Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Tork by Michael Kupperman

(2019, Longtime followers of Kupperman's comics and illustrations and animation know him for strange, surreal humor that is very, very funny, though it is not always clear exactly why. It also seems so smart that elements of satire and critique must be in there somewhere, but it is not always exactly clear exactly where. A comic in which a regular snake and a single piece of bacon (who only utters flat descriptions of his attributes, i.e. "Pat me down with a paper towel to remove excess grease") theoretically fight crime (while doing nothing), might be about the banality of comics, or the futility of the world, or bacon's deliciousness. But "might" is doing hard labor in that statement. That said, following the artist on social media his tone, while still funny and smart, is somber as his family has negotiated the economic realities of this Century and the flaws of the school systems and our country's terrible leadership and the crippling struggles of surviving as an artist. That he spent a substantial portion of his recent history creating a brilliant graphic biography of his father could not have helped his mood. Dealing so directly with difficult subject matter (the miseries his father faced as a TV "Quiz Kid" in the 50s, and his elderly father's mental and physical decline [he died earlier this year]) would be rough on its own, but the underwhelming commercial response to his masterpiece and the subpar promotions it received were no pick me ups. Anyhow, I say that to say this: Tork is an amazing minicomic about dealing with life's struggles (much of it financial, but also shitty people) and small triumphs (the satisfaction of slowly, but successfully, cleaning out a family property) and mundanities (a Peter Tork cameo). The book combines the graphic and rhythmic skills of his best comics with the honesty and vulnerability of his public reckoning with his personal challenges. While not the grand statement of his amazing book (everyone should read it, I got it for my dad who was enamored with the Chicago-based Quiz Kids when he was just a little older than them, and he was fascinated) the quiet, modest aspirations of this project are fully realized. Though the tone is not entirely akin to The Monkees series, I would even recommend this to total Tork-heads.

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