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CR Holiday Interview #12 -- Tom Kaczynski
posted December 30, 2012
 

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imageTom Kaczynski had a very good 2012, escorting his line of Uncivilized Books to the trade and collections portion of the ongoing micro-publishing cotillion while seeing a fine book of his own out from Fantagraphics. Beta Testing The Apocalypse collects a number of Kaczynski's fine short stories from the late MOME anthology and adds at least one major short story never published. His work reveals an inherent understanding of structures, of both the societal and formal/comics variety, which makes sense given his background in architecture. He is the only new publisher I've ever encountered in the alternative comics realm where people seem enthusiastically in his corner from the get-go, just sort of grateful he's arrived. Despite Kaczynski making comics for several years now, I have never been well-acquainted with him personally and as late as last year's BCGF was openly mistaking his work for someone else's despite very much enjoying the individual comics as I came across them. I'm glad for this opportunity to have a better grasp on his significant presence in the world of comics, seeing as we should all benefit for years to come. -- Tom Spurgeon

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TOM SPURGEON: I want to apologize for the broad nature of some of these questions, but until I sat down and started looking at your work for this interview I'm not sure how familiar I am with your story. Let's talk about the publishing first. The initial impulse to publish: I know it's not unheard-of for a cartoonist that self-publishes and works with minis to go in that direction, but to make such a deliberate move the way you have with Uncivilized indicates there was some significant planning involved. Can you talk about the move into publishing?

TOM KACZYNSKI: Like you've said, I've self-published for a long time. Once I started working with Gabrielle [Bell], working with her in mini-comics, we started getting a lot of good feedback in terms of what I was doing with her in designing her books, the quality of the little mini-comics being published. At some point, Gabrielle just sort of said, "Hey, do you want to do my next book?" [laughs] I wasn't a publisher at that point, really, I was just someone making mini-comics -- deliberately, but on a very small scale. So it took me a while to think about it. But once we sort of agreed I was going to do this, and I agreed to do it, I realized that for someone like Gabrielle, if that book was going to succeed, I needed to do something serious.

SPURGEON: How did the arrangement with Gabrielle come about with the mini-comics? I don't think I know that story, either.

KACZYNSKI: That was pretty simple. I'd known Gabrielle for a while. We were in the same drawing group in New York. We've known each other for years at this point. I started doing Uncivilized Books as a mini-comics imprint. She ended up coming to Minneapolis for a Rain Taxi festival. We had talked about collaborating. Whether that was sort of a writer/artist collaboration, or something, we had talked about collaborating on some level in the past. When she came for this Rain Taxi festival in Minneapolis, I was like, "You ought to do something for the festival," because she was promoting -- I think it was the Cecil and Jordan book. It would have been nice to make something for the festival.

imageSo we talked about it and put together LA Diary. The mini-comic. The collaboration was that she just gave me the comics, essentially, and I came up with the way I thought it should look, and designed it and everything. We got a lot of really good feedback on that, so we just kind of kept doing that. Part of this was also just -- Drawn And Quarterly had at that point canceled most of their pamphlet comics, and she was looking for another outlet in that vein: something small she could put out more frequently. It just kind of worked out. We kept working together, and at some point it seemed like it was a good idea to do the book, too.

SPURGEON: So you have this realization that you're going to do this book and that it's different than this other thing you've been doing. So what do you do then? Do you do research? Do you sit down and make a plan?

KACZYNSKI: All of those things. [laughs] I've always been a fan of publishing. I've admired what Drawn And Quarterly has been doing, what Fantagraphics has been doing, what AdHouse has been doing, Koyama Press... all of those people. You're always going to think -- well, not everyone, but I do -- I think, "Oh, that would make a good book." Or "I wish that book had been done a little bit differently." I have these little, nagging thoughts now and then about certain things.

When the opportunity came up to do this book with Gabrielle, once the decision was made, I was like, "I need to become a publisher, I need to research this thing, I need to find out what I do for distribution, I need to find out how to do this thing." I didn't want to be a publisher that stacks up a lot of books in their house. I wanted to have distribution from the get-go... I just wanted to. One of the things I looked at were a lot of smaller, literary presses, who seem to have a lot less harder time finding distribution than a comics press. It seems like the comics market is really still bound up with, although maybe not so much anymore, the Diamond Direct Market. If you can't get into that, it's hard to get anywhere else. A lot of the larger distributors weren't, at least for a long time, interested in comics to distribute. Drawn And Quarterly and Fantagraphics and Top Shelf and other publishers have sort of opened that door. I think there's a lot more interest in the smaller press.

