Graphic Nonfiction: Michael Kupperman on His Father, Fighting Antisemitism, and Repeating History

Welcome to another edition of Graphic Nonfiction, where we look into the way in which a comics creator uses their medium and skills to portray something from real life.

Earlier this year, Panel Pal Michael Kupperman released his memoir about his father, Joe, who was a child celebrity as a game show winner during World War 2, All the Answers. It's about looking at how his father actively tried to downplay his past, even to the point of being a recluse.

Within the context of All the Answers, Michael thinks about how his father may have been used--for a good purpose, but used all the same--as a way to prove anti-Semites like Henry Ford wrong. Taking to the electronic pages of The Nib and using his signature style, Michael digs deep into the context of the time, with an absolutely chilling depiction of Ford as a Karloffian Monster:

Emphasizing shadow and structure, Michael makes Ford look like a figure of absolute evil--which isn't far from the truth, really. It's really striking to see how he uses the same style that makes a book like Tales Designed to Thrizzle so much fun to put a chill up my spine.

In both of these panels from the larger work, Ford is the central figure, looking as if he has control. All of the rest of the backgrounds are designed to put the focus squarely on him, especially in the first image, where the cars, the hands, and the paper all serve to frame the man's figure. His eyes are set within a black mask of death, adding to the look. It's really striking. Even though it's Michael's usual lines, I've never seem them look this scary before.

This is more of what I'm used to from Michael. The vague likeness (of Chico Marx, I believe) of a celebrity, smiling faces, and a neutral background. But then we get close to the end, and this panel just blew me away:

A Kirby-style extreme close-up! With the bloodshot eye, focused on the horrors on the unseen screen, revealing the terror of the eye's owner, who knows in their heart the path they've chosen has damned them. It's really amazing work, and a highlight of the feature.

Flipping back to today's time, Michael notes that while his father would prefer not to think of the hatred of Jews he lived through, we are returning to a similar time (citing a 57% jump in attacks in 2017 in another panel) and thus must examine what came before, no matter how painful it is.

This whole essay really connects the reader in a personal way to Michael, who I've known for a long time now. The content isn't his usual comedy, but it's extremely important and worth another look, if you missed this comic when it ran originally. I'm very glad Michael shared it with us, and I hope you will, too.

You can read the comic in full here.