ISBN number: ISBN 978-0-307-33950-8
Walter Kurtz, for those not in the know, is the long standing pseudonym that Peter Kuper uses when he writes autobiographical comics. This is his, or rather Walter Kurtz, life so far. Part memoir, part rites of passage, and part attempt at capturing his thoughts and feelings around the time of having a child. The book is a mix of old and new content, with, as far as I can tell, much of the old material appearing in red ink. At times the book is laugh out loud funny, though most of the time it simply describes the sense of angst and insecurity Peter Kuper has always felt, be it from losing his virginity, taking too many drugs, or the right-wing political climate.
Unfortunately the book falls short of Peter Kuper’s previous exceptional work. I think this is partly from the dichotomy of the ‘fictional’ rubbing against the ‘real’. For example I just don’t see the logic of changing SpyVsSpy (the comic he writes for MAD) to EbonyVsIvory (even if it does allow him to make a comment about Rosa Parks’ resistance to racism) or World War 3 illustrated to Bomb Shelter. It’s just slightly jarring. It makes you question what is ‘fact’ and what is ‘fiction’, since we know ‘Bomb Shelter’ is real, just under a different name.
To some extent the drug taking, and virginity losing get in the way of the more interesting story that is how Kuper deals with parenthood when it shows up, how he retains, or loses, old friendships, his struggle to be a ‘good’ parent, and how he keeps going with all the projects he was working on before his daughter came along. I think it is partly because the teen/ student autobio comic has been done to death, and the likes of R. Crumb or Alison Bechdel do it better than Kuper. But Kuper’s tales of parenthood, his fears of what his daughter will think of him, and the fear of her childhood going by too quickly for him to enjoy are beautifully written and engaging on a level that only a few writers can achieve.
When Kuper writes about issues external to himself – his daughter, or his friend Adam – the story becomes incredibly engaging. Perhaps the most impressive, and poignant, sequence of the book is Kuper expresses his despair and crushing fear after 9/11, fears that are partly allayed by his daughter. It’s a deeply moving scene and really shows how powerful his work can be.