A comic shaped by trauma

As I mentioned on Twitter in October, I would totally read a longform magazine piece from cartoonist and writer Michael Kupperman about making All the Answers, his graphic memoir that was published by Simon & Schuster’s Gallery 13 in 2018. A book that was initially projected to be an examination of his father Joel’s life as a famous child prodigy, All the Answers became something wholly different after Kupperman discovered some hidden scrapbooks at his parents’ Connecticut home. During a recent, heavily illustrated talk at Google, the cartoonist discussed how finding these scrapbooks meant that he would be creating a memoir about his relationship with his father and how Joel’s past had affected that relationship. From Kupperman:

“They brought new life to the story I was trying to tell, and in fact their story provided a narrative jolt that starts the engine of my book. It was an incredibly lucky find. By now I could see most of the book and set about doing a new draft. The price I was going to pay was becoming obvious. The story was about how my father’s fame had traumatized him, and how it had made a real relationship between us impossible. The whole process had changed the way I saw him but also the way I saw myself because I now saw how I had been shaped by his trauma.”

All the Answers, which was slow to accumulate the wealth of critical accolades it finally had by the end of 2018, took Kupperman five years to produce. During a version of this talk at Parsons School of Design last year, the cartoonist recounted the efforts behind his memoir: He’d become a first-time parent by the time he started working on this massive project, and as Nate Powell notes, working on a longform graphic publication is for most already a courageous, financially insane decision. Kupperman was unable to untether himself from freelance assignments while putting his energy toward the book. The project seemed “literally impossible”—the advance wasn’t enough to just focus on the book, so, in 2017 for example, Kupperman produced several hundred pages of hand-lettered comics for freelance clients while trying to make a crazy deadline and navigate the world of new trauma that came with trying to understand his family history. Even promoting the book was “psychologically painful,” he said.

The Parsons talk—part of the amazing Comics and Picture-Story Symposium organized by cartoonist and educator Ben Katchor that I barely take advantage of—was painfully short, so I’m glad that the Google version is available.

I wrote about Kupperman’s comic here at my site last year, and I contributed a blurb about it for Hyperallergic’s “Best Graphic Novels of 2018.” Kupperman now has a Patreon and is regularly adding new things to his online store.