Graphic Novelist Michael Kupperman Describes Modern Humor


In 2005, the first issue of Tales Designed to Thrizzle launched into the uncertain graphic novel and comics market. The publisher, Fantagraphics, eminent in the not-for-children category that emerged from the “underground comics” renaissance, issued the series in traditional fashion. The first five installments of Tales to Thrizzle, now compiled in Tales to Thrizzle Volume One, are comic books. Each book consists of a number of stories and segments, all adhering to a single sensibility—the sensibility of the author and artist, Michael Kupperman.

But the Tales Designed to Thrizzle series is not all tradition; it’s largely a satire, a satire of a pulp fiction oeuvre that didn’t take itself that seriously to begin with. Kupperman’s humor—a mix of genre, non-sequitur and nonsense—is a kind of laughter in the void, wonderfully lucid and slightly sickening.

Prior to the 1954 inception of the Comic Code Authority (a self-regulartory censorial body that came into being after a series of frenzied Senate Hearings pointed to comic books as “ten-cent plague” corrupting America’s youth) comic books were for adults as well as children. Kupperman’s retro sensibility hearkens to the wound of the Comic Code, which vastly limiting the subject matter of comics. The CCA nearly destroyed the adult comic market, and U.S. narrative art has never regained the readership it enjoyed in the heyday of pulp.  Says Kupperman: “My work looks retro in places because, in a sense, that’s where our communal graphic language stopped.”

Kupperman’s styling suggests a larger retrogression of American Culture (with capital letters!).  With great relish, Kupperman fills out his pages with breathtaking inanity: advertisements for ghost flavored chewing gum, porno-coloring books, an “Old People’s Section,” and plenty of bathroom humor.  The scope of Thrizzle is as infinite as our own cutural confusion.

While Kupperman uses a broad range of illustrative techniques. summoning the Sunday Comics or the Hardy Boys with equal élan, the artist is most comfortable in a darkened palette that could be termed high-art clipart as easily as grunge Lichtenstein. “What I’m working with,” says Kupperman, “is really the language of comics.”

Kupperman’s prose and narrative design is dense, disorderly and outlandish. Threads and storylines are graphically layered for maximum impact, and minimum cohesion. “Modern humor,” says Kupperman, “often depends on the fulfillment of expectations-mine depends on their frustration, and the element of surprise.”

That Kupperman so masterfully plays to and upsets expectation makes Thrizzle that much funnier and finer.  With stunts such as a Twain & Einstein crime-fighting partnership, Kupperman is all goofball, all the time.  But Kupperman’s line, even in shaping locomotive-sized garden snails, is weighty. And the weight of five years of Thrizzle, is, well, as formidable as a locomotive-sized garden snail.