The Comics Journal Interview

I was interviewed over at The Comics Journal. We talked a lot about a variety of topics: Beta Testing the Apocalypse, Trans Terra, what’s new at Uncivilized Books, Marxism, crime fiction, the art of indexing and more! Here’s a taste:

Now, your upcoming Trans Terrabook is basically a collection of the four minicomics?

It’s the four original Trans mini-comics, plus a bunch of new material that wraps up that whole train of thought… or train wreck of thought or something. [Laughter.]

Those books seem to be part of a tradition in comics you don’t see that often any more—the kind of free-flowing rant or essay comics with the cartoonist walking around and acting as the narrator, like Clowes used to do, and Crumb and Peter Bagge. Were you consciously engaging with that tradition?

All those guys are big influences on me. I wasn’t consciously trying to do that, but when I’m looking back, I’m like, “Oh, yeah, well, duh, they were doing similar things.”[Hodler laughs.] I maybe get a little bit more overtly intellectual on mine —where I quote actual books and people — whereas they were a little bit more casual with their pontificating or whatever. [Laughter.] What I was doing originally with the Trans books… basically the first book was a kind of panicked, “I need to do something for the first MoCCA festival!” And I just kind of regurgitated all this stuff I was thinking about at that time very quickly. I got a pretty good response to it, and I was like, “Well, I might as well follow up, ‘cause I didn’t really finish my train of thought on the first one,” and I just kept going with that. Each book is more and more carefully thought out. I’ve been searching very slowly… hopefully when this book is out, I will have found something resembling a coherent thesis. [Laughter.]

The first three you did pretty close together?

Yeah, the first three were pretty close. I think they all came out within a year, year and a half. In the middle of that I got the opportunity to contribute to Mome, so that derailed the production on the Transbooks for a long time. I always thought of these Trans books as a little bit more casual, little bit more off-the-cuff, but the more I got into it, the more fascinated I got with using comics to explicate ideas. The more Mome stuff I was doing, the more I wanted to go back to the Trans comics and do more of that kind of work.

Did you ever consider doing that kind of thing for Mome?

I didn’t think it would fit. I thought about it, but I got in this very specific groove for Mome, that was a little bit Ballardian, a little bit science-fiction, and I just wanted to keep that going. If Mome had continued past issue 22, I may have done more of that kind of work in the future, but yeah, in Mome I wanted to keep a certain… a different level of work… a different kind of me. [Laughs.]

A Polish author you briefly mention in one of the minis, Witold Gombrowicz, wrote a novel—which I haven’t read—called Trans-Atlantyk, and I was wondering: Does that have anything to do with the titles of those minis?

No and yes. [Laughter.] I had read pretty much everything that Gombrowicz had written way before I didTrans Alaska. I read Trans-Atlantyk but it’s something that I had forgotten, and it wasn’t a conscious influence at first. When I did the Trans Alaska book, the title actually came last. I didn’t know what it was gonna be, so I was like “part of it is set in Alaska, so I’m just gonna call it Trans Alaska.” I decided to keep the “Trans” for the other books. I was writing about Atlantis in the third book, and I remembered that Gombrowicz did Trans-Atlantyk. I ended up calling the third book Trans-Atlantis. It wasn’t a specific reference, but more of a happy coincidence. But Gombrowicz definitely influenced me quite a bit, he’s one of my favorite authors. Just in terms of how he writes and more importantly his diaries. He was an émigré author, he left Poland at the beginning of World War II, and ended up living in Argentina for many years. If you read his diaries, it’s all about being a Polish person in the New World and his struggles with that. That was really important for me when I was younger. I identified with that kind of struggle.

I’ve meant to read him for a long time.

Ferdydurke, his first novel, is amazing I think.

Check out the rest here.

