Franz Kafka remains one of the most absurd originals in 20TH-century literature. He produced work that dealt with socio-political issues enwrapped in bizarre characters and scenarios. Such was the impact of his work that the term Kafkaesque has entered the English language as a descriptive word for his own work. It’s also become the name for artist and fellow social commentator Peter Kuper’s latest adapted collection of Kafka’s work. Kafkaesque follows Give It Up and The Metamorphosis, weaving fourteen of Kafka’s short stories together into a freakish, electrifying package of surreal illustrations that display what a handsome match Kuper’s art and Kafka’s narratives are.
Throughout the comic, what’s most apparent is Kuper’s liberal use of warped shape and monochrome. Carefully selecting a group of stories that bear numerous down-trodden characters, from pirates to mouse and soldiers, Kuper paints them in a grotesque, caricatured light. It may not be for the faint-hearted, but it’s wildly intoxicating. Kuper commands a superb hold on shadow, a result of the all-black-and-white art, and uses it to full effect. Cityscapes and expressions poses a sharp, haunting quality. It’s as if Kuper wants to immerse us in Kafka’s stories as unescapably as possible. Every character and every landscape has a mad, monochrome style forced upon them, producing an almost hypnotic visual feast.
All fourteen stories boast some manner of moral compass, but due to their insanity, it can be anyone’s guess what the morals it’s trying to project are. A Little Fable, with its everyday businessman fashioned as a mouse, running blind through endless mazes of a mousetrap, feels like a less than subtle comment on the inescapable mundanity of life. On the other end of the spectrum, the much grander In The Penal Colony’s depiction of a prisoner-of-war nearly encroached inside a horrific torture machine, before the accompanying general sacrifices his own life paints a far cloudier picture.
Kafkaesque is a stout, enchanting exploration of Kafka’s work. Illuminating his curious character with such incomparable art galvanises the comic’s content, making each individual story land with dramatic flair, even if the stories themselves feel somewhat muddled. It’s not only a startlingly robust testament to the power of Kafka’s literary prowess, but also a splendid showcase for Kuper’s manic artwork. Anyone with a taste for socially-conscious comics that knock the ball out of the park with some deliciously unique, punk-flavoured art is recommended to check out Kafkaesque.
REVIEW: KAFKAESQUE / AUTHOR: PETER KUPER / PUBLISHER: W. W. NORTON & COMPANY / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 19TH