Peter Kuper has produced countless comic panels since he started making them at age 19. This week through October 5 (with a special opening on September 25), he is having an exhibition at the Society of Illustrators MOCCA Gallery of the work from his new book Drawn To New York, a paean to the city he loves. The show is just the tip of the iceberg. His latest project is a new full color 300 page graphic novel called “Ruins” that is fiction but based on his experience living in Oaxaca, Mexico. And he continues to create “Spy vs Spy” for Mad magazine, with a collection of 95 strips published in November. But back to Drawn To New York: This current event is a good opportunity to ask a few questions about comics, travel and life . . .
How long have you loved comics?
Since I bought a Stan Lee and Jack Kirby issue of Thor (age 7)
How long have you made comics?
I was a late bloomer and really didn’t do more than dabble until I was about 19 (which makes it about 35 years of drawing comics)
What are the comics of yours and others you love the most?
That list is way too long. But the short version for others would be Eric Drooker’s Flood!, David Wonjarowicz and James Romberger’s Seven Miles a Second , Seth Tobocman’s War In The Neighborhood , Lorenzo Mattotti’s Fires, Muñoz and Sampayo’s Joes Bar,Thomas Ott’s R.I.P., and Killoffer’s 676 Apparitions just to scratch the surface. Of mine, The System and my adaptation of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.
What was the motivation for your book?
My Mexican publisher (Sexto Piso) suggested it. I had done a book about my time living in Mexico (Diario de Oaxaca) so a Diario of my decades in NYC seemed like a good choice to follow up on that. I had also been drawing in my sketchbook a ton upon my return from Mexico. It was like I was seeing New York again from a tourist’s perspective and it was nice to have a book where the sketches would fit along side the comics, illustration and paintings that made up Drawn To New York.
When conceiving a comic, what goes through your mind? Can anything become a narrative?
I try to create work that excites me both for subject and visually. I figure if I’m engaged then someone else might be as well. Sometimes a seed of an idea comes to me and just nags me until I start drawing it up.Comics are so labor intensive I really look for subject matter that does more than just tell a joke. Yes, everything can become a narrative, but that doesn’t make every story worth telling.
Tell me about your travels and the most fascinating of the adventures?
Travel is among my favorite activities and has been a big inspiration to the kind of work I’ve ended up doing. I lived in Israel when I was ten when my father had a sabbatical and that set the travel wheels in motion. I met my wife in Madrid and we subsequently spent eight-months in Africa and South East Asia. and dozens of other trips. We lived in Oaxaca for two years 2006-2008 to give our daughter the same bug. These days lots of my travels are related to comics, since I get invited to festivals all over the world. It’s the big payoff for doing comics for decades for very little money.
I had my comics projected at the Opera House in Sydney, Australia accompanied by a live band, had a couple of shows in squats in Milan and one at a festival last June in Paris. This month I’m going to Medellin, Colombia for a comic festival and in November there’s one in Brazil, lucky, lucky me.
Most “fascinating” adventure was on a trek in Irian Jaya, Indonesia in the area where Michael Rockefeller disappeared. Our guide “Shanghaied” us and me and my travel companions had to pay locals to help us get the hell out of the jungle.It was ten days in the most remote part of the world. I lost weight and got some nice sketches out of it that will make it into an upcoming book…
The SI/MOCCA is a big one. How is the show different from the book?
Well, it is a decent size show, but much smaller than the book. There are a number of three-dimensional pieces including several paintings done on windows and some masks based on my drawings I had carved in Indonesia during that wild visit in 1995. Really any original art where you can see the artists’ hand is vastly more interesting than only seeing it in print.
About Steven Heller
Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller