This is a blast from the past. I was organizing some old links and this jumped out immediately! It’s an old ComicComics (who also misses ComicsComics?) post written by Frank Santoro. My comics at the time were appearing in the MOME anthology published by Fantagraphics. Frank’s take on my comics was an important and eye-opening moment for me. As I’m posting Adalbert Arcane’s notes to the new edition, it was fun to revisit this take. The post predates (by a few years) the first collected edition of Beta Testing the Apocalypse.
Frank has a fun no-nonsense writing style. A few snippets:
“This isn’t a review or anything that attempts to cast a truly critical eye on the comics work of Tom Kaczynski. It’s more of an appreciation. For me, Tom’s work is an oasis in the desert. And the desert is contemporary alternative comics. I find 80% of today’s alt-comics poorly constructed — a veritable colony of lean-to shacks that could be blown over in a strong wind. In contrast, Tom K builds comics that could be likened to a brick house. These are solid comics. Is it any surprise that many of his stories have to do with architecture or that he went to architecture school?”
I feel firmly rooted in Tom’s stories. I understand where the characters are, where I am as a reader. Never a bottle-necked area of the page or spread. It’s all very clear and airy, like walking through some Beaux-Arts 19th century library building. There are clear sight lines and strong centers on every page.
On 100,000 Miles:
The “Highway Story” (100,000 miles) is interesting because it balances a certain sense of movement along with a realistic, believable sense of scale. Cars packed on a highway in slow motion, car crashes, cars lined up in a parking lot. Close-ups of the protagonist in his car and long shots of endless highway ribbons. It’s a short story, maybe only 8 or 9 pages—yet within the first couple pages a world is defined by the landscape itself.
On 976 sq ft:
The “Condo Story” (976 sq ft) in contrast is less about balancing movement & scale as it is about scale itself. It opens with a couple on a rooftop looking down on to the street where a woman is walking a dog. So immediately here is the set-up: Seeing the world, or more specifically a neighborhood as a scale model. There is also a wonderful transition where the condo in real life fades into an architectural scale model of the same building.
On Million Year Boom:
The “Corporation Story” (Million Year Boom). I can clearly see in my mind how perspectives & sightlines carry the reader across panels and the spreads of this story. There are very strong “horizontals” in this story (almost in counterpoint to the strong “verticals” present in the “condo story”). The corporate headquarters is low & wide, and the page compositions are tailored to convey the sense of open yet contained space. There’s a great scene when the protagonist dives into a long rectangular pool that spans two panels.
I really enjoy his writing and drawing. He definitely owes a debt to the works of J.G. Ballard and Daniel Clowes. This is not a bad thing. Ballard was a surgeon with his words and the same could be said for Clowes with his drawing. Kaczynski has incorporated both masters’ approaches into his own work in a way that I find inspirational. He went through his influences and came out on the other side with something new, something his own. Like some hauntingly familiar “house style,” the approach fits the subject matter like a glove.
I can’t overemphasize how personally important this post was back when I was working on these stories for MOME. It’s rare when you find a reader that looks at your works this closely and just groks the vibe. Frank zeroes in on several sequences and moments that I agonized over. To have a reader unpack the structure of the comics with such precision was (and still is) personally very gratifying and gave me the oxygen to keep working on this material. I don’t know if I ever said thank you? Thank you, Frank!
- Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar 7-8 (1982)
- Mutants, Supermen, New Soviet Men, and Homo Superior: Olaf Stapledon’s Odd John
- Beta Testing the Ongoing Apocalypse: Adalbert Arcane’s Notes and Theories to 976 SQ. FT.
- Dreadstar #5-6 (1982)
- Will Eisner’s Narrative Architecture; Notes on The Contract With God Trilogy