Deconstructing Comics #497: Peter Kuper: Demonstrating what comics can do

Ruins by Peter KuperPeter Kuper has been pushing the boundaries of comics for over two decades, using media like linoleum prints, scratchboard, and stencils & spray paint (including in The System) to make a wide variety of comics, from those with political or environmental messages to autobiography, adaptations of Franz Kafka’s writings, and (since 1997) Spy vs. Spy.

In this episode, Peter talks with Tim about the varied media; his youthful encounters with Harvey Pekar, R. Crumb, and Howard Chaykin; his ambitious graphic novel Ruins; the importance of getting out of your comfort zone; and much more.

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“Thanks, Peter, for making me bleed”

Peter Kuper Photo by Holly KuperFor this interview show, Andy and Derek are very pleased to have as their guest Peter Kuper, whose latest work, Ruins, has just been released through SelfMadeHero. As the author points out, this is a very different kind of book from his usual material, one that has taken over three years to complete. Ruins is the story of a young married couple who travel to Oaxaca, Mexico, for the wife’s sabbatical. There the two of them, George and Samantha, bear witness to, and become involved in, some of the political unrest unfolding during their visit. More importantly, each one undergoes a unique journey that defines the trajectory of the life that follows. Paralleling Sam and George’s experiences is the flight of a monarch butterfly as she makes her way from Canada to Oaxaca, hovering over much of the social, political, and environmental turmoil that has come to define our times. As the guys point out, this is a very politically conscious narrative, as many of Peter’s comics are — see, for example, The System, his work on World War 3 Illustrated, and Diario de Oaxaca: RuinsCoverA Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico, a text that visits many of the real-life contexts underlying Ruins — but his handling of the message(s) is woven seamlessly within the fiction, never heavy-handed, preachy, or didactic. Derek and Andy also use the opportunity to talk with Peter about teaching comics art, which he does at both the School of Visual Arts and Harvard University. They also get around to asking him about some of his other works, including the wordless comic, The System, his Kafka adaptationsStop Forgetting to Remember: The Autobiography of Walter Kurtzand, of course, Spy vs. Spy. The guys have been big fans of Peter’s work for a long time, and the publication of Ruins, perhaps one of their favorites books of the year, is the perfect opportunity to finally get him on the show.