Democratizing Objects: A Discussion with Tom Kaczynski

A comics interview article by: Nick Hanover


After I wound up with a digital copy of Beta Testing the Apocalypse from Fantagraphics, I was immediately floored and felt the need to not only write an ecstatic review but to also take to my twitter feed in an attempt to convert everyone around me. The author of the work, Tom Kaczynski, noticed and thanked me and I managed to talk him into consenting to an interview. But the thing is, Beta Testing the Apocalypse is a deceptive work, manipulative in the sense that it only seems simple, like the early albums of  Wire or Mark E. Smith's penchant for repetition. This is a work with mysteries and truths and demands beneath its surface. 

I don't normally have trouble with interviews but something about Beta Testing the Apocalypse struck my language center and I found myself often incapable of communicating to Tom exactly what I wanted to discover about the truth behind his work. But that's okay, because there are other ways to speak one another's language, and the interview I conducted with Tom leans as much on music, film, sci-fi and philosophy references as actual phrases. Tom is a Polish expat with a deep love and understanding of classic sci-fi and an equal passion for a certain sect of music that was inspired by that, music like Kraftwerk and Ultravox and Gary Numan. I spoke at length with Tom about his interesting take on object democraticization, early human development and architecture, amongst other things. At some point, turkeys and Geico cavemen are explored in equal depth.



Nick Hanover for Comics Bulletin: Hey Tom, how's it going?

Tom Kaczynski: Good, how are you?

CB: I'm good  What part of the states are you in, again?

TK: I'm in Minneapolis.

CB: Are you guys still in the middle of the winter freeze there?

TK: Kind of. Although it's been raining and it's kind of covered in ice right now. It's been weird weather.

CB: Yeah, we've had a bit of a cold snap here in Austin. Normally it's just kind of slightly less hot, but this year it was actually freezing.

TK: Yeah, we had an actual winter, whereas last year was no winter, I could actually bike everywhere all through winter. It was crazy. Global warming, I guess. [laughs]

CB:  I sent you my review ahead of time, so you already know I was really impressed with Beta Testing the Apocalypse. The work really spoke to me, especially the noise element and how that runs through the book, which is something you and I spoke about in our e-mails. You mentioned that people hadn't picked up on that part of the work as much, but I felt it was especially integral to the book and what you've done with the release. Is the noise factor of modern civilization is something you've always been interested in? Because it seems like a lot of the works in Beta Testing share a theme of modern civilization as cacophony.

TK: There's definitely that aspect of it. Both as a literal noise-- all these things that we have that make all kinds of sounds, including just the background din of traffic and things like that-- but also just noise in general, or visual noise…

[at this point a loud truck passes by in the background, as if on cue]

TK: …or just so much stuff that is happening, constantly, that it's sort of difficult to filter out signal. It's definitely something that is interesting to me on many levels. One of the things that I noticed when I was drawing this book was that there's certain kind of drawings I was going for, like in ["100,000 Miles"] there's drawings with just tons of cars in them, lots of visual elements. I realized how difficult it is to do something like that, just because of the sheer amount of stuff. And when you pull back just a little bit you have this vista that's almost impossible to draw, it just becomes tedious and difficult. It's part of that noise. It's so difficult to get a grasp on that.

CB: Something else I found interesting is how you latch onto two spectrums of the idea of noise as rebellion. On one end you have something like "Music for Neanderthals," where it's working with the noise, with a rocker as an actor building up noise utilizing cave rocks and cave acoustics. And on the other end is something like "Hotel Silencio," where the rebellion is the lack of noise, recalling John Cage's "4'40" and all that. I'm curious about whether that dichotomy was something you intended from the start.

TK: No. It wasn't intentional initially. Once I did the four sound strips-- which are just the one page strips that deal with sound-- is when I started making connections to sound. That's why it tends to be more prominent in the second half of the book. It wasn't an initial theme, but it just kind of became one. Not an overt theme, but almost like an organizing principle or underlying object.

CB: Right, I know you worked on this over a period of several years so I wasn't sure if this was intended to be a collection from the get go or if it was something that came together as you were working on it and you started to realize the connections. So it's interesting to hear that it developed organically. 

TK: Initially when I started doing these MOME stories, it was just one story at a time and almost right away I hit on this numbers thing, where I was trying to do stories where the number of something was important, or almost a title gimmick. All these stories started to feel like they were linked and eventually things like the noise stories and the themes of sound started to kind of inject themselves into the rest of the material.

