A Bug’s Life


Kafka’s imagination enters Peter Kuper’s dystopic pen as electricity powered by angst and emerges as a force field of eeks, scrapes, and hisses scratchboarded into a contemporary interpretation of The Metamorphosis. Kuper carves panic into the monochromatic faces of Gregor Samsa’s family: the father a steaming-faced Shrek, the mother a quiver-jowled frau, the sister a tight-bunned day-of-the-dead creature. And then there is Gregor, beleaguered traveling salesman turned bug, beaten down by the burden of providing for this crew. He whirls inside an alarm clock, is ground into dollars inside an hourglass, and, as a bug, gets struck by an apple and scurries away with a broken back. Poor Gregor eavesdrops on his family’s distress from beneath a couch. With dust and darkness encroaching, with shafts of sharp light knifed into the page, he hears his beloved sister wishing him away; and “without his consent . . . his head sank to the floor.”

Much of the Kuper canon explores the human condition: the exchange of integrity for success, a life lost to the system. For 23 years his political comics magazine, World War 3 Illustrated, has portrayed a world of greedy politicians and mindless citizenry. Kafka obviously speaks to his world-weary sensibility. Kuper has trained his eye on Kafka once before, in 1995’s Give It Up!, in which the helmsman utters a question that could serve as epigraph to Kuper’s body of work: “What kind of people are these? Do they ever think, or do they only shuffle pointlessly over the earth?” With The Metamorphosis, Kuper shows shuffling in the extreme—the company insect scraping his belly along the floor, misery etched into his mouth—and reimagines Kafka’s tale of toil for cubicle creatures of our own day.

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