Yearning for Space

It was my pleasure and an honor to have been interviewed by James Romberger for the Hooded Utilitarian. I already wrote that his work was very important to me in my formative years. Getting the chance to publish his new work and getting to know him has been a blast! Here’s a little excerpt where we splice Jack Kirby with J.G. Ballard:

James: I just read another interview with you that Kent Worcester did, where you cited a specific Jack Kirby image from his 2001 comic, a panel of a man walking up to a building that is just a huge wall of windows—it freaked me out because that is one of my favorites of Kirby’s and it is part of a passage that I had actually thought of mentioning to you! The Earth Jack depicts is so polluted and crowded, a world where pure air can only be breathed out of bottles that one must purchase as we do water, an existence so dehumanized that the protagonist feels he must join the space program, to escape in order to realize any sort of life for himself.

Jack Kirby, from "Norton of New York, 2040 A.D.", 2001 #5, Marvel Comics, 1977

Jack Kirby, from “Norton of New York, 2040 A.D.”, 2001 #5, Marvel Comics, 1977

Your work gives me a similar feeling, as if you are dealing with expressing what it is like to live in a world that has gone beyond the point of no return, but with no escape possible, as if all we can do is construct semblances of sanity for ourselves, that work within the insane structures that we must fit into.

Tom: I love that Kirby image! I believe that was from 2001 #5? I agree with what you’re saying here. One of my favorite J.G. Ballard stories is “Billenium” about an overcrowded world where everyone basically lives on top of everyone else. The protagonists in that story find a hidden room and all that new space is an almost unimaginable luxury. They proceed to share the new space with some friends and family until it fills up and becomes indistinguishable from the rest of the world. We need to find these spaces (whether real or imagined) and inhabit them; to create germs of possible and impossible new worlds… hopefully better ones. There’s a danger in that. Things could get worse… but sometimes not doing anything at all, is worst of all. One thing I hesitate doing in my stories is to destroy the world. If “Billenium” was an Italo Calvino story, that room could be a germ of a new city; an invisible city growing in the midst of the old one… and eventually it would grow to replace it. I think we need a better imagination, one that goes beyond wishing for the apocalypse.

Of course the interview was primarily about Beta Testing the Apocalypse. Here’s a little exchange on the index of the book (yes, I love talking about the index!):

James: I’ve never seen an index that alphabetically listed every sound effect in a comic before. And Ballard’s entry leads to a highway sign in a panel for “Ballard Golf Heaven”, and I liked how the table of contents is figured on a greater timeline, but isn’t much help in locating the stories. Such details play with the new climate in comics where we should try to accommodate future scholarship, by ensuring that page numbers are included, etc.—-you certainly left a lot of room for examining this thing through different “lenses”….we’ve come a long way!

Tom: Ha! Well, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do with comics. Indices, notes, and glossaries are some of my favorite things in books and I didn’t want my book to be left out! This all comes out of lots of conversations I’ve had with cartoonists and writers over the last few years. In the end I wanted the index to be another story in the book. One that comments and explicates the other stories. Some entries are in there for fun. Like the sound effects, or cars. Others alert the reader to concepts or phrases that have been quoted, mutated or just plain stolen. One thing that is often left out of comics criticism are the images. They are often examined in terms of plot or composition, but rarely do writers get into the complex visual references that often show up in comics. One of my favorites pieces of writing on comics is a Ken Parille piece on Clowes’ David Boring that excavated the connections to Hitchcock’sVertigo among many other things. I hope in some future edition, the book can be published with an index. Other cartoonists have played with this kind of material. Kevin Huizenga comes to mind with fake indices & glossaries. In fact I was just working with Kevin (& Dan Zettwoch) on the index to their next book, Amazing Facts & Beyond. It’s amazing and goes way beyond my index! In fact they called it the beyondex! Maybe we can start a trend! Index wars!

Check out the rest of the interview here. Check out James’ Post York, and the new edition of 7 Miles a Second. Beta Testing the Apocalypse is available here.

Just Apes: Beta Testing The Apocalypse

An amazing review of Beta Testing the Apocalypse went live recently on Rob Clough’s HighLow blog. Rob really gets into it. Here are a couple of excerpts (warning there are some spoilers here!):

Kaczynski tops himself with “Million Year Boom”, about a brand expert who winds up working for a bizarre “green” company, trying to come up with a corporate logo as it prepares to go public. This is an insane stew of paranoia, devolution, corporate messiahs, and global capitalism fused with a tribal, scatological mindset. The final panel, where the protagonist’s blood spewing across a door gives him the inspiration for the logo, is a stunning moment.

[…]

Kaczynski really has his finger on the collective neuroses of the new millennium.  A recurring theme in this book is how Kaczynski taps into how various of our senses have been warped through modern living. In “Noise: A History”, Kaczynski boils down the history of the world in terms of random events and how many decibels they measured out to, from the big bang to the falling of rustling leaves. He links past to present through the use of that measure of sound, providing an interesting shorthand for understanding the world in its greatest, worst, and most indifferent moments.

Read the whole review here.

Beta Testing on The Morton Report

A new interview, this time with the Bill Baker at Morton Report. We get into one of my favorite topics: architecture. Here’s a taste:

What prompted your decision to become a creator of comics, a builder of stories, if you will, rather than a creator of buildings?

I think there are a lot of similarities. As I mentioned, the part of architecture that really spoke to me was “paper architecture.” People like Lebbeus Woods, Le Corbusier, and Étienne-Louis Boullée used drawings to create buildings based on specific ideas. Some are real proposals, some are real but probably unbuildable, and some are completely impossible… they all work as concrete representations of ideas about humans, the world and the cosmos.

Chris Ware, among others, has proposed that comics are a way of thinking. He is also one of the few cartoonists that has taken that idea to its limits. That is analogous to architecture, I think. I also find it interesting that Chris Ware is very interested in architecture.

What do you get from creating comics, generally, and what did you get from creating Beta Testing the Apocalypse?

This is very difficult to answer. This is my medium and much of my creative output is bound up with it. At some point in your life, you grow into the medium that works the way you think. I think comics are that for me. But it works both ways, the more comics you make the more you think in those terms…

Read the rest here.

Is This The Future? Beta Testing Reviewed by Bookslut

Another nice review of Beta Testing The Apocalypse come in. This time it’s at Bookslut:

But what else are these bewildered men and women supposed to do but struggle to find appropriate metaphors? If Beta Testing is an instruction manual, it’s not one they can read. Those with jobs don’t know what those jobs entail. Those with apartments notice too late everything’s made of papier-mâché. The book quotes Freud’s axiom that anatomy is destiny — but DNA is untrustworthy, too. Subjectivities shift. Cities and their inhabitants collapse into one, if you’re lucky, or overwrite your existence altogether if not. Ballard wrote that the triple pillars of science fiction are time, space, and identity. Here it’s impossible to tell where one ends and another begins.

Is this the future? Does it have to be? The curse of the man in Kaczynski’s “10000 Years” is to dream he is a Martian. “I don’t have the right constitution for this world,” he thinks. “I’m on the wrong planet.” But for us, reading his story, his curse is a useful genetic mutation. Science fiction is notoriously unreliable when it comes to predicting Saturn dreams, laser beams, and 21st century sex machines. It’s fantastic, however, at taking our present reality and making it strange again. Beta Testing The Apocalypse makes us Martians to better let us see what’s happening all around us.

Read it and witness the disquieting Gernsback of Now.

The whole review can be found here.

Beta Testing The Apocalypse Reviewed by Miami Herald

Beta Testing the Apocalypse

This one is a short capsule review, so I’ll post the whole thing here:

His functional and utilitarian art is often reminiscent of the insanely proper illustrations in Jack Chick’s religious tracts, but Kaczynski’s own wildly anarchic imagination fuels his insightful and unsettling narrative. He combines socioeconomic fact, fantasy and farce in this seriously paranoid criticism of modernity, and the result is a disturbing but hilarious tale of identity loss and consumerism run amok.

See the Beta Testing The Apocalypse Review on Miami Herald.

Democratizing Objects: A Discussion with Tom Kaczynski

Another fun interview, this time with Nick Hanover at The Comics Bulletin. We meander around a variety of topics: music, science-fiction, architecture, Quest for Fire, and much more. Here’s an exchange about the genesis of “100,000 Miles,” the lead story from Beta Testing The Apocalypse, and the story that was ultimately the genesis of the book itself:

CB: There’s a lot of flexibility in terms of perspective in your writing, too. For instance, “100,000 Miles” is mostly written from the perspective of a car.

TK: [laughs]

CB: It’s hard to describe to people, but that’s such a cool idea, it really worked. How do you get into the mind frame of something like that? How do you make yourself think like that? Because it worked perfectly, it had almost this semi-autistic bent, which made perfect sense to me for a vehicle.

