The Arty Semite

New York According to Creator of 'Spy vs. Spy'

By Paul Buhle

  • Print
  • Share Share

Drawn to New York: An Illustrated Chronicle of Three Decades in New York City
By Peter Kuper, Introduction by Eric Drooker
PM Press, 208 pages, $29.95

This oversized, four-color 30-year compendium of comics, magazine illustrations, painting and sketchbook work by the artist best known for his “Spy vs Spy” pages in Mad Magazine, is stunning in its variety and vividness. “Chronicle” is evidently a play on words, because Kuper is looking at his Manhattan experience — ever since he moved from Cleveland in 1977 — from all sorts of angles, including geographical, aerial, animal, and, of course, human. It’s not always a pretty sight, that’s the price of admission to the real-life Greatest Show on Earth. The Mexican and French publishers of the volume, which preceded this version, must think so, too.

We don’t see the evidence here, but Kuper started as in comics by inking “Richie Rich,” and many of the pages of “Drawn to New York” might be understood as a depiction of the world that real-life Manhattan rich people would prefer not to see. Not that Kuper, a founder of the iconoclastic “World War 3 Illustrated,” is didactic. He takes in street violence, poverty, prostitutes, ecological and architectural crimes almost casually: How would you recognize modern New York without them? He also likes to be self-indulgent: the endangered species in the city is himself, threatened by some random or still unspecified source that makes 9/11 almost a relief in its specificity.

Kuper is historical minded, a self-taught scholar of past images. From Thomas Nast to the Ashcan school to Winsor McCay, from the early comic strip artists (before ethnicity was airbrushed out) and George Bellows to The New Yorker’s Saul Steinberg, the visualized, vernacular New York has been experienced as self-absorption and enjoyed vicariously across the planet for more than a century and a half. This saga, re-enacted in Kuper’s own work, is more like a stream of constant interruption, abandoned genres and new beginnings than anything approaching a narrative of continuity. It all leads up to… Kuper! Not that he would make such a claim for himself.

But why not? Along with the pure artistry of the work and the focus on specifics (music is a favorite; Kuper did a brilliant children’s book, “Theo and the Blue Note,” with colors substituted for sounds), there’s ample self-commentary as well. He’s a plain guy on the street, sometimes a victim, sometimes a mere observer, occasionally the object of a quizzical, saddened self-portrait. Mostly, though, his gaze goes onward, and when it goes west of the Hudson, it has gone too far for comfort. He left behind the Cleveland of the late Harvey Pekar (who encouraged him), the teenage creators of Superman, and so much else deeply Midwestern, to work, to live and to struggle in New York. If Thomas Nast, with his art, exposed political crooks and helped Abraham Lincoln change American history, Kuper is just as angry and just as intent on delivering an eclectic protest message. But not with sledge-hammer politics.

Readers will find the deepest truth in these pages by following their own interests. Eric Drooker’s scant introduction is not as much help as I would like, and Kuper’s own preface goes by too quickly, but it offers an essential clue to the volume. This is “an epic love poem” (in Drooker’s words) where “Gotham’s screaming whirlpools of cement, aging tenements and deafening rhythms have made it onto the page intact.” All that and the stylings of a marvelously talented comic artist.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Spy vs Spy, Peter Kuper, Paul Buhle, Mad Magazine, Comics, Books

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.