SPURGEON: So who carries you? IPG or someone like that?

KACZYNSKI: I'm with Consortium: Perseus, I think, owns them. They also do Nobrow. When I showed this stuff to them, they were basically interested in comics publishers, I think. I was also lucky in that they're based in Minneapolis. Maybe I had an easier time having access to them. [laughs]

SPURGEON: I remember one thing that was surprising to me when Fantagraphics and D+Q started teaming up with established distributors is how good a match they were for those companies -- they're oriented towards producing a lot of books, they have an established design aesthetic, they can do a catalog. Has that been a good relationship for you so far?

KACZYNSKI: I think so. They're very much focused on indie, literary presses. Some of the people they distribute are Coffee House Press, people like that. The comics I'm interested in publishing tend to be on the literary spectrum of the comics world, and so I think we definitely fit in. So far, so good. I've only been there for one season so far. I can't speak to a longer relationship at this point. [laughter] But I've been very happy with it so far and I hope it continues that way.

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SPURGEON: How has that first season gone, then? What's your learning curve been like in terms of getting a book out there? Where do you feel you've learned the most in terms of Gabrielle's book that you can now apply to this new wave of publications you're doing?

KACZYNSKI: Promotion is hard. Although Gabrielle did a lot of heavy lifting on this. She has a lot of experience promoting her books in the past, and she was able to bring that over to this book. It helped a lot in getting the book out there. Learning about the whole... pre-publication stuff. Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and others, where you have to send them stuff early to get reviewed or even considered. Just sort of seeing the cycle. Where you start and how far ahead you need to be.

Before it was always, "Hey, we've got this thing. Let's put it out there. We'll worry about what happens to it later." Now it's sort of there's this book, and it's going to come out at a certain time, this is what we're going to do for it, this is how many copies we'll print, this is where we're going to print them, and here's the budget. Just making sure all that stuff happens was a pretty big learning curve. At least initially. Now I'm sort of settled into it, but Gabrielle's book was the test case. We did have a lot of extra time on that book, because we were working on it for more than a year before it hit the stores.

SPURGEON: You toured with her on it.

KACZYNSKI: We did a west coast tour. It was supposed to include my book from Fantagraphics, but I was late with the book [laughter] so my book didn't really make it until the very, very end where we did an event at the Fantagraphics store and we had a copy to show -- not even sell. It was pretty fun. Gabrielle did a lot of heavy lifting in terms of organizing the tour, because she's done it before. She had some relationships with some of the stores that we did. Having Consortium back the book up helped a lot. There was a lot less stress about getting books to these places.

SPURGEON: It sounds like it naturally developed, but Gabrielle strikes me as a good choice for a first book, because she's not only talented but she's settled into what she does. Can you talk a bit about Gabrielle as a cartoonist? I think she's still a hard sell for certain comics readers. I know it took me a while to come around to what she does.

KACZYNSKI: Well, why is that? [laughs]

SPURGEON: I don't know. I'm not sure why. I needed to be immersed in her comics before I picked up on a lot of what she did. Her facility and talent is obvious right away, but the entirety of what she expresses took me some time. What do you think makes her a special cartoonist? Can I ask you that broad of a question?

KACZYNSKI: [laughs] Sure. First of all, she's getting better and better, I think. I think she's very much, she has a very literary voice. Part of why there's been some resistance to her work in the comics world is the autobiographical thing. For a while there was a major backlash. I feel like there was a lot of that kind of work coming out in the '90s, and then in the early 2000s there was like, "We have to do something else. No more of this kind of work." I think she approaches it from a very different place than the 1990s autobiographical work. It's a lot more literary, more of a memoir. Her books do a lot better for me in bookstores than in comic book stores. Her voice is a lot broader in a way that may not latch on with comics fans -- that's not to say she isn't popular there, because she is to a certain extent. Just maybe not as much as she is in the general book world.

imageSPURGEON: The design work that you do... do you have a formal background in design?

KACZYNSKI: It's kind of a formal background. I went to architecture school, which is sort of a design discipline, I guess. Not books, it's not graphic design, but it's a design discipline. I also spent a lot of time working... in college I worked for the college newspaper as a designer/art director. I never went into architecture professionally, but I went into design professionally after school. I've designed countless things. Web sites. Brochures. Anything you can think of. I hadn't done that much book design, because I wasn't in that world. It's something I always admired, and had friends that worked in that.

