Stop For­get­ting to Remem­ber: The Auto­bi­og­ra­phy of Wal­ter Kurtz

Peter Kuper
  • Review
By – February 24, 2012

Some of the most inter­est­ing graph­ic nov­els are mem­oirs, espe­cial­ly those that revolve around the writer’s trou­bled ado­les­cence. The graph­ic for­mat seems ide­al for that kind of intro­spec­tion or navel gaz­ing. Teens flock to sto­ries about every­day heroes who emerge from the depths of lone­li­ness and social iso­la­tion. Adults are equal­ly drawn to tales that make their own trau­mat­ic ado­les­cent years pale in com­par­i­son to oth­ers who have it worse. Peter Kuper, best known for his word­less graph­ic nov­el Sticks and Stones and for his long run as the artist for Mad Magazine’s Spy vs. Spy series, as well as for his graph­ic adap­ta­tions of Kaf­ka, does not dis­ap­point in this graph­ic mem­oir. Billed as the auto­bi­og­ra­phy of Wal­ter Kurtz,” Kuper’s car­toon alter ego, this auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal nov­el works per­fect­ly on three fronts: as a mem­oir of teen years rife with sex, drugs, and rock and roll; as an explo­ration of the author’s iden­ti­ty as a spouse, par­ent, and artist; and as an expert exam­ple of how the graph­ic medi­um can be used to tell a good story. 

The life sto­ry of Kuper-as-Kurtz spans his ado­les­cence dur­ing the Viet­nam War years in the sub­urbs of Cleve­land, Ohio, to his col­lege days and pro­fes­sion­al life in New York City, and up to the present day when Kurtz receives word that his graph­ic nov­el is being pub­lished by a major pub­lish­er. Along the way the read­er is intro­duced to Kurtz’s par­ents, var­i­ous girl­friends, and the friends who grew up along­side Kurtz, as well as the polit­i­cal events that helped shape his gen­er­a­tion. Kuper uses many dif­fer­ent kinds of graph­ic and lit­er­ary devices to tell his sto­ry. The nar­ra­tor direct­ly address­es the audi­ence on sev­er­al occa­sions, and Kurtz’s baby even describes her own pas­sage down the birth canal. Flash­backs are drawn in sepia tones, while the rest of the book employs black and white ink. Action spills across the bor­ders of cre­ative­ly-framed pan­els, and some pages con­tain only one pan­el. Kuper has proven that he is not just a great artist, but also an accom­plished writer. He has giv­en read­ers a spe­cial treat wrapped up in an elab­o­rate and unique pack­age. Take a chance, open it up, and expe­ri­ence one of the most inter­est­ing graph­ic nov­els available.

Wendy Was­man is the librar­i­an & archivist at the Cleve­land Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry in Cleve­land, Ohio.

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