Cartoon Dialectics Vol. 1
Tom Kaczynski, writer/artist
Uncivilized Books, 2007
This minicomic collection of strips culled mostly from magazines by MOME contributor Tom Kaczynski is a showcase for both his humanistic critiques of techno-capitalist society and his almost horrifyingly proficient use of color. Seriously, has he done any color work in MOME before? Because this stuff knocked my socks off. Give this man an Eisner for his fruity red-oranges alone!
The comics themselves are a strong selection, packing a lot of variety and value into a five-buck mini. Cartoony cover character Ransom Strange kicks things off by exorcising a corporate Cthulhu knockoff that had been plaguing some poor modern man with credit card debt and body image issues. (If only it were that easy!) It’s a funny, fun little metaphor, one I actually think could be expanded upon.
Next up is a lengthy, luddite comics essay pitting the Web-based post-print world against Kaczynski’s preferred realm of “meatspace,” which here comprises everything from printed books to taking a dump. While I agree with Kaczynski that anti-print evangelism gets tedious, anyone who’s blogged as much (and enjoyed it as much!) as I have should be able to tell you that you can get a lot out of not being an ink-stained wretch and not idealizing the pre-Internet age. (Would something like MOME be as successful as its been without the Internet to pass the word around?) The strip kind of confuses its case by lumping advertorial in print magazines in with the evils of the digital age, as though a) that’s new and b) one has anything to do with the other. If you’re going to create a good-evil dichotomy between analog and digital, you can’t have it both ways. Still, though not quite successful on a philosophical level, it’s a lovely-looking strip, with judiciously chosen images representing the various ideas and idea-spouters and Kaczynski’s precise use of thicker blacks creating a memorable Easter Island sequence.
The collection is rounded out by five one-page strips that really showcase Kaczynski’s color palette to a range of affect. There’s a pair almost Julius Knipl-style anecdotes about a just-shy-of-believable quirks of our commoditized ideas and emotions–a resort community designed to provoke existential ennui called Taedium Plains, and “Boris Lecture, the famous architecture critic,” who can’t quite bring himself to completely purge his book collection Zizek-style every couple of months. A third strip preserves Kaczynski’s trademark linkage of phsyical and mental artchitecture in depicting how the male member of a couple compartmentalizes his memories according to the bedrooms in which they took place. A fourth recounts the domestication of the cat with adorable clarity, and the fifth and final strip is a tale of excessive consumption of gross junk food on a road trip familiar to anyone who’s ever grabbed a bag of Combos in a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. Lovely, enjoyable, occasionally provocative stuff, all in color for five bucks.