CB:  I was fascinated by the way you used color in it as well, because you have the noise, and you have the numbers, and there's also this palette that expands, and then diminishes, and then expands, and diminishes. It'll start with a relatively cool color, then go to something warmer, then back down and there's this escalation of that. You start with the green, then that red, and then colder and colder colors.

TK: That was also something I didn't intend from the get go. A lot of these stories were originally printed in black and white. But when I was putting the book together, I knew I could use an initial color in each one of these stories. But I definitely tried to map out some kind of color mood for each story, and you're right, it's something that I noticed towards the very end that there was this coolness-hotness-coolness happening with the colors. And then the final colors were very muddy, which is maybe indicative of my state of mind at that point. [laughs] But I definitely tried to use colors that felt to me like they had something additional to add to those stories.

CB: There's also an architectural influence to your aesthetic there, is there a story to that? Are blueprints something that interest you? Or do you have an architectural background? There's not a lot of info about you online.

TK: Yeah, I went to architecture school. [laughs]

CB: Ah, okay, that would explain it. [laughs]

TK: I'm assuming a lot of artists do this at some point, where when they go to college it's like either they study art or study something that's "useful," so I kind of fell into architecture that way. It's not something I loved at that age, but I grew to love it and even though I'm not a practicing architect, it's a field I have a lot of interest in and I read a lot of books about it and I follow a lot of careers of a lot of architects, it's something that's near and dear to my heart. I usually try to use a lot of that in my comics.

CB: With "The New," is that something that's semi-autobiographical then in the depictions of the academic history?

An early pencil sketch of a page from Beta Testing and a later, inked version of the page

TK: A little bit. Not exactly. There was a one armed architect who was critiquing our work, Ralph Rapson who was one of Minnesota's great architects [and head of the architecture program of the University of Minnesota from 1954-1984-ed.] and did a lot of modernist design locally. It's like little pieces of buildings I've seen, little things that I've stitched together into a fictional history of this character. It's not autobiographical in any meaningful way, other than it pulls elements from parts of my life that are just kind of jumbled up into this character's history. Architecture and urban design are really interesting to me, because that's where we live and that's where we form our character, our ideas. It's almost like the basic level that we have to interact with unconsciously, and a lot of that has been consciously designed to be something specific. It's something that we don't know overtly and we struggle with it, and if we knew what it was maybe we wouldn't struggle so much.

CB: There's also this throughline of nature versus humanity, which is a prevalent theme in a lot of works, but what I found especially unique about your take on it is that you don't make it so that nature or man is definitively good. You build up this concept that the world is constantly in confrontation, especially in the last few stories. Like in "Million Year Boom," where you infuse branding with this idea of a return to nature. Was that something inspired by real events or concepts, or is the idea of this constant confrontation a pet theme of yours?

TK: I don't know if it's a pet theme but it's something I'm definitely interested in. We were talking about global warming earlier and obviously there's a lot of talk about that, although I feel like as a culture we're not talking about it right now, not as much as we were, say, 10 years ago. There were all these techs talking about it, like Paul Hawken and his "ecology of commerce," all these kinds of capitalist solutions to our ecological problems. There's also a certain amount of magical thinking I see with the emergence of digital technology, where our computers and our cellphones and all these devices are becoming so complex that no single person can really understand or fix them or do anything with them. The usual kind of interaction between us and these devices is to be frustrated and yell at them as if they were real creatures, or just to replace or remove them and find a new one that "works." In a weird way, the more advanced we get, the more magical all this stuff gets, the more animus mindset comes in.

A later version of the pages above, with some coloring

CB: It's basically the Arthur C. Clarke quote: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

TK: Exactly. Except I think not only is it that, we're becoming mystified by our own technology. It's almost like technology itself is clouding our minds. And there is this idea of nature vs. culture or nature vs. man, but I think those are all false binaries. I'm with Slavoj Zizek when he says "nature is a series of unimaginable catastrophes." It's not this benevolent thing. It kills just as many people as anything else. It's just this kind of force that we have to contend with.

CB: That's something that I really enjoyed about "Million Year Boom." For one, it's such a vivid idea, this ecobranding corporation. It reminds me of those companies that have sprang up that make money off of monitoring other companies' carbon footprints. I don't know if you've seen or heard about that…

TK: Yeah, a little bit, totally.

