Synopses & Reviews
WHO SHOT WALTER KURTZ?
Nobody. Walter Kurtz doesn’t exist. He’s the alter ego of me, Peter Kuper. But, if he were real, perhaps his obituary would read something like this:
Walter Kurtz, illustrator and self-exposing cartoonist, dies of embarrassment at 48.
Walter Alan Kurtz, born September 22,1958, in Cleveland, Ohio, to Harvey and Olive Kurtz (an Ellis Island rewrite from Kurtzberg), was pronounced dead at Mt. Sinai Hospital on Monday. He was rushed there following his collapse at the publication party for his coming-of-middle-age novel, Stop Forgetting to Remember. Kurtz was among the wave of cartoonists who helped to redefine the medium of comics and ushered in an explosion of interest in the graphic novel. He was noted for drawing the world-famous “Ebony vs. Ivory” for Nuts magazine every month and for cofounding the political zine Bomb Shelter with his lifelong friend Saul Blockman.
As an educator and lecturer, Kurtz has encouraged legions of aspiring cartoonists to avoid entering the field. He was a successful illustrator whose work appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, but his heart belonged to cartooning until the end.
Survived by his wife, Sandra B. Russ, and their only child.
Of course, a laundry list of Walter Kurtz’s accomplishments barely scratches the surface of the cartoon character. Are professional details what define an alter ego?
“Brilliantly insightful,” “Painfully hilarious,” and “Pow! Blam! Bang! Comics aren’t just for kids anymore!” are words I’ve heard to describe Walter Kurtz’s work.Yet I can’t keep from wondering whether this excessive praise comes from people who are ignorant of the medium’s capacity to address serious subject matter like parenting and masturbation. But jealousy aside, the truth is, I could never bring myself to delve as deep and reveal as many embarrassing details as he has bravely (?) done in this book. The idea of exposing one’s shameful history for all to see is beyond me, and frankly I’m still baffled by what motivates him. One can only imagine the discomfort this must have created for friends and family, most especially for his long-suffering wife, Sandra. My spouse would have killed me!
But let me not end these flaps on a down note. I personally believe his self-immolation illuminates our understanding of the human condition and helps comics take another step closer to receiving the recognition they deserve as a serious art form. The best obituary that will ever be written about Walter Kurtz is the graphic novel you hold in your hands.
He’s dug his own grave.
"'Unexpectedly, this quasi-autobiographical meditation on fantasy and reality succeeds in being as hilarious as it is heartbreaking. Like Kuper, his alter ego Kurtz is a cartoonist who divides his time between mainstream and independent work while also struggling to be a good husband, father and friend in an unsupportive world. He talks directly to the reader as he describes his goals when he was younger (getting laid, getting high, etc.), how he botched his chances or suffered when he did get what he wanted and how he accepted those successes and failures and then moved on. The story is typical, but Kuper's art shifts from realistic to surreal as the mood changes, and this is where the book really takes off. He plays with a comics reader's head, as when Kurtz's new-daddy desperation convinces him that he's not just a cartoonist but a cartoon so that he slips into a Crumb parody panel, 'Keep on Parentin'.' Kurtz/Kuper does go on developing as a human being, through 9/11 and the despair of being a serious observer in Bush's America, into a surprisingly but satisfyingly hopeful conclusion. This is a very smart, mature work by an artist at the top of his form. (July)' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Based (very loosely) on cartoonist Peter Kupers real life, this novel tells the story of his alter ego Walter Kurtz, who is struggling through what hes been ominously warned will change your life: the arrival of his first child.
Reading Group Guide
1. Graphic novels are more popular than ever. Why? What do you find appealing about this style of storytelling? How does the graphic element add to the story and change the reading experience? More often used for comic book hero style adventures, do you think the graphic novel format works as a means of telling the story of one ordinary man’s life?
2. The pigeon reappears throughout the book. What do you think it symbolizes? What does the empty nest that is the final image in this book symbolize?
3. How many of Walter’s “Secrets of a Graphic Novelist” apply to you? What were your junior high and high school years like? Would you and Walter have been friends?
