Starting next month, Ales Kot (Wild Children) offers his latest meditation on our constantly flickering world. The four-part mini-series Change is expansive in scope, featuring character studies set in low-down La-La Land and deep in the vacuum of outer space. It’s a strange, beautiful and haunting book, featuring art by Morgan Jeske. At the center of it all is Kot’s deep fascination and nuanced rendering of human behavior and our tumultuous world(s).
We spoke to Kot about this appropriately cosmic LA story and his recommended reading list for comic fans eager to shrug off the same old stuff.
iFanboy: This is an LA story. How does the city inform the story and the themes you’re exploring?
Ales Kot: I moved to Los Angeles in 2009 to be with my girlfriend, then we decided to stay here and got married. We lived in Hollywood – transsexual hookers and aggressive pimps, 7-11′s and Targets, homeless people and rich people in SUV’s, big neons and a great view from the roof of our apartment building. Our landlord got shot when some guy went on a rampage, I had to stop a guy in the apartment next to us when he tried to choke his girlfriend…it was a hell of a first year. Beautiful, ugly, strange and fifty other things at least. I was in love like never before and we both worked shitty jobs to stay afloat.
We moved to Echo Park — to Charles Bukowski’s old house, of all places — when I got a better-paying job in 2010. When I walk out on the porch, I see Downtown LA on the right, trees and palm trees and houses on the hill in front of me and mountains on the left. The street is gang-free thanks to this older nice gentleman who is respected by everyone. The peace is kept, the house is on a beautiful hill. My story is changing again now.
How does everything I just said connect to your question? Los Angeles is a city that is set on the edge of real and imagined. My wildest dreams and nightmares come true faster than anywhere else in the world I’ve ever been. No one cares most of the time, so you’re on your own – in good and bad ways. You can be anyone, you can do anything. Walk into a pet store and you’ll likely meet five people with incredibly interesting life paths. Get hit by a car and no-one might care enough to help you.
Los Angeles is everything. Desert, mountains, forests, buildings, the Ocean. It contains multitudes and I’m fascinated by it. This fascination is a huge part of the driving force behind ‘Change’. Communication breakdowns, paranoia, enlightening moments, some of the weirdest shit I’ve ever seen, extreme wealth, horrifying inequality, ordinary people doing great things, obsession with fame, confusion, beautiful dreams and hopes…Los Angeles works like a transmitter that helps you tune into whatever it is you want to discover. ‘Change’ is about people who slowly realize the transmitter will go away in less than two days – unless they do something. We have a wealthy disconnected rapper, a screenwriter who moonlights as a car thief, an astronaut on his way back to Earth and…well, some other people as well, but I’ve said enough.
iF: It also seems to be a cosmic journey. Have you been reading up on cosmonauts and the science of interplanetary travel or is this pure fantasy? The same for the NSA and deep oceanography?
A.K.: I read up on cosmonauts, NSA and deep oceanography simply because I read a lot – my brain is an enormous library of weird shit. I constantly try to make some sense of the world, understand its complexities, see how some pieces influence other parts and so on. With ‘Change’, I found things and ideas that interested me and slapped them on a wall, saw what stuck, then developed them from there, adding and abandoning ideas as I saw fit. I did my best to look deeper and connect everything on less than obvious levels by applying comparative mythology, anthropology, all of the knowledge I either have or at least have access to. It all happens organically and it’s not a process I can fully describe because I don’t fully understand it, but it seems to be working.
I read Charlie Kaufman’s fascinating BAFTA speech as I was forming the story, and one of the key things he says there is something like “find the thing inside you that’s alive, find the hole inside you, the thing that won’t let you sleep”. So I found it, grabbed it and began pulling it out of my body. The process of writing ‘Change’ is like sticking my arm deep down my neck and catching a tapeworm inside my guts, grabbing it, then carefully pulling it out so it doesn’t break off and fall back down. And the more of the tapeworm is out, the better it feels, but the process is hard. ‘Change’ is the hardest thing I ever had to write.
iF: How did you arrive at the title?
A.K.: When the story began to form and the first layer — the apocalyptic one — took a clear shape, I sat down, looked at the themes and scenes and the overall feel of the comic. ‘Change’ popped up almost immediately, because apocalypse, in its original meaning, means upheaval, transformation. I checked with Morgan to see what he thought about the name and he liked it as well.
iF: There’s a call to arms in the solicit text. “Let’s make and read new comics.” Do you want to expand on that message? What are you reading these days? Any recommendations?
A.K.: I’m for less generic comics made only by using classic approaches and formulas. I’m for more comics that take a risk, try to achieve something new. I’m for comics that take advantage of the medium and achieve surprising results. Alan Moore and Stanley Kubrick agree – figure out why the story you want to make needs to be a comic book, a movie, a song. Whatever it needs to be. The question that helps with finding the answer is: what medium can convey this story in the most complete way?
We can also get great comics by working with classic structures and then carefully expanding them from within. ‘The Surface’ and ‘Zero’, both of which are coming next year, should be blends of both approaches. ‘Change’ is as well, to a large extent.
What am I reading: a ton of everything. When it comes to the mainstream stuff I can wholeheartedly recommend, I just read the first trade of Saga, the first issue of Alan Moore’s already very good Fashion Beast, the last issue of Batman, Inc… Brian Wood’s The Massive is quite well-research and timely – I read the first few issues while listening to the NYPD radio scanner when Sandy hit and it was one of the strongest reading experiences I’ve had this year. I’d like to see more people pay attention to Wood’s work. DMZ and Northlanders were strong as well, and he knows how to say important things without being preachy.
I’m still digging through Brandon Graham’s King City and the first issue of new Multiple Warheads came out a week ago. I love everything Brandon touches. Ron Wimberly’s ‘Prince of Cats’ is a herculean effort that feels effortlessly elegant. It’s deeply driven by Wimberly’s passion for sequential storytelling, Shakespeare and everything that makes a city tick. ‘Comeback’ by Ed Brisson, Michael Walsh and Jordie Bellaire looks like a great crime/SF blend. Other than that: I read Study Group comics pretty often. Michael DeForge’s work. James Stokoe. Blaise Larmee. Connor Willumsen, Frazer Irving, Chris Burnham, JH Williams III, Paul Pope. ‘One Soul’ by Ray Fawkes is a mind-bending work that’s beautifully gentle and hugely rewarding when you reread it. Each page has nine panels, and each panel is one story. And they all combine, influence each other.
Book-wise, right now I’m cutting back in order to finish the last issue of Change and focus on my new projects. I’m slowly re-reeading Baudrillard’s ‘Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared’, which is one of my favorite books. Its theme — human disappearance and what it might bring — strongly connects with what we’re doing with ‘Change’ as well as with some current events of my life.
Here’s a preview of Change #1 (of 4), due out on December 12th!