I bring my cartoon-theoretical focus on contemporary neuroses, obsessions, and contradictions. Did you know about the 36th CHAMBER OF COMMERCE? Get productivity tips from a master of Shaolin kung fu! Is there any possibility of Utopia after an orgy of modernity? What are komicxs? Irreverent, funny, and DINKy-award-winning Cartoon Dialectics becomes a regular series.
It’s difficult to hype your own work. I should know, I started a whole publishing company just to avoid hyping my own work! But, it’s very gratifying to see your own work on any best of list. When the list written by a writer you admire, well that’s even better! Cartoon Dialectics Vol. 3 makes it on the Best of 2018 list at Your Chicken Enemy. Here’s what they have to say:
Cartoon Dialectics #3 looks like a humble, unobtrusive work– it’s packaged like a zine, printed in purple, black and white with an occasional splash of yellow on somewhat thick, matte paper. But what Tom Kaczynski and Clara Jetsmark provide between its covers is powerful, invigorating stuff, connecting the dots between our society’s retromania and the rise of neo-fascism, while also acknowledging how easy it is for anyone to fall prey to the dangerous allure of nostalgia.
Bold in its aesthetic and literal simplicity and paradoxically educational and surreal, Cartoon Dialectics #3 did a far better job investigating where we are now and why in its few pages than the entirety of the New York Times this year.Nick Hanover
A big thank you goes to The Nib for commissioning the piece in the first place. Another big thank you goes to Clara Jetsmark who bravely agreed to draw it on a very tight deadline when I ended swamped with other work.
Here’s a short few page preview of this comic for those who haven’t seen it yet:
You can order a copy here:Order Cartoon Dialectics Vol. 3
Superbowl Sundays are pretty great if you’re into football. They maybe even better if you’re not… A lot of places that would normally be packed on Sunday become deserted when the game begins. For example, did you know skiing becomes a close to solitary affair once everyone trades slopes for couches? Consider that a hot tip for the next Superbowl Sunday.
It’s always a cause for celebration when a new cartoonists moves to your town. When Derek Van Gieson arrived in Minneapolis I was pretty excited. We were both MOME contributors and I really liked his work. Almost immediately we started to plan some kind of project Derek could do for Uncivilized Books. That project became Eel Mansions. Eel Mansions was the first time UB undertook a serialization of a larger story (well with the exception of serializing my own Trans-Stories… but that collection is not out… so I guess it doesn’t count… yet!) and nurtured it into a collected edition. I couldn’t be happier with the results.
Derek’s narrative is loaded with pop culture references, from the Moomin-like Doomin, through the Sienkiewicz New Mutants, to Jack Kirby, Star Wars, Lizard Lords and beyond! I won’t even mention the music references (here’s a taste) because I don’t even know half of them. Part of the fun is excavating those references, influences and easter eggs. Almost from the start the series got small but fiercely loyal following dedicated to disentangling the pop cultural puzzle. Have you seen these epic reviews!? When came time to collect the series into a book… the cover became a serious design problem. I wanted the cover to express the multiplicity of characters and narratives inside… without overloading the cover. What followed was pile of cover ideas, some from me, some from Derek. Some were more abstract, some focused on single characters, some on many. We went back and forth many times…
Frankly we were getting close to print time and neither of us I was 100% satisfied with any of the covers. Panic!
this was the final cover almost up until the very end:
At the last possible minute Derek came up with what turned out to be the perfect cover . It was eye-catching, simple and classic. I guess necessity is the mother of invention.
Anyway, the book is available now get it here or from your favorite book shop.
Trans Terra update:
When I conceptualized the Critical Cartoons series for Uncivilized Books, I wanted to demonstrate the breadth of subjects that could be discussed in the series. The first two books should exemplify the opposite ends of a spectrum…
The first book (Ed vs. Yummy Fur: Or, What Happens When A Serial Comic Becomes a Graphic Novel by Brian Evenson) took on a key (and under appreciated) work from the comics underground: Yummy Fur by Chester Brown. Yummy Fur is scatological, sacrilegious and challenging. It was a way for Chester Brown to break down not only his inhibitions and beliefs, but also his approach to making comics. To date, Yummy Fur has not been reprinted.
The only part of Yummy Fur still in print is the collected (and heavily edited) Ed The Happy Clown. In other words, this a relatively obscure work that for all it’s influence, has been partially forgotten, and difficult to track down. Yummy Fur and comics like it represent one side of the spectrum of the comics continuum. The lost and forgotten self-published work, the minor masterpieces, hidden gems, significant early work (or ‘unusual’ late work) of great cartoonists… published by obscure small presses. I would be very happy if the Critical Cartoon series manages to bring some of them out into the light.
The second book, Carl Barks’ Duck, looks at Carl Barks’ Donald Duck stories. Barks’ Donald Duck could not be more different from Chester’s work. First, it’s a corporate product. Second, all the characters and situations are owned wholesale by the Disney corporation. Finally, it was a way for Disney to maintain copyright on Donald when his primary medium, the cartoon, had waned in popularity. And yet Barks’ created an amazing array of stories and characters within that system. His contribution to comics is difficult to measure. He is one of the greats. His work has been almost continuously published around the globe and has influenced comics and cartooning everywhere (for example, Osamu Tezuka was hugely influenced by Barks’ work).
Barks’ work represents the other side of the comics continuum: the corporate mainstream. Some, like Barks’ comics, are well documented, examined and easily available. Others were very popular in their time, but have become lost, or—if they are still currently published—changed beyond recognition (for example Captain Marvel / Shazam). Or, there are the occasional moments in time (1985-1987) where artistic experimentation, audience expectations, and corporate willingness to take chances, results in a deluge of interesting work in the mainstream.
Some of this work (Dark Knight or Watchmen) goes on to influence and create whole new movements. Other comics (The Shadow or The Question) languish in relative obscurity. This is where many comics readers start. When I was younger (I grew up in Europe), I immersed myself in Marvel and DC universes, or the fantasy / science-fictional worlds of Thorgal, Valerian and Funky Koval… Or, in the humor of Lucky Luke, Asterix and Kajko i Kokosz. Eventually I went on to discover (and create) comics closer to Yummy Fur in their sensibility. But this is where I started. There is a lot of interesting work at this end of the spectrum.
For some reason I never got into the Disney comics, and consequently I didn’t encounter the work of Carl Barks until I was much older. Eventually, I became aware of his work, but it was always difficult to know where to start. Barks is such a ubiquitous cartoonist – so beloved and so prolific – that it’s difficult to know where to start… especially for new readers. Should I read the best works? What are the best works? Are they really the best works? Should I try to read from the beginning? I approached Peter Schilling Jr. about writing something for Critical Cartoons, I was selfishly delighted when he chose Barks’ Donald Duck comics. Peter went on to write the perfect introduction to the work… and with Fantagraphics’ recent push to reprint all of Barks’ Duck comics, now is a perfect time to examine his work again.
Another goal for Critical Cartoons is to bring new voices to comics criticism. Both of the authors (Evenson & Schilling Jr.) are big fans of comics, but in their careers have never had the opportunity to write about them. If given an opportunity, something interesting might emerge.
Starting with tiny detail — a dash placed between ‘graphic’ and ‘novel’ to form ‘graphic-novel’ (read this excerpt on TCJ) which subtitled the recent Ed the Happy Clown re-issue, — Brian’s close reading of minutiae in Brown’s work was revelatory. More importantly, his unapologetic placement of Brown’s work in the continuum of sacrilegious and scatological works that goes back centuries, points to ways of reading comics that engage with broader culture.
Peter’s comparison of Bark’s Donald Duck to the classic Hollywood system was revealing. Hollywood Stars, for example Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart, took on a variety of roles, but often remained distinct recognizable characters themselves. Donald fits that bill too (sorry)! Finally, look at this flabbergasting ‘weird’ panel (see below) from Lost in the Andes. It’s such an usual angle and I certainly haven’t seen Barks use it again elsewhere (at least in my limited familiarity with his work). Did he try it out, decide it wasn’t working, and never used that angle again? Barks scholars… any insights?
Now that the two inaugural volumes of Critical Cartoons are out, it’s time to look forward to next volumes. There are a few new Critical Cartoons project bubbling up. I’ll keep you posted as they develop. Thanks for reading!
Finally, I have a new Twitter account: @BetaTestingTomK . Uncivilized Books started as a way to publish my own work. Until now I’ve conflated both identities… I was Uncivilized Books and vice versa. But the publishing house has evolved into something quite different and much larger than me. I don’t want to keep cluttering up the Uncivilized Books ( @unciv ) feed with weird thoughts, random ramblings, architectural drawings or strange theories (though you’ll probably get a bunch of that anyway). It’s time to have a new place for that stuff. Interested in the weird stuff? Follow @BetaTestingTomK or sign up for weekly updates on my new site (or both!)
Next week: Eel Mansions!
Soon: Progress report on Trans Terra: Towards a Cartoon Philosophy!
While digging through my originals (available for sale here: batch 1 and batch 2, more soon!) I found a bunch of original unused letterpress covers for Cartoon Dialectics Vol. 1! That means I can bring a small edition of these back into print! It’s been sold out for close to two years. I don’t know how many times people have asked me about it at shows. I’m happy to make more! I should be able to get about 40-50 copies made from these. Did I already mention they’re letterpress? It’s the fourth ever comic published on Uncivilized Books! Go get ’em!
I’ll be at CAKE in Chicago this weekend. I’ll be there running the Uncivilized Books table and signing Beta Testing the Apocalypse at the Fantagraphics table. Uncivilized Books is debuting four (4) (!!) books at the show:
- Incidents in the Night by David B.
- Amazing Facts and Beyond by Kevin Huizenga and Dan Zettwoch (both will be in attendance)
- Sammy the Mouse Book 2 by Zak Sally (who will also be there!)
- and Over the Wall by Peter Wartman (he will be there too!)
I will also be showing previews of my upcoming Trans Terra and… Twin Cities Noir where I have an all-new 10-page comic (more on that later). It’s going to be an intense weekend! See you all there!
BETA TESTING CIVILIZATION
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
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?
KACZYNSKI: 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.
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.
- New mini-comic: Gabrielle Bell’s San Diego Diary. Now available for preorder!
- To celebrate the new release we’re teaming up with Desert Island Comics and Lizz Hickey for an Art Show / Rager. Join us on Thursday (July 14th) at Desert Island Comics! More details here.
- Nice review of her L. A. Diary by Sean T. Collins.
- AND… Gabrielle is blogging daily during the month of July! Check it out.
- Even more soon!
I’m about to hop in a car with Zak Sally and drive to Toronto for TCAF. Please come to check out some new mini-comics from me, Gabrielle Bell, Jon Lewis and Dan Wieken (Me & Zak will be camped out at table 116).
On Sunday I’m also going to be participating in a panel on Print Culture (1:15 – 2:00). The panel will be moderated by Zak and will also include John Porcellino and Dylan Williams! See you in Toronto!