Talking with Peter Kuper at Angouleme

Comic readers may know him from his distinctive rendering of Kafka's "Metamorphosis," or his regular contributions to MAD Magazine's "Spy vs. Spy," but Peter Kuper's ecclectic art has also become an increasingly familiar presence on the covers of magazines like "Time," "Newsweek," "The Progressive" and "Mother Jones." Now, having just completed his latest children's book and preparing to launch an illustrated autobiography, Kuper appeared at the Angouleme International Comics Festival in France to promote his latest work and find new audiences for earlier gems. CBR News spoke with Kuper during the show.

CBR News: First off, how's the Angouleme festival treating you so far?

Peter Kuper: So far so good. I've been here since Thursday, it's my fifth time coming out here.

CBR: What is it about this festival that keeps you coming back?

PK: Well, I always meet new publishers here and there's always something new that comes out of it.

CBR: Tell us what you're working on now.

PK: There's this, "Stop Forgetting to Remember," which will be out in July. It's autobiographical material, covering ten years living in New York, having a child... trying to publish a graphic novel...

CBR: The color choices you've used for this are interesting, this brown with black and white. What was behind that decision?

PK: It's to separate time. Time, fantasy, memory. It marks different times and shows the real as different from dream.

CBR: You're also still doing "Spy vs. Spy" for "Mad Magazine." How did you come by that job?

PK: They approached me. They had seen "The System," "Speechless," "Eye of the Beholder," which were all wordless, and they liked what they saw. They were looking for somebody fresh. Ten years ago now and I've been doing it ever since.

CBR: Your style was quite a departure from the art that had come before.

PK: I realized that, at that point in my career, if I was going to do it then I would do it like me, like my work. If they wanted me, it was going to be different. At that point, I thought maybe I'd be doing it for a year. But it's good, it's a good opportunity both to have work, and also to reach people who may not be reading my comics.

CBR: So, finishing up the "Spy vs. Spy" stuff, which character is your favorite?

PK: The loser.

CBR: For your political cartoons and covers, what topics are most inspiring to draw? Is there something you feel leads in to your best work?

PK: Probably the environmental topics, because that trumps everything else. But these things usually tie in so much together. Bush has certainly been a topic lately. It's different things at different times. At the time of 9/11, that was very much a concern and during the Iraq War I'm thinking about war a lot. But again, all of this stuff can tie back in to the environment. All subject matter links in some ways. I do a piece about whichever life areas I get ideas about. Sometimes I think I'm a reactionary, in that way - I react to what's put in my path. Right now, I'm living in Mexico and we've had a political situation there, so I'm drawing about that.

CBR: What's do you consider your best cartoon or cover?

PK: There's a piece I did - it's not a comic. It got around a lot, more than some others, it got picked up by more places. I had originally done it for free for a small publisher. My favorite cover was probably "World War 3" #32, the 9/11 issue. The hand with some fingers missing. I ended up donating that to the Library of Congress.

CBR: Are you still actively involved with "World War 3?"

PK: Yeah, I edited the previous issue, but now that I'm living in Mexico it's a bit more difficult. It's something I'll keep coming back to no matter what. I might have years go with out editing, because of time and circumstances, but it's something I'll never give up entirely.

CBR: You've also got the new children's book, "Theo and the Blue Note," out pretty recently. How did that come together?

PK: Yeah, it's an idea I had - I have a ten year old daughter and for a while I was reading a lot of children's books. And I got to thinking about the fun you can have with jazz musicians' names. But when Bush stole the first election, I felt I had to turn my conscience there. By the second election, I had spent so much time doing political illustrations, this [Richie Bush] mini comic, stuff like that, the children's book was like a breather, the ideal direction to turn in. It was great, having some air for a bit.

CBR: So, as you're here at the Angouleme comics festival, what are you here to promote this weekend?

PK: Ah, "Metamorphosis," "Sticks and Stones" - which was probably my first childrens' book and I didn't know, the kids seemed to be an ideal audience for it. Adult illustrations meets "Spy vs. Spy." "Stop Forgetting to Remember," which is everything, really. It combines politics, travel, joking around. I'm just trying to avoid a repeat performance, trying to find new idea ground. I've got another children's book coming up, probably next, that I've already talked to publishers about. And then probably a travel book, for my experiences in Mexico.

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