MIND’S EYE

Kuper’s black-heavy style, best used in his narrative work, here deadens jokes that need air and light: he’s a great talent...

A regular contributor to magazines as diverse as Time and Mad, Kuper collects a second batch of his “Eye of the Beholder” cartoons, all in the same basic pattern: “four panels of clues to guess which point of view your eyes are following.”

The answer is on the next page in a single, larger frame. Fortunately, Kuper breaks the form with regularity. Not that he changes his panel pattern, but his mostly wordless, woodcut style cartoons don’t strictly follow his dictum: some aren’t literal points of view, some are imagined visual histories, and some are the desires of his hapless figures. Many of Kuper’s visual puzzles are politically pointed, with the pay-off frame packing the punch of an editorial: four views of white people tanning are seen by a black janitor; various guns on a rack are ogled by a young boy; floating garbage is viewed by a mermaid; a defoliated forest is watched by Tarzan.The best comics are the most surprising ones: four different frames seen by, among others, a window washer, a crash-test dummy, a construction working using a jackhammer, and a new-born baby. Often the four views serve as a visual history, with the punch-line frame including the person visualizing the past: a hotel maid sees the various inhabitants of the room she’s cleaning; a piece of gum on someone’s shoe ends a sequence on the history of its manufacture. The wittiest pieces confound reality: a jar of pills views its consumer in various stages; a turkey flashes on its future as dinner; and the Grim Reaper surveys his victims. Kuper uses himself to great effect: circling sharks turn out to be the lawyers surrounding him at a table; trees being converted to wood products end up in his hand as pencils; and, funniest of all, scenes of an empty bookstore are his views at a book-signing.

Kuper’s black-heavy style, best used in his narrative work, here deadens jokes that need air and light: he’s a great talent who hasn’t yet found a subject suited to his style.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 1-56163-259-7

Page Count: 128

Publisher: NBM

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2000

HEART OF DARKNESS

Gorgeous and troubling.

Cartoonist Kuper (Kafkaesque, 2018, etc.) delivers a graphic-novel adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s literary classic exploring the horror at the center of colonial exploitation.

As a group of sailors floats on the River Thames in 1899, a particularly adventurous member notes that England was once “one of the dark places of the earth,” referring to the land before the arrival of the Romans. This well-connected vagabond then regales his friends with his boyhood obsession with the blank places on maps, which eventually led him to captain a steamboat up a great African river under the employ of a corporate empire dedicated to ripping the riches from foreign land. Marlow’s trip to what was known as the Dark Continent exposes him to the frustrations of bureaucracy, the inhumanity employed by Europeans on the local population, and the insanity plaguing those committed to turning a profit. In his introduction, Kuper outlines his approach to the original book, which featured extensive use of the n-word and worked from a general worldview that European males are the forgers of civilization (even if they suffered a “soul [that] had gone mad” for their efforts), explaining that “by choosing a different point of view to illustrate, otherwise faceless and undefined characters were brought to the fore without altering Conrad’s text.” There is a moment when a scene of indiscriminate shelling reveals the Africans fleeing, and there are some places where the positioning of the Africans within the panel gives them more prominence, but without new text added to fully frame the local people, it’s hard to feel that they have reached equal footing. Still, Kuper’s work admirably deletes the most offensive of Conrad’s language while presenting graphically the struggle of the native population in the face of foreign exploitation. Kuper is a master cartoonist, and his pages and panels are a feast for the eyes.

Gorgeous and troubling.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-63564-5

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT

Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.

Design veteran Chwast delivers another streamlined, graphic adaptation of classic literature, this time Mark Twain’s caustic, inventive satire of feudal England.

Chwast (Tall City, Wide Country, 2013, etc.) has made hay anachronistically adapting classic texts, whether adding motorcycles to The Canterbury Tales (2011) or rocket ships to The Odyssey (2012), so Twain’s tale of a modern-day (well, 19th-century) engineer dominating medieval times via technology—besting Merlin with blasting powder—is a fastball down the center. (The source material already had knights riding bicycles!) In Chwast’s rendering, bespectacled hero Hank Morgan looks irresistible, plated in armor everywhere except from his bow tie to the top of his bowler hat, sword cocked behind head and pipe clenched in square jaw. Inexplicably sent to sixth-century England by a crowbar to the head, Morgan quickly ascends nothing less than the court of Camelot, initially by drawing on an uncanny knowledge of historical eclipses to present himself as a powerful magician. Knowing the exact date of a celestial event from more than a millennium ago is a stretch, but the charm of Chwast’s minimalistic adaption is that there are soon much better things to dwell on, such as the going views on the church, politics and society, expressed as a chart of literal back-stabbing and including a note that while the upper class may murder without consequence, it’s kill and be killed for commoners and slaves. Morgan uses his new station as “The Boss” to better the primitive populous via telegraph lines, newspapers and steamboats, but it’s the deplorably savage civility of the status quo that he can’t overcome, even with land mines, Gatling guns and an electric fence. The subject of class manipulation—and the power of passion over reason—is achingly relevant, and Chwast’s simple, expressive illustrations resonate with a childlike earnestness, while his brief, pointed annotations add a sly acerbity. His playful mixing of perspectives within single panels gives the work an aesthetic somewhere between medieval tapestry and Colorforms.

Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60819-961-7

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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