice Prager and Arlene Lepoff, Why Be Different?: A Look into Judaism, Behrman House (West Orange, NJ), 1986.
(With Seth Tobocman) World War 3 Illustrated: 1980-1988, Fantagraphics (Seattle, WA), 1989.
(Illustrator) Upton Beall Sinclair, The Jungle, Berkley (New York, NY), 1991.
Peter Kuper's Comic Strips: A Journal of Travels through Africa and Southeast Asia, Tundra, 1992.
Different Beat, Fantagraphics (Seattle, WA), 1994.
(With others) World War 3 Illustrated: Confrontational Comics, Four Walls Eight Windows (New York, NY), 1995.
Stripped, Fantagraphics (Seattle, WA), 1995.
The System, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1997.
Topsy Turvy, Top Shelf Productions (Marietta, GA), 2000.
Speechless, Top Shelf Productions (Marietta, GA), 2000.
Mind's Eye: An Eye of the Beholder Collection, Comics Lit, NBM (New York, NY), 2001.
(Illustrator) Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis, Crown (New York, NY), 2003.
Comic Strip, NBM (New York, NY), 2003.
Eye of the Beholder, NBM (New York, NY), 2003.
Creator of comic strips, including "Bleeding Heart," "New York Minute" (for the Daily News), "Spy vs. Spy" (for Mad magazine), "Eye of the Beholder" (first for the New York Times; went into syndication); and comic-book series, including The System and World War 3 Illustrated; illustrator and cover artist for periodicals, including Time, Newsweek, Mother Jones, Nation, Washington Post, New York Times, and the Village Voice.
Peter Kuper has a long and remarkable history in the field of comix, going back to 1979, when he cofounded, with Seth Tobocman, the political World War 3 Illustrated, which takes a hard left slant and features the work of writers and artists who share that view. Kuper and Tobocman have been friends since first grade, and their zine has remained in publication for more than two decades.
World War 3 Illustrated: 1980-1988 collects the best of nearly ten years' worth of issues, the first of which marked the beginning of the Reagan era in American politics and a response to it. The introduction to the collection, written by Lucy R. Lippard reads, "World War three is the underacknowledged battles being waged against fascism, hypocrisy, drugs, and homelessness." A Progressive writer wrote that the collection "offers moving personal stories from the inner cities of the Reagan era, as told by some of the comic world's sharpest talents." Richard Schauffler wrote in Whole Earth Review that "in a world in which fewer and fewer young people seem to read, books like this may be our best hope."
Kuper has applied his woodcut-like illustrations to create adaptations of classics, first with Upton Sinclair's Jungle, and then with Give It Up!: And Other Short Stories, a collection of nine stories by Franz Kafka. In his introduction, Jules Feiffer makes a comparison of Kuper's art to jazz, calling it "visual improvisations on short takes by the old master." Booklist's Gordon Flagg noted that Kuper's style recalls that of the German expressionists who were Kafka's contemporaries. "His cartoony approach," said Flagg, "accentuates Kafka's dark humor, while it generally avoids the pitfall of depicting Kafka's deadpan narratives too literally." A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that "Kafka's anguished archetypal characters … are easily rendered into visual equivalents and given new life in Kuper's raw, expressionistic graphic style."
The Metamorphosis is an adaptation of Kafka's most famous work, in which hapless Gregor Samsa turns into a giant bug. "Kuper presents a faithful and compelling adaptation of it," stated Steve Raiteri in a Library Journal review. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "everything and every person in this Metamorphosis seems silhouetted and carved, an effect that meshes neatly with Kafka's sense of nightmarish unreality."
Kuper collects autobiographical pieces for Stripped, in which he focuses on his teenage virginity, failed relationships (he draws himself as a frightened rabbit), and pot-smoking days. Ironically, he portrays himself as a bathrobe-wearing, Hugh Hefner lookalike, but he is clear that he himself was not a playboy. Flagg felt that "nearly everybody should be able to relate to Kuper's sagas of insecurity and rejection." A Publisher's Weekly contributor observed that Kuper "combines a great talent for comedic writing with an inventively cartoony—and sometimes dazzling—graphic style."
Speechless is an autobiography told in words and art, in which Kuper tells of his decision to become an artist at age four. At five he changed his choice to entomologist, but, thankfully, he returned to his original career path that has led to such a wealth of output. Kuper includes covers he has done for prominent publications and his political and satirical strips, including some that were commissioned but never published due to decisions by publishers, as well as his life story.
Flagg noted that Kuper provides a commentary that includes "a chilling account of his testimony for an underground cartoonist on trial for obscenity." In the case, cartoonist Mike Diana was convicted of obscenity by a Florida jury for publishing his minicomic Boiled Angel. He was sentenced to jail time, more than 1,000 hours of community service, and a fine, and ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation (at his own expense). Amazingly, he was also ordered not to create any more "obscene" work, even for his own enjoyment, and told that his home would from that time forward be subject to unannounced random searches, which would be conducted without warrants.
