Tom Kaczynski is sensitive to the fact that consumer culture seems pretty much a lost cause and any attempt to reverse course would appear to be futile at best. It’s the stuff of great comics and Kaczynski has an excellent handle on it. “Beta Testing The Apocalypse” brings together, thanks to Fantagraphics Books, an impressive collection of social satire with a distinctive voice. I hate to throw in the term, “snark,” in this review since it’s too easy and sort of misleading. Kaczynski’s humor is, at times, acerbic, with an attitude, I suppose, but it’s much more than that. This book collects eight comics, the majority having appeared in the Fantagraphics anthology, MOME. Read as a whole, the author’s vision comes through as heart-felt, witty, and maybe even, perhaps, genuinely concerned. Oh sure, it’s all in good fun. I’m just saying this stuff will get under your skin.
Have us Westerners crossed a line of no return? We worship cars. We allow ourselves to be herded like cattle to our office cubicles. We create myths about the great dream to own a house. Well, you get it. The readership for this type of satire already gets it. Where Kaczynski shines is in the details. His characters are numb and they know it. The world is too much with them, as Wordsworth says in his poem, and they have given their hearts away. In “976 SQ FT,” Kaczynski gives us a hipster couple, having recently abandoned suburbia, who mock their new “urban” neighborhood as nothing more than a few blocks sliced and diced by a highway overpass, a bridge, and an avenue. They cope with the nonstop construction of new condos. They think they’ve managed to get a handle on an increasingly artificial environment until one day, the joke is on them.
Wordsworth goes on to wish, in that same poem, to just be a pagan. But can such silly near-sighted humans ever get it right? In “Million Year Boom,” an ambitious young man takes a new job that will find him living on a corporate campus for several years. Hired as part of the new marketing team, he is less than impressed with the current company logo that looks like it was lifted out of a clip-art file. However, the company is stuffed with investor capital and the energy of start-up idealism is too much to resist. It’s not until he comes to see that the company’s goal is sort of crazy, that he hesitates. The allergy he’s developed from one of the company’s new species of plants is not a good sign either. But then again, when he thinks it over, a corporate return to the wild could be the sort of crazy that he’s always hungered for.
Kaczynski’s characters are often attempting to push back and find that something that is pure and real. “The New,” throws into bed conflicting beliefs in the authority of first world and third world states. Architecture is seen as a possible solution to the many ills of one struggling nation. Sex and power are confused with the potential of building something “great.” The end is near for everyone when architecture turns into a cosmic portal to unspeakable horror.
So, no, there is no snark here. It is wry humor, told and drawn with a deft touch. Never overburdened or overwraught, what we have are naked apes with too much technology, and too much time, on their hands.
“Beta Testing The Apocalypse” is published by Fantagraphics Books. Visit our friends at Fantagraphics Books here.