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    Interview with K. Thor Jensen

    By Tim Leong

    In the wake of 9/11, after losing his girlfriend, his job and his apartment, K. Thor Jensen got on a bus and traveled across the country. He documented his 10,000-mile journey in his new book, Red Eye, Black Eye (due in January from Alternative Comics).

    What type of web push did you use for this book?
    The phases of promotion for Red Eye, Black Eye were done in several stages over the last four years. First, it was run in three-page chunks every week at for about two years. After technical problems brought that site offline for a time, I quietly completed the book on my own time. Once the book was sold to Alternative, I bided my time waiting for a release date to be announced. Once I had that, I began identifying important comics forums and message boards and providing links to the preview and sales page. I created a signature line on every forum I post on regularly to push attention to the book. I revamped my Web site to include a prominent link to the book’s mini-site. I used Friendster, MySpace and other social networking services to bring the book to people’s attention. Basically, any action I take on the Internet right now has a little Red Eye, Black Eye attached to it.

    Why was it important to use
    Red Eye, Black Eye is by far the longest comics work I have ever undertaken, so having Serializer both as a platform to grow an audience as well as the responsibility of a weekly deadline was essential to me in completing the work. I think the best thing a cartoonist can do for themselves is give them multiple small goals as opposed to one big goal - we as a species tend to get derailed o r demoralized. The book found a great response on Serializer and hopefully that will carry over into the print publication.

    The book recounts your journey back in 2001 — why did it take so long to publish?
    I started drawing the book in mid-2002. When Serializer was up, the steady weekly deadline kept me on track. I had the book first-draft complete by October of 2005, when I mailed it out to several publishers. Alternative agreed to publish it in early 2006 and I have been spending the past year doing edits and corrections to polish it up before it hits the stands. So it wasn’t four years of constant work. Plus during that time I published six minicomics, over 150 pages of anthology material, released a CD and got married. Hopefully my next book will come a little quicker.

    What is your art process like?
    It depends on the project — I am very format-agnostic and will use whatever tools are necessary to get the best result. Since Red Eye, Black Eye is meant to be read quickly and easily, I wanted the page layouts to be simple and comprehensible, so I stuck to a basic six-panel grid. Pages were drawn on Aquarelle Arches watercolor paper and inked with a Windsor & Newton #2 brush. Graytones were done in Adobe Photoshop. My next book will be finished primarily digitally from hand-drawn roughs.

    Did you get a sense of the different comic scenes throughout the US?
    A little bit. I didn’t spend a lot of time with other cartoonists while I traveled, as in some ways I was trying to cut some ties with the world and forge new ones. While I was traveling (and this isn’t in the book, because it complicates things and doesn’t add a lot to the story), I was stopping at a number of stores to drop off postcards for Jeff Mason’s 9-11 Emergency Relief book. So I made some connections and saw some stores, but overall comics wasn’t a big part of the trip. I was just trying to keep fed and alive.

    Most of your work thus far has been contributing small stories to anthologies. How different was it for you to go from a 6-page story to a 304-pager like Red Eye, Black Eye?
    Well, initially serializing it on was a help in bridging that gap - thinking of the book as 100 three-page segments kept it manageable to think about. Also, since the book is very episodic, with little nested narratives, it was easy to keep the progression going because I always had new things and new people to draw. I really didn’t start doing a massive amount of anthology work until after I started Red Eye, Black Eye, and for the most part that was done to let me stretch my drawing muscles in different directions.

    Was it easier or harder for you to do autobiographical rather than fiction? Why?
    Easier, for the most part, but doing autobiography has its own perils - it can be very difficult to make an autobiographical story that doesn’t slip into solipsism and who-cares specificity. It’s a difficult struggle and I’m happy that I had multiple people reading my manuscript to ensure that I didn’t get too far up my own ass in the process.

    What have you learned from creating Red Eye, Black Eye that you’ll be able to use in your next project, “Downbeat the Ruler”?
    My next book is very different - historical fiction about Jamaica in the 1970s is a far cry from autobiography, but I learned a lot. Red Eye, Black Eye was very loosely plotted, I had sketchbooks and journals to refer to, but I didn’t script anything ahead of time. With Downbeat the Ruler, I am scrupulously outlining each chapter, doing detailed character studies, and putting together back matter that will probably never be visible in the final product, but will lend realism and resonance to the book when it’s done. It is a huge challenge, but that’s why I’m excited about it. I always want to push myself forward. I don’t want to be the cartoonist where you can say “K. Thor Jensen, he’s the guy who does _______.” Unless the blank is “good comics,” I guess.

    It seems like a lot of your stories involve bucking social norms. Why is that important to you?
    Because I’m an asshole? I dunno. For me, I am always fascinated as to how the structures of societies build invisible rules around people, and how people act out and break those rules depending on their character traits. I have always felt like somewhat of an outsider, although that feeling has faded as I grew older.

    With so many big people rooted in it, how influential was the Seattle comics scene to you?
    Growing up in Seattle in the ’90s was one of the best environments a cartoonist of my generation could have ever asked for. I really think that the flowering of alternative comics began then, with so many new talents coming up from the minicomics scene, the institution of the Xeric grants, people really starting to think about formalism in comics on an academic level - I consider myself thrice-blessed to have been in my formative state surrounded by talents like Tom Hart, David Lasky, Ed Brubaker, James Sturm, Jason Lutes, Megan Kelso - I would not be the cartoonist I am without them. It was a vital, exciting time and I encourage other cartoonists to try to make the same social and professional atmosphere in their towns.

    Posted by Tim Leong on November 7th, 2006 filed in Story Archive |

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