After tackling Franz Kafka’s best-known work in the 2004 graphic novel The Metamorphosis, Kuper (Fight Fascism!, 2017, etc.) returns to the literary master to adapt 14 more of his short stories.
This adaptation’s source material runs from several dozen pages (“The Penal Colony”) to just a handful of lines (“A Little Fable”), and Kuper proves adept at using the synergy between text and image to both expand Kafka’s ideas and trim his word counts. In “The Trees,” Kuper lays the sparse text over a tableau of homelessness, giving additional poignancy to the story’s suggestion of life’s impermanence, and his depiction of the frustrated supplicant in “Before the Law” brings the story into a modern, racial context. For “The Burrow,” Kuper uses a small fraction of the original text and mostly expresses the story’s mania with subterranean cross-sectional views of the titular burrow as well as visual echoes between the burrow’s labyrinthine tunnels and the wrinkles of the narrator’s troubled brain. Kafka’s prose often inhabits a mental space more so than a physical one, with monologues from surreal characters (a person stretched across a chasm, acting as a bridge; a destitute person riding an empty coal bucket through winter streets and then high above them), giving Kuper wide leeway for his visual depictions, which he creatively indulges, as when he imagines the ironic camaraderie of “nobodies” in “Trip into the Mountains” as being shared among a Paleolithic tribe. Kuper’s chosen medium—drawings on scratchboard—gives the work the angular, crosshatched chiaroscuro of woodcuts, which keenly evokes the text’s early-20th-century origins, while his style imbues the characters with a garish cartoon quality that unequivocally expresses emotions while also underscoring the nightmarish conditions of the worlds presented.
A richly innovative interpretation that honors the source while expanding the material.