cover image Kafkaesque: Fourteen Stories

Kafkaesque: Fourteen Stories

Peter Kuper. Norton, $19.95 (160p) ISBN 978-0-393-63562-1

Eisner-winner Kuper (Ruins) brilliantly accentuates both the absurd and menacing qualities of Kafka’s short stories in this graphic collection. Using a scratchboard technique to mimic the woodcut style of German expressionism, Kuper emphasizes the ways Kafka addressed social injustices rather than simply his trademark existential paranoia. In “Give It Up,” he draws a policeman with a gun barrel instead of a nose, playing up the arbitrary whims of authority. “Coal Bucket Rider” and “The Trees” speak to the life-and-death struggle of poverty and to those who pretend that it doesn’t exist. He turns “Before The Law” into commentary about racism by drawing the supplicant character as a black man. Kuper shines in the farcical pieces, such as his drawing of a mouse voluntarily walking to its doom in “A Little Fable” and the bug-eyed philosopher desperate for certainty in “The Spinning Top.” The jewel of this collection is “The Burrow,” where Kuper draws Kafka’s paranoid character, who hid in his underground network of rooms, into a mole man. Kuper’s heavy use of chiaroscuro creates an atmosphere of dread, while his playful character design and innovative page layouts keenly evince Kafka’s dark sense of humor. Kafka’s timeless work has never hit so hard, nor more artfully. Agent: Judy Hansen, Hansen Literary Agency (Sept.)