Out this month from Fantagraphics is a new expanded edition of the Eisner nominated anthology Beta Testing the Ongoing Apocalypse by Tom Kaczynski. Already ground-breaking at the time of its original release, this collection of stories is even more relevant to today’s society as the rules of living and the corporate hierarchy of the world is dissected through the medium of science fiction.
There are plenty of examples of serious social commentary out there on the rise of consumer culture and how life is becoming ever more like a dystopian nightmare. But Kaczynski has taken a fresh approach which takes the mundane aspects or working life and merges them with sci-fi themes in a remarkable way (with just the right level of dry humour). Inspired by sci-fi greats such as J.G. Ballard, Kaczynski takes the everyday realities of work commutes, mass office cubicles, advertising, and investments to a cosmic scale. His characters are all somewhat aware of the increasingly bleak surroundings they are in and think they can find a way to get around the situation that are bogging them down, but invariably they are thrown a curveball.
We see a suburban couple who think they can avoid the consequences of the constant gentrification of their neighbourhood but are ultimately outsmarted and a young marketer who sees his enthusiasm tested as he discovers the pitfalls of corporate start-ups. A lot of Kaczynski’s character have a fear of what is to come in the future whether it be natural disaster or economic ruin, but they fail to realise in time that there are plenty of disasters happening in what they consider their normal lives.
Kaczynski’s art is a great fit for these stories. He fluctuates between over-the-top cartooning and a more subdued style. The colours choices add to this with one colour being used in each story in particular that very much enhances the tone of the narrative. There are also some clever techniques on display such as when compares the functions of a city to that of a human body (with a slick transition between a suburban sprawl and a pair of lungs).
This is an engaging look at the failings of modern society that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Anyone who missed out on this collection the first time definitely needs to give Kaczynski’s work a look.
Beta Testing The Ongoing Apocalypse is out now 24 March Fantagraphics (9781683964315, h/b, £21.99)
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