4. Walter’s quest to lose his virginity is fraught with near misses, self-gratification, and ego-boosting lies. Why is he both desperate to lose it and terrified to act when he is presented with a chance? Do you think his experience is something unique to boys, or do girls have a similar experience?
5. In high school, Walt hangs out with a ladies’ man named Brad. Why does Walt hang out with him? Does he learn anything from Brad? Why are girls attracted to guys like Brad?
6. What does Walt do when he discovers that Adam had lost his virginity? Why? How and when does Walt eventually lose his virginity?
7. How does Walter feel about his impending fatherhood? Discuss the series of panels on page 14 that reveals his feelings about having kids at different times in his life. How do his responses reflect where he is in his life? Why are the first and last panel essentially the same?
8. Adam and Walter have been friends for years. What brought them together as kids and kept them together as adults? What causes the rift between them? Do you think Walt has been insensitive to Adam’s feelings?
9. Walt’s second experience with pot takes place on his mother’s birthday when the whole family tries it together. Can you imagine a similar experience with your parents? How about with your kids?
10. At various times, Walt draws himself as a slug or a rabbit. What do these alter egos represent? When he’s telling a story, Walt draws himself with a pipe. Who do these pipes “belong” to, and why is he holding one even though he doesn’t smoke? What does the pipe represent?
11. Talk about Walter’s drug experiences, and if you’re up to it, your own. Was Walt a product of the era in which he grew up? Although he experimented freely, how do you think he would feel about Elli, his daughter, doing the same? Discuss the double standard that is the backbone of modern parenting.
12. Before his daughter is born, Walt runs into a neighbor and his newborn waiting for the elevator. When he asks the man for advice about parenting, he gets the famous line “It’s going to change your life.” If you are a parent, did people tell you this when you were expecting? It’s become cliché to say but do you think this phrase sums up the experience?
13. Discuss the women in Walter’s life–from Mary to Sandra. What are they like? How does he relate to women when he’s in high school? How does his love/hate relationship with Vicky affect his life? What does he learn from his involvement with Keith?
14. What do the panels on pages 96—101 mean? Does the birth of their child go as Sandra and Walter planned? What happens once they get the baby home?
15. When they meet at the playground, Todd Scott describes himself as a formerly cool guy who is now just Jill’s dad. What does he mean by that? If you’re a parent, can you relate to that feeling? Why do he and Walter bond so quickly?
16. Look at the panels on pages 140—141 in which Elli grows from a needy baby to an angry teen to an independent woman. How does this make Walt feel?
17. Growing up, Walter is friends with a somewhat nerdy boy named Saul. Although he doesn’t always treat Saul very well, they stay friends into adulthood. Did you have a Saul? Where is he now? If you have his phone number, go call him and apologize, and then take him out for a beer.
18. On page 165 we see Walter and his family getting ready for a day of work and school that turns out to be 9/11. Discuss Walter’s experience that day. Discuss your own. What does his attempt to repair the situation by drawing represent? How does Elli affect his actions? What are the long-term effects in his life. In yours?
19. Politics plays a big role at the end of the book. How do Walter’s political leanings compare to your own? Discuss the books final comic, “Richie Bush.”
20. What is Walt’s quest for a publisher like? How is Mr. Rex different from the Random Books editor who eventually buys his book? In her message at the end of the book she asks Walter how he is planning to resolve his story. What is the resolution? Does Stop Forgetting to Remember have one?
Stop Forgetting to Remember isn’t just another memoir covering life, love, parenthood, friendship, travel, politics, drug use, sexual exploits, dreams, and failures. It is also a really cool graphic novel. Through the stories of his alter ego, Walter Kurtz, Peter Kuper gives us a glimpse at the imagination of a cartoonist and (real-life) events that shaped this book. Whether you were the kid feverishly drawing comics while waiting for the other seventh graders to discover your inner greatness or the kid waiting by the bus stop to beat that kid up, this clever, funny story of one (made-up) man and the perils of growing up and getting older offers a look at modern life everyone can identify with. Also, Stop Forgetting to Remember will help you discover if you are suited for the glamorous life of a graphic novelist. This reader’s guide is a starting point for discussion of the fictional Walter Kurtz’s completely true memoir.