Diario de Oaxaca: A Review in World Literature in Review

Diario de Oaxaca: A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico

By Geoff Gossett
World Literature in Review
Nov/Dec 2010

Since 1997, Peter Kuper has been the sole artist behind MAD Magazine’s Spy vs. Spy series as well as myriad other illustrative projects over several magazines and publications. Kuper also happens to be the artist behind the first and only comic to ever run regularly in the New York Times, and accomplishment rounding out a prolific career.

In 2006 Kuper took his family on sabbatical to the sixteenth century town of Oaxaca in southern Mexico to take a break from the sort of omnipresent Bush-era Americanism that was dominating his home country at the time. Diario de Oaxaca is the culmination of all that Kuper recorded during his stay. The book is what one would expect from a professional artist of Kuper’s caliber spending quality time taking in and recording the lush, vivid topography of a tropical paradise that remains relatively untouched by modern consumerism.

Despite its ability to offer sanctuary, Oaxaca happened to be connected to one of Mexico’s most turbulent conflicts in recent years. As one of the main contributors involved in World War 3 Illustrated (1989), Kuper is no stranger to political strife. The book doesn’t come off as preachy or heavy-handed toward one affiliation or another, however; rather, it turns into a purely journalistic account of what was happening, by a stranger in a strange land. The watercolor paintings and pencil sketches of old buildings and desert flowers are peppered with scenes of riot squads, armored cars, and smoldering aftermaths so that the nature of the struggle is felt and naturally integrated into what is otherwise one man’s documentation of a journey.

Outside of the clashes, Kuper managed to put together a beautiful collage of all the southern Mexico has to offer. In the hands of an illustrator with such creative gifts, Oaxaca is a brilliant dreamscape whose bugs and vegetation are as visually appealing as its protest graffiti and wild dogs. Journal entries, sketches, field paintings, and photographs culminate in an experience that few people get the chance to have, and which most miss when they do.

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