Peter Kuper is a graphic novelist whose work you might recognise from the pages of MAD magazine, where he’s responsible for “Spy Vs Spy”, or World War 3 Illustrated. He’s produced a couple of dozen graphic novels too including a relatively celebrated adaptation of The Metamorphosis, but it’s possible Ruins will give him the push he needs to get up into big boy territory.
This is a fairly realistic take on a troubled marriage, that sees a couple travelling to Oaxaca (pronounced wah-ha-ka) for what they hope is ‘a new beginning’. Having lost his job, George is looking for his next move – and an interest in bugs certainly finds an outlet in Oaxaca. His other half, Sam, is writing a book, concerned with the history of Oaxaca but also her own history in relation to Oaxaca (her first marriage to a local ended in accidental death). As George and Sam look to make time and room for each other, they got caught up in a tumultuous teacher’s strike in the area that gives Kuper room to make some interesting political asides. Oh yes, and we also follow the path of a monarch butterfly which outlives most of its butterfly fellows to make a nine month journey from Canada all the way to Mexico to breed.
It’s powerfully vibrant, both comic and serious, unafraid to look long and hard at ugliness (our monarch butterfly flies over a still recovering New Orleans, witnesses labour in need of urgent reform, sees a young couple arrested as they attempt to sneak over the border into the land of the free) but also ambitious enough to work in the likes of Cortez and embrace slightly cosmic interpretations of the way in which the butterfly navigates (it all gets a bit 2001 at one point). You can tell Kuper has spent a lot of time in Oaxaca and that he likes the place (even as he sees its faults) a great deal. In truth, it’s so crammed it has the feel of a Mexican take on Bryan Talbot’s Alice in Sunderland but you can’t really fault someone for having a surfeit of ideas. If you wanted to find a criticism (and you’re asking so we’re looking) you might want to have a soupcon of concrete when it comes to whether Sam has an affair or not (this reader wasn’t quite sure whether she was daydreaming or genuinely cheating), and possibly a greater sense of whether or not George and Sam actually find a way to resolve their differences – but possibly this is a neatness that would make the book less than what it is. So ignore us.
Any Cop?: If a chunky, colourful exploration of Mexican culture by way of a critique of modern marriage is what you’re looking for, you could do a lot worse than check out Kuper’s latest.