By John Seven
August 15th, 2014
I’m betting that the only comic book artist who has drawn New York City more than Peter Kuper is Jack Kirby.
The difference is that Kirby’s stories involved NYC under siege by exceptional people, giants like Galactus or the Sub-Mariner. Kuper’s New York City is more down to earth, much more recognizable, and it’s largely an existence that rots from the inside, often in the most mundane ways.
In The System (Amazon, iBooks, Powell’s), Kuper uses his wood cut style — here in a beautiful color realization — to document New York City as a collection of interconnected organisms, as a living creature on the landscape. Originally done for Vertigo in the 1990s, Kuper takes into account his publisher and adds some intrigue to his story in the form of a murder investigation, police corruption, a terrorist, and a drug dealer, but none of these are so far out that they take away from the grounded quality of the story.
Kuper latches onto the human flotsam from all over the city — taxi drivers, strippers, street preachers, kids, cops on the verge of retirement, young people in love — and mixes them up in the grimy urban blender to see how they interact. There is plenty of tragedy to go around, some hope to soften the blow, and one cynical final point. It’s not a system I would necessarily want to be part of — and, full disclosure, I was once — but Kuper manages to capture it with an elegant, colorful flow and detail.