"The book underscores Kuper's concerns about homelessness, censorship, and the environment, as well as his sense of humor, eye for detail, and a vividly graphic imagination," wrote a Publishers Weekly critic. A Kirkus Reviews contributor felt that Kuper's "reverse paintings on framed windows are a truly unexpected pleasure, as are his recent contributions to Mad's 'Spy vs. Spy,' which prove that he's certainly no snob."
Erik Farseth interviewed Kuper for Walk the Plank online and asked him how long it usually takes him to complete a strip. Kuper replied, "I work pretty fast, I guess. I do 'Spy vs. Spy' for Mad magazine, and that usually takes me about three to four days from beginning to end to do a complete strip. The first stage is writing it. And then assuming I get approval for the story line, then I pencil it up. That usually takes a day. And then it takes a day to cut the stencils. And then a day and a half to color it. I work from stencils—for that at least—I work from stencils that are done with spray paint. That's how the entire book The System was done. That's how a number of things were done."
Kuper's "Eye of the Beholder" was the first comic strip to appear regularly in the New York Times, where it ran for about six months, but it continues to be syndicated nationally to alternative papers. Kuper collects these wordless visual puzzles in several volumes, including Mind's Eye: An Eye of the Beholder Collection, called a "visual treasure" by a Voice of Youth Advocates reviewer. The four panels presented on a page provide clues to the reader as to whose perspective is being represented. Where words are necessary to fully understand the puzzle, they are placed on signs or other objects. A fifth panel on the following page provides the solution.
School Library Journal's Francisca Goldsmith noted that "cultural awareness, rather than literary skill, is necessary to understand many of the concepts on which the vignettes turn." A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that "the wittiest pieces confound reality.… Kuper uses himself to great effect: circling sharks turn out to be lawyers surrounding him at a table; trees being converted to wood products end up in his hand as pencils." Kuper uses some of the pieces like a visual history, and many have a political punchline. In one series, four views of white people tanning are seen by a black janitor. In another, a mermaid watches garbage float by, and in another, Tarzan watches the progressive defoliation of the forest. A car evolves from showroom to scrap pile in yet another. Kuper addresses homelessness in a number of the sequences. In the final panel of one, a homeless man salvages a drumstick bone that was part of a chicken dinner in the first. "The real motif in The Eye of the Beholder," wrote Richard von Busack for Metroactive Books online, "is the same horror of decay that made Expressionist art so vivid."
Kuper uses as a logo, the eye that appears on the dollar bill. Von Busack noted that he also used it in an earlier anthology, Different Beat, in a wordless piece called "In God We Trust," "of a silk-hatted millionaire abusing the Eye in the Pyramid, finally blinding it with his cane (a way, I suppose of saying, 'Even God doesn't see what goes on in America.'"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Rall, Ted, Attitude: The New Subversive Political Cartoonists, NBM (New York, NY), 2002.
Booklist, May 1, 1995, Gordon Flagg, review of Stripped, p. 1545; August, 1995, Gordon Flagg, review of Give It Up!: And Other Short Stories by Franz Kafka, p. 192; May 15, 2001, Gordon Flagg, review of Speechless, p. 1719; July, 2003, Gordon Flagg, review of The Metamorphosis, p. 1856.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2000, review of Mind's Eye: An Eye of the Beholder Collection, p. 1386; May, 2001, review of Speechless, pp. 623-624.
Library Journal, September 1, 2003, Steve Raiteri, review of The Metamorphosis, p. 142.
Progressive, February, 1990, review of World War 3 Illustrated: 1980-1988, pp. 42-43.
Publishers Weekly, July 27, 1992, review of Peter Kuper's Comic Strips: A Journal of Travels through Africa and Southeast Asia, p. 59; April 10, 1995, review of Stripped, p. 59; June 5, 1995, review of Give It Up!, p. 53; September 4, 2000, review of Mind's Eye, p. 86; May 28, 2001, review of Speechless, p. 51; September 22, 2003, review of The Metamorphosis, p. 86.
School Library Journal, December, 2000, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Mind's Eye, p. 171.
Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 2001, review of Mind's Eye, p. 116.
Whole Earth Review, summer, 1990, Richard Schauffler, review of World War 3 Illustrated, p. 57.
Metroactive Books,http://www.metroactive.com/ (January 2, 1997), Richard von Busack, review of Eye of the Beholder.
Walk the Plank,http://www.angelfire.com/punk2/walktheplank/peterkuper.html/ (January 4, 2003), Erik Farseth, interview with Kuper.*