by Brandon Beck
Michael Kupperman’s comics are quite possibly the funniest I’ve ever read. His previous books, the ongoing Tales Designed to Thrizzle and Snake ‘n’ Bacon’s Cartoon Cabaret reduced me to tears and unable to breathe with a frequency that was downright alarming. I’m happy to say that his newest book, Mark Twain’s Autobiography 1910-2010 continues the trend.
Ostensibly picking up where Mister Twain’s “recently published autobiography” leaves off, we follow the author, cursed by a wizard to live forever (a story that cannot be told for 1,000 years), on his next 100 years worth of adventures. This includes peeks at his years in Italy under the pseudonym “Michaelangel Buonatestes, ‘the shoutiest man in Naples,’” his time at the top of the 50s advertising boom and the Golden Age of Hollywood, and his surprisingly knife-fight-filled trip to outer space. Aside from being one of the world’s most famous authors, Mr. Twain also apparently had a hand in the invention of rock ‘n’ roll, starred on both The Love Boat and The Odd Couple and slept with seemingly every famous woman in both Washington and Hollywood. His adventures are filled with space porch swings, immortal Santas and lots and lots of silly names. The silly names are a highlight.
The book is equal parts prose and full page artwork, with several multi-page comic strip breaks for the more visually interesting chapters, all of which are hilarious. More a graphic book than straight comic book or straight novel, it plays to the strengths of both mediums. Kupperman’s prose recalls the casual absurdity of early Woody Allen or Douglas Adams, and as there is no real overarching narrative other than Mark Twain’s fictional life, he is able to indulge his every comedic whim, be it a film noir genre parody or a chapter that’s mostly just a list of silly names.
The artwork, rendered in black, white and blue, is fabulous as always. The greatest part of his art is how deadpan it is. His simple, clean lines have a retro style that wouldn’t be out of place in a Golden Age comic book or an old magazine advertisement. But when you look a little bit closer, you realize that you’re looking at a drawing of a space fight between Mark Twain and an evil cosmonaut. His style could best be described as literal absurdism. He’ll introduce a concept that’s absolutely bonkers and show it to you in the most realistic way possible. In the world he’s created with his words and art, it only makes sense that Albert Einstein is being “haunted” by Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin hiding under sheets, or that space shuttles have porch swings.
Mark Twain’s Autobiography 1910-2010 is a testament to Kupperman’s strengths as both writer and artist. You never find yourself questioning anything he throws at you, no matter how absurd. His Twain is more than just a simple parody but a real character who gives the proceedings a gravitas that allows the book feels like more than just a series of jokes, while still being downright hilarious.
TL;DR: Mark Twain’s Autobiography 1910-2010 is easily one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time, as well as one of the strangest. It’s an easy, quick read and a great introduction to one of the funniest cartoonists working today. I suggest you buy it.
Brandon Beck is a writer/director/improviser living in Brooklyn, NY. He is currently working towards an MFA in TV Writing/Producing at the TV Writer’s Studio at Long Island University with the hopes of one day bending the entertainment industry to his nefarious will. He is more than happy to talk to you about Phish. You can see inside his mind by finding him on Tumblr or following him at @hellyesbrandon.