Eisner Award–winner Kupperman’s graphic memoir, All the Answers (Gallery13, May), delves into the story of his father, a WWII-era media sensation.
As a boy, your father was one of the stars of the radio show Quiz Kids, a show developed in part to combat anti-Semitism. He was changing how Jews were being perceived in America. Was it fun for him?
At the start, it must have been a remarkable adventure. But, it does seem like he didn’t enjoy most of it. For him, it was just a job. As a comedy fan, I was surprised to learn how many comedians of that era he performed with or met. He did seem to like Milton Berle.
Did what you learned affect the way you look at TV and celebrity culture?
It certainly made me more aware of the somewhat abstract rules that govern fame. He was famous because of the war; he fit into that energy and excitement. When it was over, he should have stepped away from fame, but didn’t. He had “hot” fame during the war, and it cooled steadily afterwards. But while there’s any heat left, even if it’s decreasing, it will still attract people who want to capitalize on it.
After finishing the book, do you see more of your father in yourself?
Absolutely. The show did things to him, the whole experience did things to him, which he passed on to me. I have secondhand trauma that I’ve inherited. I’m a very, very self-conscious person. I want attention but at the same time there’s mechanisms within me that force me to try to avoid it.
Why was Quiz Kids so popular? What do you think was its downfall?
The show could only have happened at that point in popular culture, when we recognized that children might not just be imperfect adults, but have value of their own. It was also when America was recognizing the same thing about immigrants. The invention of teenagers after the war—that’s what doomed the show. Then the model of kids as studious and withdrawn seemed old-fashioned and silly.
Would you want your son to be involved in show business?
As I say in the book, I want my own son to be a successful adult, not a successful child. Thrusting children into show business is withdrawing from the kid’s future to pump up the present.
You call this your “first serious book.” Why?
My work has always been in some ways about sidestepping meaning and confounding expectations. This was going in the opposite direction—going right into the heart of who I am, what formed me, and then my father’s situation. It was an intensely painful process, I have to say.