CB: You basically pay these companies and they give you a certificate that says your eco footprint is this and this and this. And they were en vogue for a while. I remember Sub Pop Records did some big announcement about how their footprint was just "10" or something [yes, this actually happened- ed.]. But what I like in that story is that you create almost this sinister aspect to nature, where it feels dangerous. Even though this company is trying to do something that seems worthwhile, and benevolent, you then find out more. And what they're tied to is almost like stories you hear about magicians who get too close to demons, and the people in the story become, in a way, possessed by nature. For me that recalled sci-fi stories from the '70s and '80s, and it's true what you said, that we've almost grown silent about the way nature is changing lately. What kind of stories were you reading as a kid? Did they inspire some of that thinking?

TK: I read a lot of sci-fi when I was a kid. I grew up in Poland so I didn't have the same sci-fi that a lot of kids did here, but I started out with Jules Verne, that sort of adventuring, 19th century sci-fi. But one of my most vivid sci-fi memories is Harry Harrison's Deathworld, which is about this planet that's basically fighting back against colonization [laughs]. And I read a lot of Stanislaw Lem, who's this Polish sci-fi guy who wrote Solaris. Then I also read a lot of sci-fi comics. There was a magazine called Fantastica, which was a Polish cross between Heavy Metal and like a sci-fi pulp that would have serialized novels in there along with comics. It was a pretty big influence. I don't remember what I was into thematically at that point. Science fiction kind of resurfaced for me in high school. I read a lot of Asimov when I moved here, a lot of Robert Heinlein, people like that. It seems like I kind of come back to science-fiction every now and then; I leave it for a while, and then I return. When I was working on these stories, I got into J.G. Ballard, I was reading a lot of his work. I was also reading weird, sort of classical science-fiction, like A.E. van Vogt, who wrote Slan and I was reading a lot of Utopian science-fiction too, like Kim Stanley Robinson, Samuel Delany, people like that. What am I supposed to answer now? I forgot. [laughs]

CB: No, no, it's fine. With some people you can pick out specific influences, but with your work I feel it's in just in the same headspace that I get into when I read good sci-fi, where you wind up immersed in this world and this tone rather than specific narrative elements or specific high concept stuff, it's more this overarching idea. That was one of the things that impressed me most, as soon as I was reading this I just got in that headspace, I got into all the different moods you bring about. I feel like in comics that's something you maybe don't see as often, people are more focused on the actual "what is my big pitch?" whereas you seem more aligned with the smaller aspects that people might lose sight of. Are there contemporary creators that you feel fit in with the aesthetic you ascribe to? Who in comics do you feel is similarly forward thinking?

TK: I do read Brandon Graham, I like his stuff a lot. But I don't know, I'm quite a traditionalist when it comes to comics. A lot of the stuff I put into my comics isn't coming from other comics.

CB: Right.

TK: But I do read-- and I think I've mentioned this in other interviews-- Dan Clowes, he's a big influence on me, along with Jack Kirby. I think Jack Kirby is the closest in terms of coming up with all these crazy ideas and taking them to an extreme sometimes. I did read a lot of mainstream comics when I was growing up, American Flagg! was a big influence. And this weird comic called Roachmill, I don't know if you've ever heard of it…

CB: No, I don't think I have.

TK: It's an early Dark Horse comic. It's kind of a weird mash-up of humor and sci-fi, it was good. Visually I may be more influenced by comics than I am from a writing point of view. I tend to kind of find my ideas in other places, in novels and science-fiction and philosophy. Literary theory. Those kinds of things. 

CB: With your work, to me it almost reads like you've chosen a setting and built everything else around it. When you're writing these stories, what element do you like to start with? For instance, some musicians like to start with the drums and then add everything else, or start with the bassline, etc. For you as an artist, what do you like to kick things off with?

TK: That's difficult. My process is kind of convoluted. It almost always starts with some kind of sequence that I have in my head, it's not necessarily narrative, it could be "a character walking down a corridor and turning left and comes upon something." It's almost these silent movies in my head that I eventually kind of marry with something narrative. Most of the MOME stories started that way. My essay work is different, I don't know if you've seen much of that. I have this work coming out in the next couple months called Trans Terra, which is a philosophical tract on comics...

