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Diario de Oaxaca: A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico Hardcover – September 1, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Kuper has long been among the most politically engaged and stylistically distinctive artists working in comics, and both qualities take center stage here. This dazzling annotated sketchbook recounts two years Kuper and his family spent living in Oaxaca, Mexico. Anticipating a sojourn from American politics, Kuper instead found himself in a city roiled by a teachers' strike that was violently suppressed by the regional government. He recorded his observations in his sketchbook and in illustrated letters home, crisply reproduced in this bilingual (English and Spanish) book. Kuper's facility with diverse art media shines in early pages covering political action, as colorfully penciled protestors stand against rigidly inked military barricades set against the lush backdrops of Oaxaca. As the populist forces are rapidly suppressed, Kuper records a panoply of further visual impressions: beaches, stores, dogs, vendors, ancient ruins, street art and many, many insects. Throughout, Kuper's letters, rooted in personal observation but clearly intended as eyewitness reports for public consumption, provide helpful context. And if his increasingly profuse style mixing suggests a departure from earlier visual in the book, the final observations about a beautiful, merciless natural order obliquely ratify the political convictions that open the book. (Sept.)
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"The book, its text in English and Spanish, is beautiful, a real production: The textured, embossed cover evokes Mexican tiles, giving this Diario de Oaxaca elegant gravity and permanence." Boston Globe
"Maybe Peter Kuper’s greatest accomplishment as an artist. It flatters all of his strengths as an artist and limits his flaws." The Comics Journal by Rob Clough
"In the hands of an illustrator with such creative gifts, Oaxaca is a brilliant dreamscape whose bugs and vegetation are as visually appealing as its protest graffiti and wild dogs." World Literature in Review
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two-year immersion. A MUST for the curious traveler, armchair or airborne.
This format chopped up the narrative, making it hard to follow, and required so much close attention to navigating the format that the irritation it engendered more than offset any pleasure there was in reading about the author's experiences.
Diario de Oaxaca brought that story to mind, because history happened in Oaxaca in 2006. There were months of barricades and demonstrations met with lethal force by the police. We are fortunate that the gifted artist Peter Kuper was on the ground to bear witness to these events. Kuper's first-hand account is drawn in the form of simple sketches, but taken as a whole, his diary is a profound and moving document.
Don't expect a traditional graphic novel with box after box of sequential drawings advancing the story. As the subtitle says this is a sketchbook. Mostly pictures, it is perhaps 15% text, and the text is presented in both Spanish and English. This book is being simultaneously published in Mexico, so there is a practical reason for this. The bilingual text, however, also demonstrates Kuper's evident respect for the language and culture of Mexico.
While most of the book deals with the city of Oaxaca, not all is turmoil. There are some quirky, quiet days and there are side trips to the beach, the pyramids, small towns, and even the monarch butterfly preserves.
One might ask, what is the point of sketchbook journalism in a digital age? I'd suggest seeing the actual marks a person makes alongside their written words offers the reader a special insight. We get the sense that we know Peter Kuper, that we are in the company of a friend, and that our friend is a reliable witness to history.