All the Answers is part biography, part cultural study and part relationship analysis.
It can often be difficult to think of those who brought us into the world as individuals with entire life stories that exist outside of their role as parents. When the realization takes hold that your mother or father had a rich existence prior to your own, you start to see them in an entirely different light. If we’re lucky, we will come to this realization well in advance of any sort of mental or physical deterioration so that we can learn this secret history before it vanishes forever. For Michael Kupperman, the pursuit of answers began just as they began slipping away.
Kupperman’s father, Joel, was a child prodigy featured prominently on the radio and then television program Quiz Kids. Each week, a panel of children would be given a series of listener-submitted questions to answer. Joel, seven when he began his nearly 10-year stint on the show, astounded audiences with his ability to quickly and correctly answer everything from basic trivia to complex mathematical equations. The latter was his true claim to fame. Able to answer each and every math-based question in his head, Joel became something of a national celebrity at a time when the United States was just coming out of the Great Depression and heading into the second World War. In other words, his youthful brilliance represented a shining beacon of hope for a brighter future.
Having won considerable sums of money, appeared in at least one Hollywood film and become acquaintances with everyone from Orson Welles to Henry Ford to the Marx Brothers, Joel was the epitome of a child star. And as with so many child stars before and since, his story did not feature a happy ending. With his overzealous mother acting as the stereotypical “stage mom” forcing Joel ever onward in Quiz Kids and a host of other quiz-related programs and formats, his intelligence in trivial matters continued to soar while his ability to think for himself – and essentially function as a human being – began to lag significantly.
By the time he reached his late teens – the point at which Quiz Kids “graduated” its contestants – he was an awkward, ungainly, albeit brilliant, young man without a sense of self. With his identity wrapped up in the quiz kid persona that had been manufactured around him, Joel struggled to find his place. At one point, it was suggested to him to go to Europe for a time to further his education. It was a thought that had never crossed his mind, so ensconced was he in the world of Quiz Kids. Returning to the United States, Joel attempted a comeback of sorts on the quiz show circuit, this time agreeing to appear on the notorious $64,000 Question.
Apparently unaware of the so-called quiz show scandals, Joel became disillusioned by the whole process as the reality of the situation set in. Where before he had rattled off answers of his own accord, here he was essentially playing out a scripted contest. Abruptly quitting the program and walking away from his life as a quiz show prodigy, Joel went on to a life spent teaching and writing about philosophy. Notably, his focus was on morality.
Michael Kupperman’s excellent new graphic novel attempts to shed some light on these formative years, a time about which his father steadfastly refused to discuss in any capacity. With dementia slowly setting in, Michael realizes this might well be his last chance to get the answers he seeks and learn the hows and whys of his father. Here we’re shown how aloof Joel was in Michael’s upbringing, his intelligence mistaken for an air of general absent-mindedness. As he begins digging, Michael uncovers a series of scrapbooks kept by his grandmother during her stage mother years. Slowly, he begins putting the pieces together, realizing just how, for lack of a better word, shitty his father’s childhood really was.
As the elder Kupperman slowly begins revealing bits and pieces of information about his time as a quiz kid, Michael in turn starts to gain a better appreciation of and for the type of childhood his father experienced. From being positioned as a force against anti-Semitism – part of which resulted in the aforementioned meeting with noted anti-Semite-turned-apologist Henry Ford – to the future of not only the Jewish people in America but the country as a whole, Joel’s childhood was saddled with an incredibly burdensome weight. This newfound knowledge helps recast Michael’s view of his father, moving from distant, absent-minded father to a tragic figure who spent his adult years trying to put his formative years completely and totally behind him.
All the Answers is part biography, part cultural study and part relationship analysis. It’s this latter component that proves most affecting as Michael comes to see his father in a whole new light, coming to understand the forces that shaped the man he became. Nothing is even conveniently wrapped up and resolved in real life, and All the Answers is no different, his father slipping further into the throes of dementia just as Michael began his greater understanding. Though still alive, Joel has lost the last traces of those missing years, times and incidents that have now been lost forever. While the specifics may have been lost, the broader understanding between father and son has been solidified to a greater degree, making All the Answers a story of family dynamics, self-discovery and the tragic lives of child stars.