SPURGEON: Are there comics designers that you admire?

KACZYNSKI: Jonathan Bennett is an amazing designer. He's a great cartoonist and an amazing designer as well. I also like... he's not a cartoonist, but Joel Speasmaker, he used to publish The Drama. I admire his work. He has one eye on the comics world. He designed a bunch of stuff for the Brooklyn Festival this year, the Brooklyn Comics And Graphics Festival. I think Jacob Covey at Fantagraphics really picked up the game for Fantagraphics' design.

SPURGEON: Enormously so.

KACZYNSKI: I feel like over the last decade or so the design of comics, graphic novels, has really taken a step forward.

SPURGEON: I'm pretty unsophisticated when it comes to design, but I like the overall look of your books. I like that you don't seem scared of type, working the titles into the overall visual effect. What do you think your strengths are as a designer?

KACZYNSKI: I don't know how exactly how to answer that. One thing that's frustrated me in the past about seeing certain books, like Gabrielle's work, is I've never really liked the way her books looked, to be honest. This isn't a big slam on anybody. We had a conversation where Gabrielle decided she wasn't a good typographer, essentially, so that was one of things we worked on together for her book. She's an amazing cartoonist, but there are a lot of amazing cartoonists that aren't good designers. There is this ethic in the comics world now that you have to do your own cover, do your own type. That's great if you're really good at that. But it doesn't serve everybody really well. That's something I wanted to address with what I was doing.

SPURGEON: Was bringing Aaron in to do the introduction your idea? I thought that was a great choice. Ed Brubaker wrote something for Jon [Lewis' book], and Charles was in there as well.

KACZYNSKI: Charles Hatfield. For Gabrielle's book, Aaron Cometbus, Gabrielle brought him -- it seemed like a no-brainer once I heard it. For Jon Lewis' book, Ed Brubaker -- I don't know if you read the actual foreword, he was basically the first reader for True Swamp. It was kind of amazing to be able to loop that and have this book be introduced by him. Charles, I loved his book on Jack Kirby, and he was a fan of True Swamp. I feel like True Swamp has been a bit of a lost book of the '90s. I wanted to have someone who was a fan of the book that could position it critically in terms of the recent history of the medium. He seemed like the perfect choice.

imageSPURGEON: Both Jon and James Romberger are kind of lost talents in a way. I don't mean that in a pejorative sense, but more that they haven't quite connected with a readership to match their talent.

KACZYNSKI: I agree with you. I think James was a little bit... it seems like he was maybe in the wrong place. He's done some amazing work, but he's not very well known to the sort of audience that companies like Drawn And Quarterly or Fantagraphics or myself cultivate. He's been essentially a DC/Vertigo kind of guy. He comes from that background a little bit. He has a pulp sensibility. But again, he's been recently converted to this, getting away from doing work for DC/Vertigo and trying out this stuff. I'm looking forward to the Fantagraphics edition of 7 Miles A Second, which looks amazing. I just started talking to James last year at the Brooklyn Festival. He showed me this Post York thing and it just kind of went from there. I loved 7 Miles A Second when it originally came out, and it's mystifying to me why some of these people aren't better known, or still published.

SPURGEON: Do you see a corrective impulse for your publishing, or is it fair to say that's something you like, that you can go find someone and present their work in a way that should be presented, to show their work to an audience you feel they deserve? Is that something that interests you?

KACZYNSKI: I guess that's part of the impulse. When I think back, I've always had a chip on my shoulder about comics generally. In high school I would write all sorts of essays for my English classes about comics, and trying to convince my teachers that comics are a legitimate literary medium. [laughs] There's always an impulse to redress a wrong, because they tended to dismiss this kind of work. I guess that's part of the impulse here. I'm definitely publishing other people that aren't forgotten or lost. [Spurgeon laughs] It's going to be a mix of things.

SPURGEON: Could you broadly outline your ambitions in terms of the structure of Uncivilized? Is there a certain number of books you want to do a year, a pattern you want to fall into?

KACZYNSKI: I don't want to over-extend, at least initially. There's no ambition to be a huge company. I would like to be a relatively successful small publisher -- maybe 8 to 10 books a year, maximum. Maybe some small things in between, pamphlet comics or minis. I still want to continue doing mini-comics. I feel like if I was going to sound corporate, that they're my R&D, research and development. You get to try out different techniques and different artists. It's a nice way to try out a specific aesthetic or a different artist without spending a lot of money.

