Archive for the 'Interview' Category

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.

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.

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.

 

Tom Kaczynski Interviewed by The Rumpus

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.

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.

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.

Missed This Dept.

trans-utopia excerpt by tom kaczynski

Another several weeks old story I should’ve mentioned on here at some point. Over at the Comics Journal site I was interviewed by Mike Dawson for his TCJ Talkies podcast. The conversation took a lot of weird but enjoyable turns. We ended up talking a lot about the Trans-Series and the social & philosophical issues that crop up again and again in my comics. Check it out.