The Arty Semite

Are You Thrizzled?

By Benjamin Ivry

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If you liked Eli Valley’s Bucky Shvitz, you may soon be asking yourself: “Am I thrizzled?”

Among the many innovative cartoonists published by the Seattle-based Fantagraphics Books, Michael Kupperman is surely one of the most original. Kupperman popped up a decade ago as the writer and illustrator of the offbeat “Snake ‘n’ Bacon’s Cartoon Cabaret” from HarperCollins, in which the two title heroes resemble one another, but not all that much.

Failed resemblances and other vague disappointments are also the hallmark of Kupperman’s illustrations for the Lemony Snicket series, also from HarperCollins. In 2005, Kupperman hit his stride with the comic book series “Tales Designed To Thrizzle,” of which No. 6 has just appeared, to the delight of Robert Smigel and other fans.

The attractions are obvious: In one story, Jungle Princess, a red-haired beauty, wears a leopard skin bikini and a conical hat somewhere between Lady Guinevere’s hennin and the pointed headgear which Jews were forced to don in medieval Europe. Jungle Princess is a magazine editor-publisher who has time for seemingly irrelevant, and even misleading comments like “Leonard Nimoy is an excellent singer.”

In another narrative, “All About Drainage,” characters who hauntingly resemble the Jewish actors Eli Wallach and Lee Grant (born Lyova Haskell Rosenthal) enact a sordid backstage drama. The superhero duo “Twain and Einstein,” born one day when Kupperman reportedly discovered that these two notables were “sort of indistinguishable,” play “rockin’ chase music” on a Stratocaster, after which Einstein comments: “Good thing I was wearing my silver lamé pantsuit and platform shoes.”

Ironically capturing the crassest pop commercialization of these two Americans is Kupperman’s delight. His readers, who follow his tweets and official website, may know that Kupperman’s unusual take on reality may be partly inspired by his father, University of Connecticut philosopher and ethicist Joel J. Kupperman, whose many acclaimed books from Oxford University Press address abstract subjects like value, character, and related intangibles.

The elder Kupperman began public life as a 1940s Quiz Kid on the celebrated radio show, and this still-remembered media deformation of childhood — Jewish American poet Marilyn Hacker was another of these smarty-pants tykes — surely played a role in Michael Kupperman’s creatively ingenious comic books.

Watch Michael Kupperman at a 2009 appearance at the Strand Book Store:


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