All the Answers
Michael Kupperman, better known for his satiric cartoons, here tries his hand at graphic biography. All the Answers is about his father’s time as a child star. His dad was Quiz Kid Joel Kupperman.
During World War II, there was a radio show starring young geniuses. Joel was the youngest, a math prodigy pushed into fame by a stereotypical stage mother regardless of his personality or wants. As Michael tells it, his father hated it but felt he had to support his family, until he could finally retire to a quiet house in the woods and the life of a university professor.
I had two major problems with this book. First, Kupperman is clear that his father had dementia. Even before his memory was going, he refused to talk about his time as a famous kid or afterwards. That makes this a hollow book, more about the younger Kupperman’s assumptions and interpretations than the actual experiences of Joel Kupperman. Since the story is in some ways very typical — smart kid has trouble standing up for himself — it’s hard to tell how much is authentic and how much is just conveniently told.
(Michael draws himself with odd, staring, pinprick eyes in a style that doesn’t mesh with the heavily shaded, photo-realistic approach to the majority of the book. It’s jarring, perhaps on purpose, but I also found it indicative of the mismatch between what the book is supposedly about and what we really see on the page.)
More seriously, I couldn’t figure out why this was in comic format. Many of the panels are simple images with the text running between them as captions or narration. Many images are clearly taken from photos or are visually uninteresting, there just to set the stage. Because so much of the story depends on research, with the subject unavailable and unwilling to participate, I would have found this more compelling as a documentary, perhaps, where we could see the actual photos and artifacts instead of redrawn versions of them.
I would also have liked to see more attention paid to the point at which an older Kupperman gets caught up in the rigged quiz show scandals of the 1950s. It’s mentioned here almost in passing, mostly to reinforce how, for supposedly being so smart, Joel Kupperman did as he was told and was generally miserable.
We see so little beyond these public images, maybe because of Kupperman’s caution in delving too deep into family psychodramatics, that the story can’t have the impact he wishes for it. The cover copy also asserts that the story is one of “pro-Jewish propaganda meant to counteract anti-Semitism” (because the Quiz Kids were mostly Jewish), but I think that’s also a reach. This in-depth reaction to All the Answers tackles that question, and the one of format, in more depth.
In short, All the Answers touches on fascinating topics, including how celebrity warps lives, but the end result is unsatisfying, and visually, it’s a dull read.