TK: With that particular one, that story was based on the time I lived in DC. And I had this murderous commute, that was 45 minutes to an hour. I would just sit there in this commute and think about this stuff. It was kind of interesting, because you got to drive in the city, Washington D.C. itself, and then out into this corridor by Dulles International Airport, this sort of tech corridor that was out there. You’d drive through the suburbs and these communities and I wanted to create some kind of narrative about the city and its surroundings, just kind of an essay. So this journey in a car became the structure for that. The way it’s written, a lot of it is kind of not stolen, but influenced by a lot of architectural texts, and the way they write about these things. Some architects tend to be more imaginative than others and get metaphorical, or whatever. So that’s kind of the genesis for this thing.

It also has some process art, like this big splash page from “The New:”

 

Read the rest fo the interview here.

Beta Testing Reviewed by The Comics Journal

A new review of Beta Testing the Apocalypse, this time by The Comics Journal! As a reader of The Comics Journal since issue 148 (Charles Burns Interview. I miss the paper issues!), I’m pleased as punch. Here’s an excerpt:

[…] One of the pleasures of reading Beta Testing, as in other watershed collections like Caricature,Curses, or Everything Together, lies in watching a cartoonist become less mindful of his precursors, less rote in his treatment of subject matter, both freer and more assured. As the book progresses, Kaczynski sloughs off influence, just as his characters slip away from civilization. A breakthrough story like 2008’s “Million Year Boom” nearly brings the book to a halt halfway through with its impressive and authentic weirdness, yet still retains the stamp of millenarian systems novelists, still partakes of the old dead-eyed Clowesian aloofness. By the time we reach the concluding story, “The New”—at once an ode to modernist architecture and an allegory literalizing the decline of the west, created uniquely for this volume—Kaczynski’s layouts have exploded into space, cities and buildings splayed out on the page in startling and diagrammatic splashes.

Also, the review delves into the index, which is personally very satisfying. I’m always curious how people will react to it:

To his credit, Kaczynski acknowledges as much, duly footnoting his book’s debt to J.G. Ballard’s drowned worlds and concrete islands in an index that records other oblique references to Jane Jacobs and Slavoj Žižek—though entries for “Gibson, William,” or “DeLillo, Don” remain curiously absent. Kaczynski’s looming dread and sub/urban automata owe at least as much to White Noise as his vision of mechanized, entropic modernity does to The Atrocity Exhibition, not to mention his pontifications on gleaming consumerism: “Consider the modern bathroom. … How did this antiseptic room where excrement magically disappears come to be?” In such revelations of the science-fictional in the everyday—Kaczynski also invokes grain silos and utilitarian office buildings as totems of some alien race—the cartoonist conducts a kind of archaeology of the future from among our commonplace existence, in much the same way the Godard of Alphaville or the Tarkovsky of Stalkercalled forth the otherworldly moonscapes that have always been dormant in what our culture has erected or let fall into ruin.

William Gibson should’ve been there, but Don DeLillo I’ve never read. Here’s hoping there’s a second edition so I can tinker with the index some more!

The rest of the review is here.

Tom Kaczynski Interviewed by The Rumpus

beta-testing-cozy-apocalypse

This was a fun interview. Greg Hunter (interrogating on behalf of The Rumpus) asked a lot of good questions I haven’t been asked before. It definitely left me stumped a couple of times:

Rumpus: “Cozy Apocalypse” from Beta Testing engages with masculinity, and “masculinity in crisis,” more overtly than your other works, and I was wondering if masculinity was the starting point of that story—something you knew you wanted to tackle—or if it was something you found yourself tackling as you went.

Kaczynski: It was not the starting point, but it kind of became [the focal point]. Like, I didn’t really realize what I was writing until I was deeply into it. The story’s about a pending apocalypse, but there’s also these weird marital things going on. And I find that those two things can be intertwined: the twilight of masculinity and this apocalyptic imagining of our world falling apart. I think those thing must be unconsciously connected in the story. Now that you mention it, I’m like, “Oh yeah, duh,” but that wasn’t my primary exploration.

Rumpus: And I’m sure there are things at, as a reader, I look for and project.

Kaczynski: No, it’s good. Because most people, when they talk about that story, they talk about the apocalypse part of it. You’ve pulled out something else…which seems obvious in retrospect.

