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Whenever anybody only slightly familiar with comics would ask me what were some of the great uncollected graphic novels (or something approaching the nebulous term “graphic novel”) out there, I would always lead with Peter Kuper. Bleeding Heart and The Wild Life were two of the great, though short-lived, titles of the 90’s. Or was it even as far back as the 80’s? Either way, they told, in small pieces, the story of Peter’s awakening as an artist and a human being, him experimentations with drugs and sex, and were told with such brutal honesty and artistry that is was impossible not to take them as the best of the craft. This book collects those stories, wraps them around new interstitial bits, and throws in some new material from the years since those two series were widely available. In this volume Peter, loosely disguised as Walt, grows up (trying to have sex, with little success, along the way), does a lot of drugs, bemoans at least one relationship that he was clearly better off without, and finally has a kid of his own. Peter’s work is pretty widely available for a cartoonist these days, there are plenty of things on this page you can get from Amazon, a little digging will get you through to most of his other published work. Still, I’d maintain that not only is this volume the best thing he’s ever done, it’s one of the best things ever done in the medium. Many people before and after (but mostly after) Peter tried to pull off autobiography like this, brutally honest but still not completely focused on self-indulgent navel gazing, and very few of them came close to pulling it off this well. This is simply one of the best books of this or any other year, and it’s about damned time that it’s available in a “respectable” format. It’s $20, cheaper through most of the online stores, and if you like comics even a little bit there’s no chance that you’ll regret getting this.
There’s a reason why I don’t often update the pages of people like Peter Kuper. What’s left to say? What do I have to say about a book by one of the legends of comics that hasn’t been said before, by somebody who’s actually able to put together intelligent, coherent sentences? Then again, if I took that attitude with all these books I wouldn’t do anything, so screw it. This is an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, probably one of the most imitated books ever. For those of you who never went to a school that taught this, assuming that’s possible, it’s the story of a traveling salesman who wakes up one day to find out that he’s been transformed into a giant bug. His family and his employers, understandably, are more than a little upset by this development, and the rest of the story is a slow, painful descent into the inevitable. Kuper has adapted ome other Kafka stories over the years in various places, but he’s really outdone himself here. His dark, thick lines are perfect for the atmosphere of despair that’s so prevalent. Every character in this is adapted perfectly. The angry, bitter father, the mother in denial, the sister who cares for him but can’t stand to look at him, even his boss is nailed. If you don’t already love Peter’s work there’s probably not much that I can say to convince you, but this is an incredible, lovely book. I miss the comics he did that were more personal, but there’s a whole lot to be said for this. Check out his website, and you could probably find some of his older comics for cheap here and there, like at the Fantagraphics website.