AV Club Beta Testing

The AV Club has the first review of Beta Testing the Apocalypse and it’s a pretty nice. Here’s a taste:

The story “Cozy Apocalypse,” which gives Kaczynski’s terrific anthology Beta Testing The Apocalypse (Fantagraphics) its name, is a case in point: In it, a married couple buys a house in the suburbs just before a natural disaster and a financial collapse hit back-to-back, and the pair snuggles up in their dream home, awaiting the end of the world that never comes. The piece is clearly commenting on the anxieties of today—global warming, economic strife, a generalized sense of disconnection from what’s reallyhappening—but none of it is literal, any more than the epic traffic jam that ends Kaczynski’s “100,000 Miles,” or the complex of grain silos that safeguards a global conspiracy in “Phase Transition.”

Read the rest here.

New French Trans Review

A short review of the French translation of the Trans books appeared on Mediapart. I asked my now-living-in-France little sister to do a quick translation:

“These two “books” are curious objects, perhaps “booklet” is a more accurate word. Reversible and (double??), four stories that are in dialogue with each other and that complete each other, written by Tom Kaczynski, edited by the independent press Alter Comics. Taking the form of a mini comic, the subject is rooted in reality and draws inspiration from Pat Kane, Momus, Richard Florida, Heraclitus, Breton, and Orwell…to explore philosophical and economic concepts. The “autofiction” form serves as a point of departure for introspection. tom Kaczynski examines the world, and his immigrant identity, his life as an author, graphic artist, and human. He invokes nostalgia and modernity, the inherent change and immutability of things. A reflection on capitalism, wisdom, urbanization, information overload, and creation. A quest that is realized through illustrations. Almost a utopia.

Also, it has come to my attention that North American Francophiles interested in this edition can get it from Amazon.ca: Trans Alaska / Trans Sibérie and Trans Atlantide / Trans Utopie.

Beta Testing the Apocalypse

Beta Testing the Apocalypse
beta-testing-the-apocalypse-by-tom-kaczynski

I’ve been quiet about my new book, Beta Testing the Apocalypse (Fantagraphics), mainly because, until very recently, I was still working on finishing all the art & design for it. Fantagraphics has already announced on their site, where it is also available for pre-order (hint, hint). I’m very excited to officially announce it here. What’s in the book you ask?

  • It collects most of my work from MOME. Finally, a single place to see all those stories.
  • Most of my work there was black & white, so I took some time and colored all the stories. The book will be printed in two-colors throughout. A different Pantone color for each story.
  • A brand new story ‘The New’!
  • A full index. I’ve never seen a proper index in a comic-book (at least I can’t remember seeing one). I’ve always wanted to be able to look up concepts or even just drawings or sequences based on an index. It was really fun to put together. I’m hoping to start a trend here…

Over the last few months, I’ve been wanting to post some art and progress reports on the book. In the end there was little time for that. In a way this felt like I had a chance to one more last MOME story, and it’s also the last time I was MOMEd. Over the next couple of months, in anticipation of the release, I’m going to share a bunch of drawings, ideas and other goodies about the book. Stay tuned!

Trans France

trans-french

I’ve always admired French comics, now I made one… sort of. I should’ve blogged this months ago. But, I became distracted by work on Beta Testing the Apocalypse. In May, 2012 a French edition of my Trans-series (Trans-Alaska, Siberia, Atlantis, Utopia) came out in two tiny hardcover volumes. Alter Comics published the books. Each one is a flip-book, with two comics back to back. I re-lettered each volume and re-worked a bunch of the graphics & typography to match the translation. I’m really happy how it turned out and extremely excited to have a book in French! As far as I know, there is one French review so far. If you are a French reader who has read it, please let me know what you think. I’m really curious how the translation reads over there.

This is also a homecoming for me. I grew up reading European comics like Thorgal, Valerian, Asterix, Lucky Luke, Kajko i Kokosz, Funky Koval, etc. I’m honored my own comics now appear on European soil. Seeing my own work translated, made me realize how little European work makes it over the Atlantic to the US. It inspired me to bring more European work to America via my Uncivilized Books project. Look for some announcements about these plans are coming real soon!

