Bubel by Sabrina Jones
For nearly thirty years, World War 3 Illustrated has been a
leading voice for the left on political and social causes. Founded by
cartoonists Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman, it has been home to diverse
voices including its creators, Eric Drooker (Flood!), James Romberger, Scott Cunningham, Sue Coe and many more.
Issue 39 – with covers by Kuper and Drooker – ships in March, with an
unusual focus. The entirety of the issue will be wordless. The
universal language of comics will attempt to reach across all languages
to touch on a variety of topics affecting the entire world in the days
bridging the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.
Kuper took time out of his schedule to answer questions about the upcoming issue
of WW3, crafting silent comics, and how a new political landscape may not affect the work he and his compatriots are doing.
“Every time I try to stop doing it, something happens that pulls me
back in … it's like the Mafia, there's no escape!” Kuper observed of
working on the magazine, which is in its 28th year of publication.
“Over the years when my enthusiasm for dedicating the enormous amount
of time and energy it takes to put out an issue starts to wane, there's
a riot in Tompkins Square park, a war in Iraq (the first one) or 9/11,
and I rediscover the importance of maintaining a forum that doesn't
rely on outside financing or exert some form of censorship.
“To be clear, World War 3 is very much a group effort (I
certainly haven't edited every other issue) and wouldn't exist if a
large number of people didn't keep pulling together to make it happen.
If there hadn't been we would have burned out by now.”
The artist further explained the need for WW3, adding, “There have been many points when WW3
was the only place to publish certain ideas. This was true during
Reagan's presidency, but especially true after 9/11 when even artists
like Art Spiegelman found the mainstream press completely closed to
work like what ended up being In The Shadow of No Towers and turned to WW3 to get it published. Last issue I did an eleven-page piece on my experience in Mexico during a teachers strike. WW3 was the only place I could find for a piece of that length.”
Last Walk by Peter Kuper
As issue 39 will be entirely wordless, Kuper was asked about the
reasons for publishing an all-silent issue. “I have always been a fan
of wordless storytelling from Lynd Ward to Eric Drooker, and after
eight years of Bush I'm speechless!” he laughed. “Also I had the kooky
notion that it would be easier to edit a wordless issue. I had it
completely backwards; it has taken twice as long and required much more
hands-on editing with each piece, down to sketching out suggestions.
Thankfully I was able to hoodwink Kevin Pyle (Blind Spots) into helping me with the editing duty.”
WW3 Illustrated #39 will be “90% comics, 5% fat-free
illustrations and a great article on Wordless books by the #1 scholar
on the subject, David A. Beronä,” Kuper explained. Previous issues of
the magazine have made room for political and social essays to run
alongside the magazine’s cartoon commentaries.
Although other issues have dealt with specific themes, the wordless
motif is the only connection between this issue’s offerings. Kuper told
readers to be on the lookout for, “The housing bubble burst and the
ensuing economic crash [which] popped up in many pieces, including ones
by Sabrina Jones, Seth Tobocman, Terry LaBan, Matt Mahurin and Andy
Singer. But there's also an amazing piece by first time contributor
Onur Turkel that sums up the history of human evolution and the
complexities of parenthood in sixteen pages.”
I asked if restricting his contributors to wordless comics would limit
the ambition or subtlety of their essays in any way. Kuper sees it
another way. “Frankly it is a relief to take a deep breath and, instead
of cataloging the long list of crimes with words, let the images do the
heavy lifting,” he explained. “We have also produced an issue that
virtually anyone around the world can pick up and understand and get a
sense of where we are at in history. This is one of the great beauties
of wordless comics. Since we all understand symbols, there is a
tremendous amount that can be conveyed with images alone. You may not
get an exact statistic this way, but a larger meaning of events that
may actually stick in your mind more thoroughly comes through in these
Steps of another man's house by Onur Tukel based on a song by David Yazbek
“As I said, the editing process was much more involved than usual.
Kevin and I discussed the storytelling and what was and wasn't working
panel to panel on each piece and asked for many changes to make sure
the stories were clear,” Kuper acknowledged, remarking on the editorial
guidance he was able to provide after working on wordless comics on
previous projects such as Mad’s “Spy vs. Spy” and his own book Sticks and Stones.
“I think it was very challenging and quite beneficial for the
contributors to be forced to think in strictly visual terms. I think
this approach helps any cartoonist with their ability to tell a story
when they return to including text.”
Despite the magazine’s strong left-leaning bias, Kuper doesn’t
anticipate that he and his cohorts will lack for content now that many
Americans are filled with hope for the country’s direction in light of
the recently inaugurated 44th President of the United States, Barak
Obama. “As I write this Obama is getting ready to be sworn in,” he told
me. “How we respond to his presidency will depend on how he acts as
president as well as a million other things that happen in this world.
We don't have a preset response. I think I can speak for the group when
I say, we don't fear for a lack of subject matter that will be grist
for the WW3 mill in the coming years!”
World War 3 Illustrated cover
Kuper wrapped up our email exchange by giving his readers a tease of
what he has coming up. “I am just finishing up a 208-page full-color
collection of my comics, writing, photos and sketchbook work produced
during my two years living in Oaxaca, Mexico (I've been back in NYC for
six months now). It's called Diario de Oaxaca and will be out this spring, co-published by Sexto Piso in Mexico and PM Press here in the States.
“I also should mention WW3 has a website that has been
updated with new material, coming events and it's a place to find out
about those hard-to-find back issues: