lunedì 11 febbraio 2013

Beta Testing the Apocalypse [a longer review]

© Tom Kaczynski
Beta testing the Apocalypse is a fascinating collection of the comics Tom Kaczynski published between 2007 and 2011 in the pages of Eric Reynold's magazine MOME, with a new story added specifically for this occasion.

The singularity of the comics compiled in this volume is also reflected by the particularities of the editing of the book itself. The (graphic) novel starts with a graphic summary in the form of a Carthesian diagram (a subtle reference to Rem Koolhaas' and Bruce Mau's seminal S, M, L, XL, on the transnational architectural office OMA) which traces the spatial and temporal coordinates of each story, anticipating and revealing a bunch of surprising narrative constellations, while in the last pages the author offers a list with the names of people, objects, concepts, movements and theories that are somehow referenced throughout the books, including links with a pleyade of cultural references ranging from Le Corbusier to Doctor Who.

All this is packed within a brightly colored cover that greets the reader with a miniature cityscape which extends up to the horizon under the oppressive yellow sky on top of which the title words are written. However, this reduced cityscape is made of the semiotic detritus of a the nowadays globalized architectural imaginary: an accumulation of fungible space and apparent sustainability punctuated by architectural icons from the past and the present.

As in Schuiten's and Peeters' Brüsel, Kaczinsky's model-scale city is also walked through by weird giants: technicians in white coats that inadvertently cause wreck to the buildings while busy at measuring and taking notes. Meanwhile, in the center of the scene an anthropomorphous skyscraper arises, literally gutted. Showing the ambiguous relationship between man and his built environment, the cover image aptly summarizes the content of the book. It is also its counterpoint: the strong colors of the outside are toned down in the inside, reduced into a single-color spectrum of different tones that change in each story, harmoniously enriching and enhancing (amplifying) the original black and white art, occasionally tarnished by dot-pattern graytones.

100,000 Miles © Tom Kaczynski
The musical undertones of these terms I used (harmonious, amplify), with their visual/sonic ambivalence are not casual, since sound, as well as architecture, is an important (and destabilizing) presence in the book: a thin red thread, an underlying, almost imperceptible vibration that subtly ties the different stories together.

The New. © Tom Kaczynski
Time, space, statistics, and the flow of data are the core elements of this science fiction of explicitly Ballardian echoes; short slice-of-life tales that depict the bewilderment of the Western man who has become deprived of his senses and feelings, alone and adrift in the intact, deserted architectural/urban ruins of an immanent future. With his algid style, a thin black line which can get efficiently denser, Kaczynski suggests that the Apocalypse is already here, in the present, ready to renew itself day after day in a world where the boundaries of time and space don't exist anymore, aptly nullified by the end of History.

Million Year Boom © Tom Kaczynski
In Million Year Boom (2008) we are presented with the all-but-innocent conversion of a Corporation into a primitive Nature that has never been innocent itself: in the end, rather than a metaphor, the logical endpoint of a Capitalism which has internalized the environmental concern, paradoxically revealing in the process its intrinsic predatory nature.

976 Sq. ft. © Tom Kaczynski
976 Sq. ft. (2007) deals with the destabilizing impact that the construction of a big residential tower on the psyche of the residents of a small neighborhood surrounded by freeways and ramps, which glides over them as the prelude to an imminent gentrification process.

The New © Tom Kaczynski
The aptly titled story The New, on the other hand, plays with establishing a new mythology of the City and underlines the mythopoietic power of architecture, offering one of the most striking depictions of a dystopian megalopolis to be found in a comic book.

These are just three examples of the kind of stories collected in Beta Testing the Apocalypse, a book with an elegant and agile format, immediate in its communicative ability, and extraordinarily dense in its content. An essential reading.

Tom Kaczynski, Beta testing the Apocalypse, Fantagraphics, 2012

Music for Neanderthals © Tom Kaczynski
Many thanks to Klaus for editing my poor English translation.
For more information on the book, Klaus suggests visiting The Morton Report's review of the book, which features an interesting interview with Tom Kaczynski. Another interesting read is Democratizing Objects: A Discussion with Tom Kaczynski, published by Nick Hanover in The Comics Bulletin, and, of course, the interview by The Rumpus, which also features the first three pages of Million Year Boom. Some previews of the book can be found in AQNB, which features the complete Music for Neanderthals story, and in Amazon's page.
I also suggest to keep an eye on Tom Kaczynki's publishing label Uncivilized Book and his charming Trans Atlantis Tumblr.

2 commenti:

m_ ha detto...

Ottimo, ottimo articolo! Ogni tanto si riesce a leggere qualcuno che sa di cosa parla, e che mostra di leggere qualcos'altro oltre ai fumetti.

Mi sei venuto in mente leggendo questo articolo:

Ti consiglierei vivamente di dare notizie di te stesso ad una cerchia meno ristretta e più interessata di quella a cui ti rivolgi attualmente.

Rifuggi i gruppi di scrittura da oratorio e i critici da piazzetta.

L'inglese è un buon inizio, ma spedisci gli articoli in giro!

biri ha detto...

dear M, thank you very much for your kind words.
i read that post too, but i sincerely don't have an opinion about the questions aroused there.
another question bothers me more: where have you been?
can't wait for our next breakfast in veneto river!
jokes apart, next time remember me to tell you a funny story about my new "novel"...