Stop Forgetting to Remember by Peter Kuper

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Stop Forgetting to Remember: The Autobiography of Walter Kurtz
By Peter Kuper
Crown Books

Peter KuperThirteen years is a long time in the life of a cartoonist. For most sequential artists weaned on Mad Magazine, Batman, and old Looney Tunes shorts, attention spans for a single project rarely exceed the year mark. Peter Kuper, on the other hand, readily admits that this autobiography, playfully hopping between the modifiers quasi- and thinly-veiled-, took him a baker’s dozen, between conception and the final panel—that’s not to say that the artist focused his sights solely on this 208 paged book, of course. In the interim Kuper has been busy cranking out Spy vs. Spy strips, contributions to anthologies like his own World War 3 Illustrated, and the occasional Kafka adaption. Still, 13 years is a long time.

In retrospect, however, Kuper seems to be low-balling his estimate. Stop Forgetting to Remember, rather, is the product of somewhere in the neighborhood of a half-century. Harvey Kurtz, our retroactively omniscient narrator and pipe-smoking protagonist, is a thinly-veiled homage in name to some of Kuper’s own heroes, and in chronology to himself.

Kurtz’s story begins as an introduction to the comics—a crash course of sorts, assuring uninitiated readers that this is neither Batman nor Garfield (not that there’s anything wrong with the former, and asterisk assures us). However, it’s tough to imagine a someone picking up Stop Forgetting to Remember without some background on the existence of indie titles, and while the book certainly has a fair amount of universal appeal, Kuper isn’t exactly the kind of artist whose work casual readers are likely to pick up on the strength of the last decade of Spy vs. Spy. Still, it’s a charming introduction, and the two-page spread, “Secrets of the Graphic Novelist,” will no doubt find its way beneath thumbtacks above more than a few drawing boards.

The life of a cartoonist, as one might expect, devolves quickly into a bit of good-natured self-loathing, which in turn, gives way to an introduction to the artist’s sex life—more specifically, a thirteen-year-old Kurtz’s’s long-standing struggle with virginity, which he happily reports, a few pages in advanced in a four-panel pre-romp with his wife, has since been resolved.

Seventy pages later, Kurtz is again in the grips of an existential crisis—this time its becoming a parent, having experimented briefly with homosexuality, nymphomania, and acid, in the interim. Fatherhood is the true test of Kurtz’s maturity, reconciling his newly-realized adulthood, with a life based around the consumption and creation of cartoon characters, and attempting to raise a child in a world that gave rise to the September 11th attacks and two consecutive Bush terms. These scenes are among Stop Forgetting to Remember’s most touching, Kurtz’s forgetting the horrors of terrorism for a moment, to overemphasize the possible dangers of a playground to his young daughter.

While more comedic than charming, the coming of age segment of the book is unique in Kuper’s distance from the subject, some four decades removed, where the most cartoonists tend to reflect on their youths before they are fully removed from them. This doesn’t exempt Kuper from succumbing to cliché along the way, but the author gleefully trudges through them, conscious, perhaps, that, like struggle, stress, and confusion, they are indeed an essential part of growing up.

 –Brian Heater

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