CB: Yeah, I was looking for that, for some reason I had thought it was already out…

TK: No, no, unfortunately-- and maybe this is news you can kind of announce-- I have to delay the book a little bit because the Fantagraphics book [Beta Testing the Apocalypse] was supposed to be out four or five months ago, and this book was supposed to be coming out on the heels of that. But since Beta Testing has just come out, I had to delay the other book, so I'm not competing with myself. It's going to be a little longer until it comes out, but it will be out by the mid-summer at the latest. But that stuff tends to come from a more philosophical narrative idea, they're very different from the MOME stories. I find that I have a split personality about comics, the stuff in Beta Testing is very much fiction, it's kind of philosophical but it's all fiction and it comes from a very different part of me, and the other stuff is more philosophical, it's closer to me, it's more me in the sense in that it's espousing my ideas. In Beta Testing, I take on ideas I don't necessarily agree with, but that I'm interested in and want to pursue further. 

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.

CB: The story has this grim element to it, but it's still really funny, which is a difficult trick to pull off. It make sense from a commuter perspective that when you're sitting there, you'll daydream about the worst case scenario, like "what happens if I hit the divider?" or "what happens if all these cars flip over?" Or at least that's something I do, I don't know about other people…

TK: [laughs] No, that initial scene in that story is literally something that happened to me! I was driving and all of a sudden there was this massive accident that happened and it was one of these things that made it into the story. These accidents happen all the time all over the world, but when you're in the car you're just kind of this solipsistic being, and the whole world is rotating around you. It just seems really significant when something like that happens, when you're the last car that escaped that.

CB: It fits into the nature element in a way, too. Like deer who escape predators, and then watch the others die. My family actually had a farm at one point, and we had turkeys and what I always remember is that we had these bald eagles on our property too and when they'd get a turkey, the other turkeys would just stand there, watching the carnage. 

TK: You'd think they'd take a defensive position…

CB: Yeah! But they were almost like "well, at least it's not us." You think of that as a human response, but you see it in animals, too; it's almost ingrained in them. 

TK: That's something I wanted to get across in that story, too. A lot of times we see stories where "a person is in a car, and they're talking to another person," but if you pull back there's this perspective where there's these gigantic flows of traffic happening around us all the time. It's almost like we're this new nature. Whenever we step in to a car, we're not just driving somewhere specific, we're also entering this fluid dynamics of traffic that are pulling us everywhere. I wanted to get both of those perspectives.

CB: It also recalled to me the music of Kraftwerk, specifically "Autobahn…"

TK: [laughs] Yeah, I love Kraftwerk…

CB: [laughs] Yeah, I had to ask. A lot of these stories, it's not like you were doing anything overtly, but I picked up on this musical sense, which I mentioned in the review, talking about the Factory Records aesthetic and the musicians who were influenced by J.G. Ballard and brought his sensibilities to a lot of their songs. Is there music you have in mind for you stories? Is there a music sensibility that's in there?

TK: Yeah, each story would be kind of different, but for the car story, for example, Kraftwerk would be it, or John Foxx [original singer of Ultravox -ed.], Gary Numan, people like that. They've all kind of written songs about cars and crashes and underpasses…

CB: And they all use that motorik rhythm…

TK: Yeah, exactly, that monotonous but funky thing. For the others, it just depends. "Music for Neanderthals," I don't know if I had anything specific in mind. This is something I think about a lot, I'm very interested in the dawn of man, what happened way back then. We have these ideas of cavemen as unsophisticated, barely able to do anything, I wanted to think about how they would think about sound, things that there is no archaeological record of. 

CB: Right, but we know it developed at some point…

TK: Exactly. We know they could make sounds, we know that caves are acoustically interesting. I kind of pushed it a little further, making it caves where the sound is used to scare the "humans." But there is a connection between sound and religion and trance-like states that may have had an influence on our evolution. All these things are kind of mixed up in there. I wish I had had a little more time to work on that story, because I probably would have made it a little longer, and gotten more concepts in there. But it is what it is, I had a deadline for MOME.

CB: It still has that epic sense. It's almost like getting behind the scenes footage of something, so instead of the story being something with a definitive beginning, middle and end, you're getting this snapshot of a work in progress, seeing this film and not knowing what the end result of it was. The part where they wind up living in the cave at the end and being this secret musical society was a really cool concept.

TK: That strip was also influenced by Quest for Fire, which I don't know if you've ever seen but it's a pretty amazing movie from the early '80s, I think it holds up really well. I was watching the behind the scenes stuff from the movie and it was interesting to see all these made-up Neanderthal-type human beings, with headphones on, in this modern environment. It just seemed really resonant and interesting.

