The lines of autobiography have never been well-defined in the world of graphic novels. Every time an artist pens some slice of life story, we both as readers and critics immediately assume that some large percentage of said slice is taken directly from the author’s own experience. In those instances of confessional autobiography, even when the picture painted is less than flatteringly, as in the case of a Joe Matt or Harvey Pekar, surely, we insist, the author have given in to some manner of flight of fancy.
Peter Kuper has seen fit to add a new level of confusion to our comics unpacking with Stop Forgetting to Remember, presenting the life of one Walter Kurtz, described by the book’s jacket as Kuper’s alter-ego, who, as turns out, died shortly after the publication of the book. Surely Kuper and this Kurtz character are screwing with us on some level. But how? And to what end?
Thankfully, dear reader, The Hatch is on the case.
As far as autobiographies go, Stop Forgetting to Remember is fairly thinly-veiled—it essentially comes out and says that it’s you on the book’s jacket. So, what’s the reason for the pseudonym?
There are a number of reasons, like my whole interaction with HBO. Walter Kurtz and I are miles apart. He’s self-centered and obsessive and very whiney, and I’m self-centered, obsessive, and only a little whiney. So there’s a gulf there. But actually, there are things that I wanted to do in the story that actually involved having less of a career. My alter-ego has less going on than I do, workwise. It would be a whole other track to talk about almost having a show on HBO and the five or six graphic novels that I did in that time period, and instead I could focus in on one graphic novel.
And I was much more interested in it as a story than I was interested in talking about myself, in those terms. It’s a ‘the play’s the thing’ approach. I want it to be a story that people can relate to. It matters to me a lot less that it’s my story, per se, but it had to be my story in order to have anything to talk about. But in the places I needed to deviate, I felt free to do so, and I knew that I would not end up on Oprah, having to apologize.
So there’s plenty of fodder in something like the HBO story.
You know, I could have done a whole other book on that and all of these different lines of it. But that’s like a 500 page book, and my contract with Crown was to do a 154 page book, and it ended up being 208 and I was going to go on, but they said, “no, no, you have to stop now.” I passed one or two deadlines and after a certain point, I was only going further in the hole, working on it. I spent so much time working on it that I was actually getting to a point where it was financially dangerous.
Is that part of the reason that you off-handedly killed off Kurtz in the book’s jacket?
No, that was just me trying to be clever and maybe or maybe not succeeding. It was just to guarantee that you would maybe or maybe not read the flap, with a headline like that. But I actually had written that as an intro to the book, but literally I got to the point where every single page counted. I had 208 pages, and that was my cutoff line, before I got to another signature, which they didn’t want me to do. So I removed the intro from the inside of the book and put it on the flaps, so I could get as much out of the story as I could, and make the deadline and all of that.
If you were to make another autobiographical strip or book—
Which I certainly will be doing.
–will you be doing it through Walter Kurtz?
No, actually I won’t. The next book is actually about moving to Mexico—you’re actually calling me in Mexico. A year ago I moved to Oaxaca, Mexico, with my wife and daughter, and I want to do this story to basically taking up where I left off with Stop Forgetting. I will look at having done that book, and pick up exactly where I’m at, and talking about what reviewers said and questions about alter-ego and all of those various things, leading into moving to Mexico, and in the same way that Stop Forgetting has a through story of almost 10 years—it’s basically linear and has all of the side stories that jump through time, this is going to be about traveling to a single place, but then all of the other side stories will flesh out all of the other trips I’ve taken. And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen my book, Comic Trips—my wife and I took an eight month trip to Africa and south-east Asia. It was in my sketchbook.
That’s in this book a little, isn’t it?
Yeah, well there’s actually a trip that I took to New Guinea, but that’s actually a more recent trip, after I went to Indonesia with my wife. It’s a lot of trips like that, like coming to Mexico, early on with my wife, and almost drowning. There will be a lot of sideline stories that will be all travel-related. And the way that the pigeon functions in Stop Forgetting, as the slide that moves you from one area to the next, a monarch butterfly is going to be the transition, because I went to see the mononarch butterflies.
There’s a a state that the come to in Mexico, by the millions. It’s about me trying to get down here, in the same way the the monarch is coming from Canada, past New York, into Mexico. So I’m going to utilize all of those things, but it’s going to be straight up, unfiltered me.
If you don’t mind my asking, what prompted the move down there?
We wanted out daughter to get a second language and a different cultural experience—and a little break from Bush. And curiously, we got down to this area and the Mexican elections had occurred, and it was up in the air as to whether it was legal or not, and in Oaxaca, there was a teacher strike, which turned into a huge burning bus confrontation between teachers and strikers. So we were getting to know the political situation here which will very much be a major part of the book. It’s going to be talking about that and my direct involvement with that, and—again, assuming that I ever sell this book—it will be going into my sketchbook, and you’ll see me talking about the event and then walking downtown, and then drawing. And you’ll see the sketch that I did, when I was downtown.
[Continued in Part Three]