Peter Kuper, The System on DARTBy Peggy Roalf
DART Design Arts Daily
August 7th ,2014
In a moment of heightened awareness one day back in 1995, Peter Kuper, while riding the packed #2 train, began wondering about his fellow passengers and their destinations in a new way.
“Was this trip all we have in common,” he thought, “or might our lives crisscross and impact one another in positive or even catastrophic ways. If the flap of a butterfly’s wings in China could cause a storm in Manhattan, what would the various actions of a subway full of commuters incite?”
Kuper is one of the co-founders of World War 3 Illustrated, which was launched in December 1979. The anthology magazine was a home for comic book work and graphic/illustrated storytelling that was anti-establishment and aggressively critical of the social and political right-wing conservatism that prevailed following the election of President Ronald Reagan.
Spread from The System, © Peter Kuper
It embraced the “us vs. them” politics of the Lower East Side of Manhattan including housing rights, gentrification, police brutality, racism; and economic inequality. Pages from World War 3 Illustrated were appropriated by protesters during the Tomkins Square Park Riot of 1988, to be transformed into improvised signage and DIY posters.
World War 3 Illustrated Cover
From this day-to-day laboratory of conflicts and coinciences, Kuper began mentally assembling The System, a wordless chronicle of the clashes and convergences of New York City’s populace. First published as three separate comics in 1996, later collected in a paperback anthology in 1997, The System is now available in a colorful hardcover edition. In the Introduction, Calvin Reed, co-editor of PW Comics World writes:
Originally published in 1997, The System serves as an early repository of all [Kuper’s] influences, graphic achievements, and attempts to reconcile comics to their own formal history, to life and to art, and specifically to the knockabout experience of life in New York City….A wordless pictorial novel reminiscent of Frans Masereal’s Passionate Journey, The System is a parable-like, sentimental meditation on the convulsive social drama of day-to-day urban life. It weaves its multiple narrative threads into a brightly patterned fabric of recognizable, fictionalized events—a kind of melodrama on the patterns of city life.
Kuper’s notion of the urban “system” is an elaborate network of coincidental encounters, parallel routines and, most important, the overlapping, interdependent tales of disparate social and politicized interests that loom over the lives of ordinary people, from strippers and crooked cops to martyred street artists, corporate financiers, and Pakistani drivers.
The System details the capricious power of coincidence, the simple bonds of affection, the daily grind, and the super-charged existential consequences of ethnic and social complexity—and illuminates it all with the glow of New York City’s scary magnificence.
You can meet Peter and get signed copies of The System (PM Press 2014) and World War 3 Illustrated at events coming up this fall:
Sept 2: Comic Symposium at Parsons The New School for Design
Sept 8-15: Bangalore, India Comic Con
Brooklyn Book Festival: Sept 17-19
Sept 27: New York Art Book Fair, PS 1 Moma
Sept 29: Comic Symposium Parsons (with all of WW3 artists)
Oct 9-12: NYC Comic Con
Details on Facebook and Twitter: @PKuperArt
Peter Kuper is the co-founder of World War 3 Illustrated. He has written and drawn Spy vs Spy for Mad magazine since 1997. He has also produced over 25 books including an adaptation of Kafka's The Metamorphosis. Peter teaches comics at The School of Visual arts and is a visiting professor at Harvard. Blog. WW3. WW3 Video.