CB: I was wondering if that had an influence on the story because, well, there's not too many caveman movies out there. [laughs]

TK: [laughs] Or not too many good ones…

CB: Right! When you see something in pop culture about early man, it's usually something like 2001, with the beginning part and there's this inciting incident that just gives us culture. Or you have the Geico commercials, which just make fun of it…

TK: Yeah, and I was aware of those too. Those were kind of a little bit of a tongue in cheek reference. But you're right, that's exactly the case. And I think my story is at least more complex than that, but I was trying to get some hint of that.

CB: Another thing I wanted to ask about is the throughline in your work of the Marxist angle, specifically the way a lot of sort of Communist societies form in your stories. "Million Year Boom" is specifically what I'm talking about there, though it's hard to peg because it's sort of Communist, but also agrarian, which occupies a weird space there. Is that something that developed as a result of growing up in Poland and being around that culture?

TK: Well, I was about 13 when I moved out of there. So the first 13 years I spent in Communist Poland, before the Iron Curtain went down. In the sense that I come from a formerly Communist country, yes, that certainly makes Communism an interesting subject. It's something I've been reading out for a long time. I started out as super anti-Communist when I left and I was first living here. And over time, the more I've read, the more I've studied, the more sympathetic I am to some kind of Communist-type idea. 

CB: A lot of people have a totally different of how Marxism actually functions, and how real life Communist societies have functioned versus what their ideals in forming were. You don't see that as often in North American literature, it's still one of those subjects where I feel people don't necessarily understand what was going on.

TK: There's the idea of what Communism can be, the ideals of Communism. And then there's the actually existing Communist that happened. And I feel like America and the West in general has this idea that capitalism is the greatest thing ever. But we rarely want to deal with the actually existing capitalism, the contradictions that are there, from the grand ideas to the lived reality. Even though I am interested in Marxism and those kinds of things, I try to keep a perspective on that. I think the ideals are obviously something that I find interesting, but the implementation is something that probably needs more work [laughs].

CB: That's something you bring up in your work quite a bit: people go in with a good idea, and a good concept, and then your stories analyze where that break down happens and then the descent into chaos begins. "Million Year Boom" is just one example of that.

TK: I'm interested in utopias, and utopian societies. And a lot of what Communism is is essentially an attempted utopia that failed. There's a lot of great utopian literature out there, where it's full of positive, interesting solutions to the world's problems. How can those things be implemented? Where does the breakdown happen? And is it always the case that it always has to go bad? In some ways I am very optimistic. If my stories seem really negative, it's only because I'm examining the negative to see if a positive can be teased out eventually.

CB: It's not that they seem negative, I didn't mean to imply that.

TK: Oh, no, no. Not negative in the sense of a negative mindset, but negative in the sense that they tend to show negative outcomes. 

CB: Right. But what I found unique in "Million Year Boom" is that it's not really the people that break it, it's this infiltration of nature, in a sense. The allergies, the plants, and so on. Obviously there's a human breakdown element too, but I found that to be really refreshing, because normally people just screw everything up and that's just what happens. 

TK: [laughs] That's interesting, actually. I hadn't thought about it that way. But you're right, it is like this other entity that sort of takes over. It's almost like as we internalize these natural systems, are we going to become more like them? Are we become more natural and therefore more destructive? I don't know, we'll see.

CB: Even in the stories where you have the humans messing things up, like "976 Sq. Ft." it's more something that humans made that is doing it. "976 Sq. Ft." is actually one of my favourite stories of yours, because of the way you effectively make this condo sentient. It's this thing encroaching on a neighbourhood, taking over people's minds. It's something that's created by people, but people are applying that mentality to it without it necessarily being there. I haven't seen that kind of takeaway on gentrification. I love the way you utilize those kinds of perspectives. Did "976 Sq. Ft." have a genesis in something that happened to you? Because I don't know how it is in Minneapolis, but in Austin, people are at war with condos all the time. It's like "Ah, man, this neighbourhood was great but now they're building condos there!"