MIX + Minneapolis / St. Paul Comics Scene Report

mix 2011 poter by tom kaczynski

My Minneapolis / St. Paul comics scene report went up over the weekend on Frank Santoro‘s Riff Raff column over at the Comics Journal. Frank asked for 400 words. I pretty much ignored him and turned in 2000. Not on purpose Frank!

After having lived in New York for almost a decade I expected a hard adjustment to a smaller Minneapolis scene when I moved back three years ago. But it became quickly apparent that the Minneapolis/St. Paul comics scene was nothing to sneeze at. In fact, the Twin Cities really are one of the great comics places in the US. Anyway, I’m sure I missed a lot of people in my report, so feel free to point them out! Heck, if you think you can do a better & more exhaustive Mpls/St. Paul report go for it! And Let me know when/if you do it. Actually, wouldn’t it great if there was a sort of ‘annual report’ that summed up the comics scene every year? I’d love to see something like it. Check out my effort out if you haven’t already.

As part of the report I was also going to do a MIX 2011 report, but things got wordy and I’m sure Frank appreciates that I didn’t include it in the piece. Instead I was going to detail my impressions on this blog. However, in the meantime, cartoonist Dustin Harbin wrote a great exhaustive report on the eXpo. He pretty much nailed it. Instead of wasting more pixels on yet another report, you should all just read his. I really appreciate his honest take. From my local perspective it was a great show. An amazing array of guests (Koyama Press! Adhouse! Top Shelf! Jim Rugg! Dustin Harbin! Ander Nilsen! Sarah Glidden! Julia Wertz! John Porcellino! Mike Dawson! Eamon Espy! Jon Lewis! Karen Sneider! Robyn Chapman! Rina Ayuyang! David Huyck! Microcosm! + more!) arrived and seemed to have a great time. I made decent money, but it’s hard not to do that at you local show when you don’t have travel expenses to contend with. My main concern was with the out of town guests. I really wanted them to do well, have a great time and come back in the future. I hope they will. Kudos to Sarah Morean for pulling off a great show. Check out Dustin’s report. Oh and I uploaded all my MIX pics to Flicker if anyone cares.

mix 2011 banner by tom kaczynski

Music for Neanderthals

mome 22 - music for neanderthals by tom kaczynski

Here’s another item I neglected to note: the passing of the MOME anthology. My first comic for MOME appeared in issue #7. That time seems impossibly distant. I was still living in New York at that time and hadn’t published much of anything… besides a bunch of mini-comics and short pieces here and there. I was grateful & excited to be included and produced a steady stream of  short pieces for my first few issues. I was unable to keep up that productivity indefinitely, which was just as well. There were other cartoonists waiting in the wings for a chance to be included. But since then, MOME became a constant presence. Whenever I came up with some crazy short story idea I knew it would probably find a place in some future volume of the anthology. Well no longer. MOME closed it’s doors this summer with issue 22. I was fortunate enough to be able to contribute to the last volume. My final MOME story is called “Music for Neanderthals.” In retrospect the theme of extinction was fitting…

I think MOME’s influence will reverberate into the future and will have an outsized effect on future comics… or maybe that’s just my wishful thinking. Here’s to MOME! It will be missed.

Fantagraphics posted some preview pics of the last issue. You can ge the book here.

Nominated

ignatz the mouse
image from andertoons

It’s been quiet around here for a few weeks. The good thing about job 2.0 is that, unlike job 1.0, you can blow it off without much consequences. Oh sure, your search engine rankings are going to start tanking, people who read your blow start dropping off slowly, cobwebs start forming on your home page… (do people still say ‘home page’?) but really what other consequences are there?

I’ll try to catch up and post of some recent news. First up, a few weeks ago I got nominated for an Ignatz Award in the Outstanding Mini-Comic category. I probably should have mounted a campaign to try to win the award, but I never got around to it. I didn’t go to SPX either. It looked like a good show from afar. Congratulations to the Ignatz Winners!