SPURGEON: You mentioned talking to James at one of the Brooklyn shows; the 2012 version is where you and I talked to set up this interview. Certainly there's a lot of conventional wisdom out there that the shows and festivals have become increasingly important, that this year may be the best year of shows ever. From a publishing perspective -- or a cartoonist's perspective -- have the shows become more important, are they locking into a circuit?

KACZYNSKI: It feels that way to me. I feel like I have to be at a certain number of shows a year: to launch a book, to have something noticed or whatever. This is my first year as a publisher doing shows -- I think I did most of the shows this year.

SPURGEON: How many would that be?

KACZYNSKI: It's mostly from Fall onwards. From CAKE, the Chicago show. Then SPX, Brooklyn, APE -- that's four shows for that half of the year. The first half of the year I didn't have any books. I was hunkered down, preparing for the rest of the year. I don't know. It's definitely been adding to the bottom line. The Brooklyn show was amazing. I had a really good SPX like a lot of people. Brooklyn basically matched the SPX numbers in one day for me. It was kind of amazing.

SPURGEON: What makes a good show for you, from a publishing perspective? Have you been able to figure out what the difference is now having done a few shows? Is it bottom-line sales, getting the word out, having a certain kind of book there, is there a formula for what works?

KACZYNSKI: It's still going to be a bit of trial and error with these shows. As I have more and more books, I'm going to have to figure out if I need two tables, how to bring people to shows, etc., etc. For the most part, the shows I enjoy the most, they make money at the very minimum. When the artists are around, and they're having a good time, and the show is vibrant in that I can walk around and see a lot of interesting stuff. I've been doing these shows for a very long time as a cartoonist, so all of those things you want in a show as an attendee works also for the publisher. If there's a lot of good work all around, everybody benefits. If there are a lot of new debuts, it brings in more people, and everyone benefits. Shows where it's a little bit thin on that, it's not so good.

imageSPURGEON: Going into 2012 there was talk that business on the alternative and arts end of comics was slowing down a bit, that we were entering solidly into a down period after a slightly crazy period of book contracts with major publishers and festival hits and the established publishers in that world -- Fantagraphics, D+Q, Top Shelf -- finding their stride in terms of exactly what it is they want to do. And now we're in a down period where it's going to be a bit more of a struggle. There's a real optimism to this wave of micro-publishing we're seeing with Uncivilized and some others. It's like you're collectively voting to stick by comics. Eight to ten books a year for a literary imprint is an ambitious plan. I assume you're optimistic about the way things are going to be three, five, ten years from now, although maybe not -- maybe you're throwing stuff against the wall. Are you optimistic generally?

KACZYNSKI: Yeah, I think so. [laughs] It's a mixed bag. Always. But yeah, I'm optimistic. The boom you talked about, it was a different kind of boom. Maybe Fantagraphics and Drawn And Quarterly locked into what they were doing, but it was also a boom for the big guys to get in on graphic novels. It was a weird time, because that was kind of the first time graphic novels made it into the book market and they seemed to be performing very well and everybody was like, "I need to have one" without knowing what they were doing with it. I think what's happening now is that a lot of those books didn't do well for those publishers. They did good numbers, like if you sell 20,000 of something and you're Random House, that's peanuts, right? That's a book that's probably not making money back for them. But for a publisher like me, that's an amazing number.

So I think that space is being abandoned by the big guys, a little bit. I think there's a mid-level list of material that's good that's being abandoned on the high end of thing. I think that's why there's this surge of smaller publishers that are realizing that there are these artists that are good and are selling but there's no interest from the big guys because they kind of got burned. I think there's a little bit of an opening for the micro-publishers here. And also there is so much more good work out there. There's a lot more new talent that's actively producing work and trying to make it work for them. I don't know. There's something going on. [laughter]

SPURGEON: One of the ways you described what you were doing was in terms of it being sustainable; it seems like there is a built-in modesty to your plans that emphasizes something achievable as opposed to shooting a rocket at the moon and seeing what happens. It sounds like you feel that what you're doing may have a longer life than tossing $140,000 advances at random books, that that probably wasn't a sustainable model.

KACZYNSKI: There is a certain amount of modesty about that. At the same time, I make sure that every project I do at least makes its money back. So there are no losses. I'm not the kind of organization where I can lose money on things. I try to design everything and promote everything that there's enough to do the next project. Maybe do something more ambitious next time. I'm trying to create a sustainable model for this thing. It's still a work in progress.

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SPURGEON: I greatly enjoyed your new book. A lot of it was MOME stuff -- did everything appear in Beta-Testing appear in MOME?

