Interview: Tom Kaczynski Pt. 1 (of 2)

Categories:  Interviews

Vague CitiesTom Kaczynski (aka Tom K) has been in the business of making minicomics since the mid-1990’s. However, it’s only been since he started work on his well-received Trans series for the first MoCCA Festival in 2002 that he seems to have arrived on the scene as a truly outstanding cartoonist.

His recent involvement with Fantagraphics’ MOME series has provided a welcome platform for Kaczynski’s impressive artwork and thoughtfully probing paranormal ideas. After learning that he was, in fact, slated to be the next MOME interviewee, I thought I’d try and catch up with him before Gary Groth teased out all the important information. Being that Tom K recently moved and now lives just three blocks from me, it wasn’t very difficult.

Check out the as-yet unreleased MOME Issue 10 to learn more about Kaczynski’s early days growing up in Communist Poland and his family’s subsequent immigration to America. Continue reading what we’ve got here at the Cross Hatch if you’d like to know about his plans for 2012, opinions on self-publishing and sci-fi inspirations. Also, read the man’s BLOG when you get a chance.

How long have you been making minis and going to conventions?

I’ve been making minis since 1995. As far as conventions go, I started going in the late 90’s and I kinda stopped for awhile and then started again in 2002 with the first MoCCA Festival and I’ve been going pretty regularly since then, at least all the major indie comics ones.

Your comics are really thought provoking. Do you just happen to read a lot of books about history and philosophy or is it mostly research that you do with the purpose of writing your next comic?

It’s really mostly what I happen to read. I read a lot and I read a lot of history and philosophy and all those kind of subjects, and then the stories sort of come out of that reading. I will occasionally read something for stories if I think they need that, but it doesn’t happen all that often unless it’s about a very specific historical subject or something.

Have you done any historical comics?

Well, the Trans minis have a lot of specific things I have to refer to like the breakup of the Soviet Union and things like that, so I try to keep myself informed on those topics.

I’ve seen some of your earlier minis, but I really like the way you’re working now, especially the large cat-like eyes and the blocky cityscapes. How long did it take you, do you think, to find your current voice or style in comics?

A long time. [laughter] I don’t know… It took a while to get where I’m at right now. I’m not entirely satisfied with where I’m at…

You recently moved back to Minneapolis, where you went to college, when you decided to focus more on comics. How does living in this city make it easier for you to make comics than living in New York City where there are so many talented cartoonists?

New York is really great. I love it, I miss it tremendously but the problem with New York is it’s becoming too expensive for the people that made it great. I think a lot of artists actually avoid New York because of that reason and that’s why places like Portland and Minneapolis actually are starting to attract talent, because they’re so much cheaper. You don’t have to have a full-time job just to pay rent and have very little time left for whatever activities you’re trying to do. So, that’s really why I’m here, for the dirt-cheap rent… [laughter] Which, compared to New York, is really, really cheap.

So why here rather than a farm in North Dakota?

Well, I think I need a little bit of urban something… I don’t know if I would do well just being by myself in the middle of nowhere. Especially since I hate driving. I would have to drive everywhere just to get to fun things. I prefer somewhere that’s at least partially walkable. Minneapolis isn’t perfect, but it has its points.

Your comics often deal with weird occurrences and elements of mystery and ideology about society in a way that feels almost sci-fi. Are you a big fan of sci-fi?

I am a big fan of sci-fi! No, I really like science fiction and I started reading it when I was a kid, then I sort of stopped for awhile, then I got back into it again recently. I used to love Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and all those really old sci-fi guys. Right now I’m reading people like Philip K. Dick and A.E. VanVogt who is this golden age science fiction guy who influenced Philip K. Dick. I really love his stuff. It’s almost like [Voltaire’s] Candide in outer space (especially Slan) … in terms of pacing, not really in terms of philosophy. But yeah, I love science fiction. I think my favorite science fiction author would be J.G. Ballard, who doesn’t really write science fiction anymore, but his stories do talk about the future through the present in a very interesting way.

In the past you’ve worked mainly on short stories and the mini format books. Will there come a day when you start working on graphic novels?

Um, we’ll see. I don’t know. I kind of really like the short story format right now. I think it really suits me. I have some ideas for longer stories… I just don’t know if I’m ready to do them. I don’t know if I have the time, but I would like to do something longer at some point. I don’t know when that’s going to be.

How’s it been on MOME contributions? Are you comfortable working with deadlines or do you prefer the control you can have when you’re working on a mini in your own way at your own pace?

MOME has been a good experience, mainly because I do have deadlines now and they make me produce more work than I normally would. With the minis, the deadlines always slide. The deadline is usually some comics show or something, but when you’re your own ‘boss’, you tend to let it slide – at least I did – way too often.

Do you have anything you’re working on for the Minnesota Center for Book Arts Festival next weekend?

No, I’m just going to have what I have and maybe I’ll make a couple of Gocco prints. Nothing special. I don’t know, maybe I’ll come up with something last-minute.

In your opinion, what are the advantages or disadvantages to self-publishing?

The advantages are you can do whatever you want on whatever budget you can afford, which is pretty nice. The disadvantages are lack of distribution, having a hard time getting stuff out there. Making the books yourself is a lot of fun, though it can be frustrating when you’re stapling that 100th comic. Obviously it’s great to have a publisher that puts out your work and hopefully likes what you do and tries to communicate that to people.

Was there ever a time when you thought about putting together and anthology?

I’ve definitely had ideas for anthologies before. I don’t know that I was ever ambitious enough to follow through on those ideas. I do have an idea for an anthology in the future, but I’m going to keep quiet about it for the moment. It would be something for like 2015, I shouldn’t even talk about it, but it’s tied to a very specific date.


Well, I’m planning for past 2012. We’ll see if the world will survive. [laughter]

That’s smart, to set the deadline so far ahead.

Yep, the world may end before I get to the anthology… that way I won’t have to do anything.

–Sarah Morean

5 Comments to “Interview: Tom Kaczynski Pt. 1 (of 2)”

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