Peter Kuper

It starts with a single-panel gag cartoon in the April 2016 Funny Times:


First, things you need to know to get this cartoon. Then, information about cartoonist and graphic novelist Peter Kuper and his other work.

Appreciating the cartoon. First, you need to recognize the two figures in the cartoon, as Captain Ahab (with the wooden leg) and the white whale Moby-Dick (seen here though the flukes of his tail). Ahab and the whale is in fact a cartoon meme, as I pointed out (with lots of New Yorker examples) in a 1/12/16 posting.

Then you need to recognize tha Ahab is taking a photo of the whale on his cellphone (anachronistically, but then this is Cartoon Land, and such oddities have a charm of their own). That is, he is producing a photo, or picture, of Dick, which is to say, a Dick picture, or a Dick pic for short. Dick photo(graph) or Dick (snap)shot would do to refer to such a production, but Dick pic has rhyme going for it.

Then of course there’s the ambiguity in /dIk/: the name Dick OR dick informal ‘penis’ (the source of endless heavy-handed wit). Which brings us to dick pic (in the caption), a conventional compound for a photo of a penis.

Semantic/pragmatic/cultural note: usually, the penis in question belongs to the guy wielding the cellphone — taking a selfie of his junk — and the photo is distributed to a woman in a complex act of boasting, sexual advance, and degradation of the recipient. That is, dick pic is most often used in an incredibly specialized way. But it’s still available in the more general (and less socioculturally hazardous) sense: you can find collections of, for example, playful dick pics, with penises dressed as Santa Claus, cowboys, or whatever. Also,  as a gay enthusiast of penises, I regularly receive and send any number of penis photos (dick pics in the general sense).

The cartoonist. From Wikipedia:

Peter Kuper (born September 22, 1958) is an American alternative cartoonist and illustrator, best known for his autobiographical, political, and social observations.

Besides his contributions to the political anthology World War 3 Illustrated, which he co-founded in 1979 with Seth Tobocman, Kuper is currently best known for taking over Spy vs. Spy for Mad magazine. Kuper has produced numerous graphic novels which have been translated into [many European languages], including award-winning adaptations of Franz Kafka’s Give It Up! and the Metamorphosis.

… Kuper’s work in comics and illustration frequently combines techniques from both disciplines, and often takes the form of wordless comic strips. Kuper remarked on this, “I initially put comics on one side and my illustration in another compartment, but over the years I found that it was difficult to compartmentalize like that. The two have merged together so that they’re really inseparable.”

Note: Kuper does lots of stuff — not only the alternative comics and the graphic novels/memoirs for which he’s celebrated, but also gag cartoons (as above), designing magazine covers, and political cartoons.

Relevant background on this blog:

from 2/24/12, in “Clash of the facenen”: a section on Spy vs. Spy

from 2/28/15, in “Books: cartoon/comic classics”: a section on a book that pairs celebrated cartoonists with appreciations by other cartoonists “doing” them, with Kuper doing Mad magazine’s Harvey Kurtzman

From the NYC Graphic site on 11/13/09 by Christopher Irving on Kuper, highlighting just one of his works:

He went starker in 2003 with yet another adaptation, this one of Franz Kafka’s classic short story The Metamorphosis. Through use of scratchboard and vertigo-inducing panel shapes and sizes, The Metamorphosis catches the dark and foreboding aspects of the story in sequential form.


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