KACZYNSKI: Pretty much all MOME stuff except for the last story, which was brand new.

SPURGEON: I haven't talked to a lot of the cartoonists that worked for MOME about that experience. I get the impression from people that for those cartoonists that published there, MOME was really valuable in terms of keeping people productive and making comics and focused on producing work at a time when there wasn't a whole lot of structure out there.

KACZYNSKI: I agree with that. MOME showed up kind of at a moment where both Drawn And Quarterly and Fantagraphics were abandoning the pamphlet model. This was the only place where a shorter piece could be published and seen by an audience, relatively quickly. There was no lag time for two or three years and working in complete obscurity for a long time. For me personally, it was amazingly valuable. I had a kick in the ass every four months to complete something. I didn't always succeed. The first four or five issues I tried to contribute something every time, and then it kind of slowed down for me a little bit.

imageSPURGEON: How were you drawn into that orbit? Were you recruited? Did Eric [Reynolds] track you down and talk to you? Do you know how you came to their attention?

KACZYNSKI: I'd been going to comics shows for a long time. My comics had been out there. Eric had seen my Trans minis and liked them enough to e-mail me and say, "Hey, I like this. Whatever you do next, show them to me." I showed him a few things I did after that and at some point, he said, "Let's put that in MOME." It kind of went from there. It wasn't like, "Do something for me." It was more like, "I like your stuff, keep sending me stuff and we'll see what happens."

SPURGEON: You said once in an interview that you got to a point where you returned to comics after being away for a while and a big chance is that you spent more time on every page, on the comics themselves, than maybe you had before. Was MOME good for you in that you had some leeway in terms of what you could send in?

KACZYNSKI: Absolutely. You always knew you couldn't do more than 10-15 pages max, because it's an anthology. It was nice to think about comics in smaller chunks. You could focus on telling stories with a beginning and an end in 10 pages, 12 pages, and focus as much as you could on that story. You could spend a little more time with it because it was only 10 pages, or only 12 pages. It was a very valuable thing to have.

It helped me get more serious about everything, too. I was serious, but when you don't have a venue like MOME, for whatever reason you don't think about getting better -- or it's a slower process. When you're offered that venue, you're suddenly like "People are going to see this, I need to do something more serious." I feel like for me at least that was an important motivator. I'd been doing comics for 10 years before that -- publishing mini-comics for 10 years before that, I'd been doing comics since I was eight years old. It was always a little bit like, "Yeah, I'm just self-publishing this." Race to the end so you could have a new mini-comics, cut corners a bit. For whatever reason you're not doing yourself a lot of good -- MOME gave me an opportunity to not do that.

SPURGEON: Was appearing beside certain peers also a motivating factor, that you didn't want to be shown up?

KACZYNSKI: That was part of it. I was also in this drawing group in New York, Jon Bennett was in it and Gabrielle, Jon Lewis was in it. A few other people. That was the first time I'd seen other artists do work. That was very motivating. How much work goes into a page, how much work they did, showed me that maybe I wasn't spending enough time on my pages. You know? It kind of went from there. The first few issues of MOME I tried to do the best pages I can, I wanted to be the most interesting story in this issue. There was a little bit of competitive impulse.

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SPURGEON: A lot of the work in here is connected by the fact that they're societal critiques. You mentioned studying architecture, and the architects I know are very sensitive to the shapes of cities, city planning, infrastructure issues and the way things function and relate to one another. That's a lot of what your comics get at in terms of the quandaries they portray, this kind of fraying of societal structures. Is that an explicit interest of yours, this critique of society -- I know that you're well read, but I don't know how much of your reading is in that direction.

KACZYNSKI: It's a big interest. [laughs]

SPURGEON: Can you talk about how that developed? Did it come out of the interest in architecture?

KACZYNSKI: Architecture was something I got into mostly as a pragmatic major for somebody interested in art. I fell in love with the discipline, and as I got more into it I fell in love with all of the issues surrounding urban planning, infrastructure and how these things come about. Whenever you did a project of any kind, you had to do an archeology of a site. How did this site come about? Here's the original grid plan. Here's how it changed. Here's how this highway affected this area. Here's why this weird wedge of land exists. This and that. It kind of sucks you in, digging all of this stuff up about it. How there are very deliberate choices made at some point to create the situation on the ground. You just walk by it, you don't know it's something very deliberately created.

