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Humanity, Glorious and Vile

By Carlo Wolff
The Boston Globe
January 3, 2010

The origins of life, humans bent on logic, political strife, the little disturbances that make us itch, and family dysfunction preoccupy the best recent graphic novels. Despite great differences in style and attitude, all delight in presenting fresh ways of seeing the world.

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Peter Kuper, his wife, and his daughter arrived in Oaxaca, one of the poorest states of Mexico, for a year’s stay in July 2006, just when a teachers’ strike got nasty. His diary of that sojourn, and a subsequent brief return, joins drawings, watercolor, even photography at times, to insights about how we process information. An earthquake in February 2008 passed in 10 seconds, barely disturbing Kuper but making sensationalist, scary headlines. “I’ve come to believe that most news is all sizzle without the quake,’’ he writes. In earlier works like “Stones’’ and “Stop Forgetting to Remember,’’ Kuper’s approach was more cartoonish and ironic, more distanced. Here, a self-styled refugee from the Bush administration, he’s involved and personal; may he craft more such documentaries, further his talent for collage, and nurture his affection for entomology. The book, its text in English and Spanish, is beautiful, a real production: The textured, embossed cover evokes Mexican tiles, giving this “Diario de Oaxaca’’ elegant gravity and permanence.

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