Peter Kuper on the Silence of World War 3

Kuper on the Silence of World War 3

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 pantomimes.”

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:

World War 3 Illustrated.”

More information about World War 3 Illustrated, including back issues, is available at World War 3 Illustrated. Artwork and information about Peter Kuper is available at


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