I've taken that to broader, philosophical kinds of things. The political systems that we have, the economic systems we have, someone at some point made decisions about policies that created the world we live. I want people to be aware they didn't happen willy-nilly, that a lot of these choices are deliberate and a lot of these choices can be changed. That gets reflected in the comics. With the Trans books, they're more like philosophical tracts, whereas the MOME stuff it's more fiction steeped in those ideas.

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.

imagePersonally 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.

imageSPURGEON: Your work seems very rigidly structured for the most part. You stick to grids pretty strongly, two-across and three-across, and your work is rigorously captioned. What is it about the standard grid that appeals to you?

KACZYNSKI: I've been kind of getting away from it -- especially in the last story. But yes, I do like the grid, I think it's one of the things, one of these sort of grammatical rules of comic that just works. Kirby used the grid religiously, occasionally breaking out into big splash pages. The grid is the sentence. Each page has a certain amount of panels, and that's how you tell a chunk of that story, in those panels. It's this invisible thing. Sometimes you can question it, but for the most part it's just the next sentence. This modular thing that follows the other. I think it's important to break out of it every now and then. The kind of thing I do doesn't question the medium of comics so much; it's more about trying to create certain rhythms in a story, and I think the grid does that well. You can switch from three to two across, sometimes you just have a two-page spread or you break out of it altogether. Sometimes you have complicated grids like in the "Cozy Apocalypse" story. It's almost the default you go back to so that all the weird stuff you do stands out. You can't be that way all the time, otherwise it becomes incoherent. It creates a rhythm and it creates a structure. It creates a flow.

SPURGEON: Are you a confident creator? Are you still feeling your way through your stories, or are you empowered when you see a blank page?

KACZYNSKI: I'm still feeling it out a little bit. There's a lot of convoluted work that goes into these things. Occasionally, like the condo building story, that came together very smoothly. It was scripted, I drew it and and I inked it and it was done. "Wow, I'm getting this." Since then it's been a lot of back and forth. I rewrite whole chunks, and rearrange pages. It gets more difficult. Now that this book is done and I'm almost done with the Trans book, my next project is to work with process more, and come up with a way of working that a little bit more comfortable. It's more like the grid -- a structure that moves me along more efficiently.

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SPURGEON: As you said, you do use formal effects, but you employ them very judiciously: a visual element that goes from panel to panel, or a sound effect that crosses a page. Are you consciously judicious in their employment?

KACZYNSKI: Yeah. I think the formal tricks are nice, but they almost work better when there are less of them. That's kind of my take on them. I tend to be deliberate with them. If something crosses a panel border, I want you to notice it and think about it. I've done more comics that explore the medium, that play more with formal tricks, in the past. It's more part of the repertoire now than something I'm deliberately going for.

SPURGEON: You've been making comics for a long time now. You've talked here and some other places about moments that were key in your development, like getting to be around other comics-makers and see how they approach a page. The idea of being more deliberate with individual pages -- eye-opening moments you've had along the way. Are you settled in now, or are you still sensitive to these experiences? Are you the cartoonist you're going to be for a while now? How important is it for you to consider new ways of doing things?

KACZYNSKI: I think I'm still pretty open. I just mentioned I'm looking for a new process. I really like Dash Shaw's work. I've had a chance to peak at his process and it's really different from what I'm doing. We collaborated once on a story, and seeing how he works... it's very different than how Jon Bennett works. He's slower, he takes longer to put a page together, whereas Dash lunges forward and produces work more quickly, and he's able to come back in and rework certain things. There's an editing process that he has that I really admire. It's something that's difficult to do in comics. I'd like to work on that for myself, a process where I can able to produce work at a constant clip and also be able to edit.

When I was doing a lot of the MOME work, what was great about it was being able to do these things, and they were so short I was able to wing it. If I had to redraw something, it was just one page. With more pages, you might not be able to do that. Having a process where you can edit is important, and I feel like that's something I've neglected. With longer pieces you need a process that will leave you alone, and feel like you're not falling backwards several steps.

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* Tom Kaczynski
* Uncivilized Books
* Beta Testing The Apocalypse

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* cover to the new work from Fantagraphics
* photo by me at some show or another
* the LA Diary mini-comic
* covers to the current works, showing off Kaczynski's praised art direction on those books
* a future book from Uncivilized
* a page from the current collection, showing society fraying if only needlessly
* a page from the more utopian-centered future work, provided by the artist, encompassing some of the themes discussed
* the Trans Terra book, forthcoming
* a page with a rigid grid
* a panel that uses some formal trickery
* a snippet I liked (bottom)

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image

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