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‘Ruins: A Graphic Novel TPB (review)

Written and Illustrated by Peter Kuper
Published by Abrams Books / SelfMadeHero


Peter Kuper is a visionary comic books creator that really does some innovative stuff with his work. Every book he does is a treat, both visually and narratively. He pushes the boundaries with each and every work and he makes books that I have never seen before. You really need to push your perceptions when you dive into his work. That certainly is the way this book is well. It is a book that is hard to describe yet rewarding in so many ways that you just do not expect.

Reading a book by Kuper is one that you have to immerse yourself in, and let it just wash over you, for better or worse. Usually, it is for better.

So what is this book about?

Well, that is hard enough to explain in of itself. The book takes a chance right off the bat. Kuper decides to follow two separate narratives as the story of the book.

The first one is quite beautiful as it follows the migration of a monarch butterfly. It follows the butterfly’s migration all the way from Canada all the way to Mexico if you can believe that. The strange thing really is how completely compelling it is. You might think that it sounds boring but it is anything but. It is a testament to Kuper’s ability as a storyteller just how compelling it actually is. It great work indeed.

The second story just follows a couple who have decided to take a sabbatical in Oaxaca. The couple, George and Samantha are both at a sort of crossroads in their lives. George is an entomologist and he has undo lost his job and is dealing with everything that comes with that. Samantha is using this time to write her book. The two are dealing with some real conflict in their marriage as well. Should it be saved? Is it even worth saving? Are the two of them capable of saving it? All of these questions are in the background for this couple’s story and you can feel it on each and every panel.

Samantha also had an end goal in mind to have a child. But is George the person to be the father? He doesn’t seem to be too much on board with it. That puts the couple in conflict with each other. They are really closed off to each other other’s emotions and act coldly towards each other. This makes it a bit hard to like either character but you definitely start to sympathize with them both as the book goes on.

Not a lot happens as far as advancing the plot but what is there definitely advances the characters, even in small ways.

The narrative of the butterfly definitely parallels the story of George and Samantha, sometimes in some really surprising ways. The butterfly takes us through a few places in America as part of its journeys. We get to see it pass tenement houses in New York City for instance. There is a theme in the book that demonstrates the beauty of nature contrasted by the ugly nature of man. Kuper is anything but subtle in exploring it but it is nonetheless compelling. The parallels he draws are really great and there are some interesting things happening in each scene as they come up for sure.

There are more parallels as the butterfly flies around that happens throughout the book, yet they all happen in different locations and have a repetitive nature about that. That is okay, because they are are continuously involving and interesting. George and Samantha meanwhile go about exploring the city of Oaxaca and have various adventures and experiences as the book progresses. There are definitely some intriguing moments that happen that go beyond a normal comic reading experience. It is more human than most comics dare try being.

Peter Kuper has been doing these more experimental comics for a long time now. He is one of those creators that always does an excellent job of pushing his art further. This is another testament to his genius and it is actually one of his more accessible works  (It won the Eisner Award in 2016 for ‘Best Graphic Album’.)

I loved it and I hope that he keeps putting out work like this until he can’t anymore. It is a strong book for sure.


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