Comic volume lifts 'goofiness' to high art


POSTED: Sunday, August 02, 2009

Michael Kupperman does funny very well.

The writer-illustrator from Brooklyn is one of these comedic talents that usually operates on the periphery of the mainstream, but people in the know who have laughed over his absurd and surreal strips over the years are happy to have the recent ”;Tales Designed to Thrizzle,”; now collected in book form by Fantagraphics Books, to tout to unsuspecting friends.

Originally a comic book series, Kupperman's retro and intricate hand-drawn work is now in full color in this first volume collecting the series' first four issues. It comes complete with an introduction from Kupperman's friend Robert Smigel, the creator of “;TV Funhouse”; and Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog. “;His are the best kind of laughs,”; writes Smigel, “;no heavy satire, no easy targets, just goofiness of the highest intelligence.”;

Combining fine art skills with hilarious yet deadpan absurdist prose, it's no wonder a guy as smart as Conan O'Brien added Kupperman's book to his “;Must List”; in a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, commenting that “;this guy may have one of the best comedy brains on the planet right now.”;

Kupperman has also done work for the Big Two, DC and Marvel Comics. In an interview conducted by e-mail, he said that most of his work for DC was writing books featuring Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters like the Jetsons and Scooby-Doo. As for Marvel, you can see his take on an obscure hero from the 1940s, Marvex the Super Robot, in the recently released issue of “;All Select Comics 70th Anniversary Special,”; a homage to some of the company's earliest superheroes, back when Marvel was called Timely Comics.

KUPPERMAN'S earliest exposure to comics came through European titles. “;Growing up, I was reading Tintin and Asterix,”; he said. “;It wasn't until I was in college that I was exposed to superhero comics (by people like) Frank Miller, Alan Moore (and Steve Rude). I had to backtrack to see what artists like Jack Kirby had done. He's a 'mainstream' artist whose work is genuinely avant-garde.”;

Kupperman's work is out there as well. The first collection of “;Thrizzle”; includes “;Uncle Billy's Drunken, Bitter Guide to the Animal Kingdom”;; important information on the difference between Sex Blimps and Sex Holes; fake ads for products like Baby Poop 'N' Tell and 4-Playo, the amazing foreplay robot; the story of Jesus' half-brother Pagus, and the adventures of Snake 'N' Bacon, who Kupperman also proudly animated for a pilot episode that unfortunately aired just once on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim.

His take on the befuddled Marvex is clever as well. While women find the character attractive, he scares them away because he always takes his clothes off to show he's a robot. One of Marvex's more memorable encounters is with Ingrediento, a troublemaker created via a lighting strike on a construction worker's sandwich made with a “;Polynesian isotope sauce.”;

“;Marvex is from the very beginning of comics, when there were no rules and precedents to follow,”; Kupperman said. “;It was a pleasure to enter into that spirit of awkward but spirited improvisation. Right now, I'm working on two more short pieces for Marvel, one featuring the Avengers, and I'm going to try to get some of that Marvel spirit of the '70s, with the explosive, sound-effect laden fight scenes. I'd love to do more, absolutely, anytime.”;

Kupperman said that once he left school with a major in fine arts, he was confused about his career trajectory, “;except that I knew the answer for me probably lay in drawing. The one thing I got from the arts schooling—the one thing that has really defined me, in a way—is the idea that the real responsibility for what I'm doing lies with me, that I'm not just a conduit.





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“;I spent the next year or so just drawing and painting in gouache. Then a new friend in Williamsburg, Va., where I had just moved, asked me if I'd be interested in contributing to a Xeroxed comic zine he was putting together, called Hodags and Hodaddies. This was the beginning for me.

“;The big transition from now to then is that the idea of each piece, and the jokes, are more important than the aesthetics or evaluation on other terms,”; Kupperman said. “;It's not that I don't care about the way they look, but what's most important is that they be funny, or at the very least that the point of the page not get lost. The writing takes precedence.”;

And you wouldn't suspect it, but even his Twitter page takes the usual banal “;tweet”; to another, much funnier level.

“;I've been really enjoying it, I think that's obvious,”; he said. “;I very much didn't expect to—I've always been leery of online networking of nearly any kind, and I expected Twitter to be another rung down on the ladder. What I realized was that Twitter is totally democratic, if you're entering into it the right way.

“;For me, I try to entertain with my posts, but the responses I get are what make it worthwhile. It becomes sometimes a hyper-charged environment in which a lot of very witty people are trying to make each other laugh.”;