TK: [laughs] Yeah, it's sort of the gentrification horror story. I kind of have a love-hate relationship with all that. That story is actually almost 100% all true [laughs]. A lot of it has been changed, but there was an incident where my girlfriend wound in the crazy house, essentially. And at the same time, yes, there was this condo being built in our neighbourhood when we were living in New York, and I mashed it all up in this condo horror story. I'm actually a proponent of dense living, I think it's good, it's good for the planet, it's good for cultural reasons. There's limits to density, obviously, but America could intensify it without too much trouble. So the fact that these buildings are coming in, sure they're displacing old neighbourhoods, but even those neighbourhoods had displaced other people. Cities are really just a constant flux of neighbourhoods, people, etc. We really can't see it as a static thing, like "this neighbourhood is never going to change." That's just not reasonable, that's not a city, you know? It becomes almost like a reservation then, if it's set to never change. Obviously there are some problems with how some developers are going about that. But at the same time, it's just like looking at the history of any city, there's massive fluctuations of population, neighbourhoods changing, even in just a short amount of time. It can be problematic but it's also inevitable. You're faced with this condo and it kind of sucks, but it's almost like watching a big wave coming out of the ocean and you can't do anything about it. Sometimes you can, obviously, and I encourage any kind of activism that discourages bad development. But that's the situation I was trying to put these characters in and there's almost nothing they can do about it. It almost became this force of nature.

CB: You put forth a few different ways for determining how "at fault" the condo is, too. You talk about the sunlight going away and the old woman struggling with that. I lived in Seattle and Vancouver, where Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder is more or less an epidemic, and it's apparently based off how much light you're getting. And I know since I moved down to Austin, I've been more creative and more motivated to do stuff, so I guess there's some truth to that.

TK: [laughs] No, we do need sunlight, we really do.

CB: [laughs] For sure. But what I mean is that I like how in your stories there's no clear cut "enemy" per se, there's always lots of different variables at play and your interpretation could change depending on which of those you hone in on. Is that something you feel comes from the fact that literature is more of an influence for you? Because I feel that's a very literary influence there.

TK: Yeah, I would say so. It's also something that I get from philosophy, I've been reading a lot lately about action oriented philosophy, I'm not sure if you're familiar with it.

CB: Yeah, one of my best friends has a philosophy degree and we've spoken about it.

TK: Well, there you go. It's a philosophy that deals a lot with removing the human from the centre of philosophy, democratizing objects, we're just one of many different kinds of entities. It's something that wasn't intentional in a lot of these stories, but the more I learned about this movement in philosophy, I've kind of retroactively seen these as "speculative realist short stories," or whatever the term would be. It's coming from a lot of different places, there's an index in the book that in an oblique way is trying to clarify these connections.

CB: I noticed that, and I was going to ask you about it. I love that concept, you don't see it very often. Your work emphasizes objects a lot, like instead of characters at the forefront you'll have, say, a building at the forefront. The one that stands out to me the most is in "The New," when the character is standing in this barren field and then there's this architectural grid building out in front of him on the page, and he's just one tiny figure down at the bottom. So is that where that image came from?

TK: That's one of the places [laughs]. It's all about the individual interacting with these enormous, sometimes invisible structures, whether they be real buildings or urban planning or conceptual, philosophical structures that we assume are natural, but they developed over time and were created by people. I try to lift the curtain a little bit, peek behind that stuff.

CB: It's great getting glimpse at these levels behind the work. Because I wasn't as familiar with your work before Beta Testing. I'd seen it in MOME before, but when I got Beta Testing, it was because Jacq Cohen [Fantagraphics' wonderful PR coordinator -ed.] had highly recommended it to us. So other than Trans Terra, what do you have coming out in the near future?

TK: That's the main thing, it will be out in May, maybe June at the latest, from my own Uncivilized Books. And after that I have a short story in Twin Cities Noir, which is a collection of noir fiction. I don't know if you've seen these LA Noir, Gotham Noir books, but it's part of the same series, but I'm the only cartoonist in this book. It's all short stories except for mine, which is a comic. That's coming in August, I believe. After that, I'm probably going to put out another issue of Cartoon Dialectics, towards the end of the year, but it's up in the air so it's hard to announce that far ahead. Uncivilized Books is full steam ahead, with a bunch of books coming out soon. We have a David B. book, and a Kevin Huizenga release, it will be a big year.


Nick Hanover doesn't want to set the world on fire, unless he has to, which seems increasingly more likely each day. As Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin, he most looks forward to making subliterate internet commenters angry and forcing his record collection on unsuspecting readers through his comic, film and television reviews and miscellaneous other pop culture pieces for the site. He promises to update Panel Panopticon more this year, but you can always find his odd rants about his potentially psychopathic roommate on twitter @Nick_Hanover or explore the world of his musical alter ego at Fitness.

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