Saturday, May 5, 2012

Mark Twain's Autobiography 1910-2010

Up first in Not-Quite-A-Graphic-Novel Month is Michael Kupperman's Mark Twain's Biography 1910-2010

Most people are under the impression that Mark Twain died in 1910, but according to this volume the report of his "death was an exaggeration." Reading this book, we learn that not only is Twain still alive (thanks to a wizard's spell) but he has been having adventures the last 100 years. He fought in the Great War. He died his hair black, moved to Italy, and spent a year yelling gibberish at people. He had dalliances with Marilyn Monroe and Mamie Eisenhower. He foiled an alien invasion. He starred in several movies, including one porn film. He teamed up with Albert Einstein. He went to the moon with NASA. He fought in World War II. He even influenced Charles Schultz in creating Peanuts. Schultz's first version of the comic strip was decidedly less friendly and was called Li'l Sh*ts, and thankfully Twain was able to intervene with some constructive criticism.

Of course all of this is pure hokum. Still, I very much enjoyed the book, and frequently laughed out loud at the wordplay and absurd situations Twain engaged in. I found the best way to enjoy the book was to read it intermittently, taking time to savor each individual escapade.

This book is the creation of Michael Kupperman, a cartoonist most famous for his surreal, hilarious series Tales Designed to Thrizzle. He is known for his strange and wonderful characters such as Snake 'n' Bacon and Pagus. Kupperman speaks about his life and career in this interview with Big Think. And he speaks specifically about creating this book in this interview with SF Weekly.

The reviews I have read of the book have been mostly positive. The Comic Journal's Rob Clough praised the book, stating that "whatever direction he moves in, there is a consistent level of dizzying joy to be found in Kupperman’s work, a kind of humor that features dark and occasionally satirical edges but is mostly just a barrage of inspired wordplay, deadpan humor, and deceptively simple images." NPR's Glen Weldon called this book "hugely imaginative, exultantly silly, gag-a-minute writing that manages to comment on the popular culture of the last century while willfully wallowing in it — Python with a wry dose of Pynchon." Grace Bello enjoyed the book but was more lukewarm about the stories within, writing that "they're meant to be digested occasionally" so to avoid fatigue readers should read the book in small chunks.

Various previews and a plethora of links are available here from the book's publisher, Fantagraphics. Some sample chapters from the book (sans illustrations) are available here from the author.

Why it's not quite a graphic novel: Although there are a few sequential art episodes in the book, most chapters consist of a text piece and accompanying illustration. I see this work more as an illustrated book that has a few comic strips thrown in.

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