By Win Wiacek
Now Read This!
August 25th, 2014
Artist, storyteller and activist Peter Kuper was born in Summit, New Jersey in 1958, before the family moved to Cleveland when he was six. The youngster met fellow comics fan Seth Tobocman and they progressed through the school system, catching the bug for self-publishing early. They then attended Kent State University together. Graduating, they moved to New York in 1979 and, whilst both studying at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, created the political art/comics magazine World War 3 Illustrated.
Both separately and in conjunction, in comics, illustration and through art events, Kuper and Tobocman have championed social causes, highlighted judicial and cultural inequities and spearheaded the use of narrative art as an effective means of political activism.
Many of Kuper’s most impressive works have stemmed from his far-flung travels but at heart he is truly a son of New York, with a huge amount of his work using the city as bit player or star attraction.
He created The New York Times’ first continuing strip – Eye of the Beholder – in 1993, adapted such modern literary classics as Franz Kafka’s Give it Up! (1995) and The Metamorphosis (2003) to strip form, whilst always creating his own canon of intriguing graphic novels and visual memoirs.
Amongst the many strings to his bow – and perhaps the most high-profile – has been his brilliant stewardship of Mad Magazine’s beloved Spy Vs. Spy strip which he inherited from creator Antonio Prohias in 1997.
In 1995 he undertook a bold creative challenge for DC’s Mature Reader imprint by crafting a mute yet fantastically expressive 3-part thriller and swingeing social commentary for Vertigo Verité. The System was released as a softcover graphic album in 1997 and has now been magnificently repackaged in a lavish hardback edition from PM Press.
Following a moving Preface from the author describing the genesis of the project, Senior News Editor at Publisher’s Weekly Carl Reid offers an effusive appreciation in ‘Bright Lights, Scary City’ before the drama begins…
As if telling a beguiling, interlinked portmanteau tale of many lives interweaving and intersecting – and often nastily ending – in the Big City without benefit of word-balloons, captions or sound effects was not challenge enough, Kuper pushed his own storytelling abilities to the limit by constructing his pages and panels from cut stencils, creating the narrative in a form akin to urban street art.
It is astoundingly immediate, evocative and effective…
A stripper is murdered by a maniac. An old, weary detective ruminates on his failures. A boy and girl from different neighbourhoods find love. A derelict and his dog eke out a precarious daily existence and a beat cop does his rounds, collecting payoffs from the crooked dealers and helpless shopkeepers he’s supposed to protect. Religious zealots harass gay men and an Asian cabbie gets grief from the white fares who despise him whilst depending on his services.
The streets rattle with subway trains below and elevated trains above.
Strippers keep dying, children go missing, love keeps going and the airport brings a cruel-faced man with radioactive death in his carry-on luggage…
There are so many million stories in The City and they are all connected through the unceasing urban pulse and incessant, unending forward motion of The System…
Clever, compulsive and breathtakingly engrossing, this delicious exercise in dramatic interconnectivity and carefully constructed symbolism is a brilliant example of how smart and powerful comics can be.