Read the whole interview here. Oh, and check out a 3 page preview of ‘Million Year Boom’ from the book.

Beta Testing Reviewed at Comics Bulletin

beta-testing-the-apocalypse-by-tom-kaczynski

Another review of Beta Testing The Apocalypse surfaced a little while ago. This one was fun to read:

Kaczynski’s new collection Beta Testing the Apocalypse is weird as all fuck and funny as all shit, a Singles Going Steady for the art comix crowd that merges Burroughs’ cut-up commentary with Ballard’s keen tech consumer insight and siliconic wit. Working in a style that is a perplexing mix of dot matrix detailing, architectural blue print exactness and razor blade xeroxing looseness, Kaczynski uses Beta Testing the Apocalypse as a platform for his interest in the anxieties of the ever shifting expansiveness of 21st century life, a life Kaczynski obviously inhabits, too, but somehow does so with a verve and clarity the rest of us lack.

See the the rest here.

Beta Testing Civilization

BETA TESTING CIVILIZATION

TOM KACZYNSKI

ZAK SALLY . VINCENT STALL . DAN WIEKEN . DEREK VAN GIESON . PETER WARTMAN

You’re invited to celebrate, with cartoonist / publisher Tom Kaczynski, the release of his book Beta Testing the Apocalypse (Fantagraphics) and the unveiling of the Uncivilized Books’ Five Year Plan. He also invited the entire Twin Cities Uncivilized Books artist roster. We know you won’t mind. Many copies of Beta Testing The Apocalypse have been specially released from the bunker and a commemorative red ink will be used in authorizing your copies. After the event, there will be mandatory fun at the Downtown Grumpy’s.

THURSDAY JANUARY, 24. 2013
5 TO 7 PM

BIG BRAIN COMICS
1027 Washington Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55415 (612) 338-4390

beta-testing-the-apocalypse-by-tom-kaczynski

Comics Reporter Interview

I can’t believe this never got posted on my blog. I’m my own worst enemy! If you haven’t already seen it, I was interviewed by Tom Spurgeon at Comics Reporter. Tom’s questions tended to broader than usual and it felt like looking of my whole comics trajectory from a birds-eye point of view. It was fun conversation. Here’s a sample:

SPURGEON: There’s an anxiety present in a lot of your stories. It seems like the kind of deliberate planning you talk about would be a comfort to a lot of people, that these things are planned. So I find the anxiousness curious. The fact that these thoughts are more arbitrary, or might reflect not-friendly impulses, is that maybe the source of the anxiety?

imageKACZYNSKI: I think the knowledge is comforting, but the anxiety… it’s not even my anxiety but a general anxiety that in the US has been palpable since at least 9/11. There was an apocalyptic mindset. Things are falling apart. Things are coming to a head. There’s a clash of civilizations going on. With the financial crisis, capitalism is cracking, and what does that all mean? I feel like I’m tapping into a little bit of that general anxiety.

Personally I’m interested in utopias as well. That’s something I’m going to be more visible in my other book, the Trans Terra book that’s going to be coming out next year. There’s all this anxiety, and it’s very apocalyptic, and it feels like most people would prefer to see it all crumble as opposed to doing a few small things here and there to make things better. It’s more of a frustration for me more than anxiety. It does come out in the comics as an anxiety. I think it’s difficult to talk about. In the comics, especially the MOME stuff, they’re more literary in that I’m trying to get into the mindset of certain characters and people and how they would react to things where they don’t know there’s an underlying structure.

SPURGEON: Your comics are more focused on the mindset than the breakaway from the structured norm. There is a false apocalypse — you’re not as interested in seeing things fall down as exploring the mindset that believe that things are about to.

KACZYNSKI: Yeah, that’s partly why the book is called Beta-Testing The Apocalypse. [laughter] It’s not the actual apocalypse. We’re feeling it out. It’s hard to say exactly. It’s more like the anxiety of the apocalypse than the apocalypse itself. There’s a whole post-apocalyptic genre, and that’s something I used to be into, but I feel it’s more interesting to find out how it came about. What happens before the apocalypse? Right before it. What needs to happen to society for that to happen. I don’t know if you’ve read Jared Diamond‘s work — the scientist that wrote Guns, Germs and Steel. He also wrote a book about collapses of civilizations. That’s another interest of mine — ancient civilizations, and trying to imagine ourselves as a civilization that could end. How that could come about, and what mind set we’d need to get into to release and let go and let the whole thing crumble.

Read the rest here.