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Satirist, Spy, Soldier, Sex Machine: 'Mark Twain's Autobiography: 1910-2010'

Mark Twain's Autobiography 1910-2010
Mark Twain's Autobiography 1910-2010

by Michael Kupperman

Hardcover, 148 pages | purchase

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Mark Twain's Autobiography 1910-2010
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Michael Kupperman

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We've attempted to push cartoonist Michael Kupperman on you several times before. His ongoing Tales Designed to Thrizzle series produced one of the best - and for my money the funniest - comic book of 2010; I also pimped that book on an early episode of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast.

In his just-published Mark Twain's Autobiography: 1910-2010, Kupperman recounts a recent encounter with a very-much-not-dead Samuel Clemens, Bard of Hannibal, who thrust a manuscript into his hand ("Publish this ... under your name, [so] people will be free not to believe a word of it! ... You should decorate it with your silly drawings, to further undermine the credibility. Perhaps a few comical strips as well.")

Kupperman duly obliged. The result, as a physical object, is a book that most resembles those Biographies of Great Americans books that collected dust on the shelves of your third-grade classroom, the ones that only the nerdiest kids (hi!) ever perused, featuring short chapters and frequent full-page illustrations (though Kupperman does present two chapters in comics form).

Any resemblance to those books vanishes quickly, let's note, once you actually start reading the thing.

"About those reports of my death..." Art from Mark Twain's Autobiography, 1910-2010 i i
Fantagraphics Books
"About those reports of my death..." Art from Mark Twain's Autobiography, 1910-2010
Fantagraphics Books

According to Twain, he never died, "but those same old rumors got exaggerated and then a bunch of other stuff happened...." Other stuff such as being kept alive by a wizard's spell, for example.

Twain says he passed the years immediately following his not-death aimlessly. For a while he pretended to be a ghost: "... I began to enjoy my supposed supernatural status. I was absolved of most of the traditional duties of life, and I delighted in chasing people around the house while moaning, 'whoooooooooooo.'"

But that soon palled. Quoth he: "Disguising myself as a nearsighted washerwoman, I slipped out through the crowd one morning and headed for Europe, where I hoped to build a new life....When I arrived in Italy I dyed my hair and mustache black and became hot-blooded Michelangelo Buonatestes, the 'shoutiest man in Naples.'"

A Man of Letters (S, E, X and Y, That Is)

Decades of high adventure follow, documented in short chapters with titles like "Drifts and Grifts" (detailing his ill-fated investment in the snack food industry during the Great Depression: Chocolives - The Premium Chocolate-Covered Olive!); "Ant I Am Telling You" (he and "Al" Einstein drink a shrinking potion and live among the ant people); "The Loin Goodbye" (Twain and Einstein, private dicks); "My Wit Gets More Acid" (a 1967 encounter with LSD); and "I Tingle America's Dingle" (in the swingin' 70s, Twain gets his Boogie Nights on.)

There's more, much more: Dalliances with Marilyn Monroe, Mamie Eisenhower and Princess Loona of the Moon People; a stint as a Madison Avenue ad executive hawking GI Drink, "the World War II beverage that had been developed for our troops from a failed version of penicillin, mixed with vanilla and clam juice"; a guest starring role on The Love Boat; and so - weirdly, wondrously - on.

You get the idea: This is hugely imaginative, exultantly silly, gag-a-minute writing that manages to comment on the popular culture of the last century while willfully wallowing in it — Python with a wry dose of Pynchon.

Were you, dear reader, to ask me if the brevity of the book's chronologically arranged but narratively stand-alone chapters made it an ideal book for bathroom reading, I would call you a coarse, disgusting pig-person, demand that you leave my office, and wipe down the chair you'd been sitting in.

... But, yes.

Attention: New York City Residents. Are You Ready to Laaaaff?

Starting tomorrow, September 29th, Kupperman will be doing comedy shows featuring his comics on the fourth Thursday of every month at Luca Lounge on Avenue B in Manhattan. Starting in October, he will be joined on these evenings by the great Kate Beaton, whom we've just finished raving about. This is a thing you should do, if you can.

We leave you with this image from an early chapter of Mark Twain's Autobiography: 1910-2010 called "I Control the Controlling Gaze," wherein Twain becomes a Master Hypnotist in an ill-fated attempt to cadge, from his local baker, some free donuts.

Look on't only if ye dare, for great and terrible is its power to make ye surrender any maple-glazed ye may be carrying.

"Gaaaaaze into my mustache. Feel its powwwwer." Art from Mark Twain's Autobiography: 1910-2010.
Fantagraphics Books.

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