Named for the comic character named for the Norse god, K. Thor Jensen made his graphic novel debut with Red Eye, Black Eye, earlier this year, after a good 15 years spent drawing strips for alternative weeklies, graphic anthologies, and Web publisher, Serializer.
The book is one of the most sullen travelogues ever commented to paper, graphic or otherwise, following Jensen’s cross country soul searching, in the wake of a series of person tragedies. It’s also one of the most entertaining books released so far, this year.
We slogged through the rainy streets of Queens, to speak with Jensen in the apartment he shares with his wife and their dog and cat. Fortunately for our soaking wet asses, Jensen’s days of drunken antagonization seem to be well behind him. He offered us some tea.
[Pt. 1 Here.]
How active are you in Serializer?
No at all, anymore. What happened is, when the site launched, there was an experiment that a couple of people were doing, like Chris Onstad of Achewood and I did it, and I think Nick Bertozzi did it too—for everyone else on the site, you could read their new comics, and pay to view the archives—what we did was, we had a couple of strips that were free, in my case, it was the first few pages of the book, and you had to pay to read the rest of it. Nick and Chris dropped out of that, because they weren’t making money, but my strip on Serializer was the second highest moneymaker on the site, after Achewood. It was very successful, and I had a good deadline—three pages a week, that was a good, steady pace for me. So I was doing that, and the site died. There was a huge site crash, and we lost all of the stuff. When that happened, I just stopped producing. It took me, maybe six or seven months to start drawing again, because I didn’t have that sword hanging over my head. I definitely couldn’t have finished that book without that regular deadline, because I wouldn’t have had the feedback necessary.
Was there any possibility of serializing physical copies of the book?
I didn’t consider that. I don’t think that would be very satisfying in a lot of ways. I things one of the great things about the book is that it’s very hefty. It’s a great package, with a beginning and an end. I don’t think that having it ‘to be continued’ after thirty pages, would have been good for the book.
It certainly makes sense, in the context of a Web site, having it broken up, because they’re all sort of individual stories.
Sure, and there’s definitely a pacing concern, where I didn’t want anything to drag on, unless I was trying to communicate dragging on. I wanted it to be very punchy and interesting and keep people progressing through it.
You’re extremely…aggressive toward other people in the book.
My wife was really shocked with how I was in the book, she was like, “you’re not like that anymore.” Well, when you’ve lost everything in your life, you’re less attached to things. I was angry with things, and much more aggressive toward people and things. There’s definitely been a psychological change, since then. One of the more interesting reviews was, ‘I hope this man has learned some empathy for himself and his fellow man. It is really a terrible journey of a terrible man,’ and I really expected people to have that reaction. I’m not a very flattering protagonist.
And since the pacing is so quick, you don’t really get a chance to reflect on things. You don’t really explore your thought process.
There’s no internal monologue, no thought bubbles. The thing is, I didn’t really have a chance for that. I was always on the road, I was always uncomfortable, always smelling bad, always hungry. You don’t really have the time to think about anything. And there were a couple of times that I addressed that in the book, I wasn’t having those huge revelations. They weren’t coming. It wasn’t happening the way it was supposed to.
Did they come later?
They weren’t catastrophic. I think they came gradually. They came more through the process of drawing the book. As I was putting that together, that’s when I was putting my life back together.
So, what were they?
I should be more attentive to people and more kind to people. I was very acerbic to people, very sarcastic a lot of the time. There’s a time and a place for that, and I didn’t know that every time wasn’t the time and the place for it. It’s just more of a matter of interacting with people, in a more human way. That happens, especially in cartooning, where you’re very isolated from people. You have to spend a lot of time alone. I think many of our best practitioners lack certain social skills.
So overall, the whole experience was a very good, healthy thing for you.
Very, very much. I don’t know what would have happened to me, if I would have stayed in the city, because I was really just on my way down.
Had you seen the country much before that?
I traveled with my mom, a bit. As of now, I’ve been to every state, but Hawaii. I’m reasonable well traveled, though I’ve never been off of the continent. I had been across the country, a couple of times, with my mom, and up and down the coast on Greyhound. But a lot of place were fairly new to me. The south was fairly new to me.
Were you at all hesitant to go to the south, right after 9-11?
I had nothing to lose. If they lynch me, they lynch me.
Had you read a lot of travelogues growing up, like On the Road?
I read On the Road and Travels with Charley. But it wasn’t like a major thing. I didn’t have the urge to wander, though I guess I did do a lot of traveling in my late teens and early 20s, on random busing, trainhoping, and traveling, but it wasn’t really a mission for me. It was just something to keep me busy.
Were you considering other plans, before you settled upon the Greyhound option?
No. it was literally the first thing that I thought of. This was what I had to do. My therapist was horrified. He thought this was the worst idea I’d ever had.
What were the main concerns? Your safety?
He just thought that I was running away from all of my problems, and I was like, “well, I don’t want to run toward them anymore. That’s not helping.” It was just a case of that not working anymore.
[Concluded in Part Three]