A comic book voice that defies categorization


“WTF? Guess I’m not counting, again.”

It was the designer Michael Kupperman’s tweeted response a few weeks ago to an exhaustive article in The comic book review on individual anthologies. Well, it was almost exhaustive. This did not include Kupperman, whose Tales designed to thrill has been funniest comic series on shelves since its launch in 2005. Following comments from Kupperman and others, TCJ added a mention of Kupperman to the piece.

On the one hand, it was a surprising omission. Kupperman’s work is unique, absurd, and constantly evolving in new and hilarious ways. More people should read it. On the other hand, it’s not really fair to categorize Kupperman with other cartoonists because there is no one else like him.

You can apply vague labels to what Kupperman is doing; the Thrizzle Fantagraphics series and his 2000 book HarperCollins Snake ‘n’ Bacon Cartoon Cabaret the two fit neatly under the “anthology” banner, as they change speed from scene and character to character every few pages. You could also probably apply the “indie” tag to the Kupperman comics. Until the fifth issue of Thrizzle, everything was in black and white, and Kupperman manages all aspects of their creation himself (although he has an editor). And perhaps the easiest label to apply is “humor”.

But that handful of classifications don’t quite describe what reading Kupperman’s comics is like.

Thrizzle has its share of recurring characters – Snake ‘n’ Bacon, Twain and Einstein, The Mannister, the elusive Granpa – but these characters don’t grow or develop exactly like Chris Ware’s Acme News Library or at the Hernandez brothers Love and rockets. They are not supposed to do it. The second we learn more than Kupperman gives us about why Albert Einstein and Mark Twain are a pair of cop buddies or college buddies digging a hole in the center of the Earth, the absurdity of the concept stems from drowns in narrative coherence. Kupperman is not interested in this.

Last fall, Kupperman published a comprehensive book of hybrid prose and comics on Twain titled Autobiography of Mark Twain 1910-2010, who imagines the American icon as a fundamentally immortal cultural gadfly. In the first mention of Einstein in the book, Twain simply states that his old friend Albert Einstein called him. It is not necessary to explain how or why they know each other; Kupperman wants to go straight into the laboratory ghosts and ant colony tours. Kupperman’s humor is not about relationships; he is invested in concepts.

You can compare Kupperman’s anthologies to the comics (or comics) of R. Crumb, who never cared too much about whether what Mr. Natural had done made sense or whether he was sticking to it. a certain timeline. But I wouldn’t call Thrizzle a comic strip of counter-culture. He doesn’t push an agenda or comment on modern life. The culture that Kupperman is obsessed with is the weird and distant culture of the 1950s, when a robot designed for foreplay and deadly tub movies weren’t far removed from what you might actually see.

He also thinks of the TV show Quincy is really funny (and he’s right).

This stuff makes it hard to describe Kupperman’s comics as outright humor. It’s not really parody, like so many comic books (anything that tends towards parody in the Kupperman comics ends up going way beyond). It’s not a sitcom, or comics, or literary satire. These are comics in which a Dick Tracy analogue notices a fly live on his wrist, watching his wristwatch on TV, or in which Pablo Picasso runs after a talking burger and threatens to kill it. This is nonsense on a level that no one else even tries.

As I write this I realize it looks like Kupperman is trading family guy-random style, and I want to point out that there is something far beyond that in the pages of Kupperman. As far as I know, Kupperman may have pulled the concepts of “sexual airships” or a comic book about the adventures of St. Peter out of a hat somewhere, but there is a sense of experimentation that goes with it. takes those ideas somewhere beyond just throwing a concept at you. and expecting you to think it’s brilliant.

For example, the last number of TDtT, issue # 7 from last fall, goes from a wacky examination of the death of tubs to an EC Comics-style moral tale about the dangers of tubs to a fake showerhead ad (after which she swivels over to Quincy and some photo comics). There is a kind of dreamlike logic in there.

Kupperman is in a genre all his own. He has such a distinct voice that it’s easy to think that he doesn’t necessarily fit in a box with other comic book creators. After all, reading a story in most anthologies often tends to lead to a particular set of reactions: “What’s going to happen to him next?” Or “That guy is tough” or maybe “Perfect!”

Kupperman’s work often leaves you wondering what made a man team up with a hissing snake with a talking piece of bacon, and how he made the idea so fun. After I stopped laughing.

It’s not that he doesn’t matter. It’s just that he’s very unique, it’s hard to know or to count it.



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