Photograph by Zoetica Ebb
Ales Kot produced one of the best comics of 2012, Wild Children. Psychedelic, violent and savagely clever, it heralded the arrival of a bold new voice in comics. In the first of a two-part interview, Mishka caught up with him to discuss life in LA, alternate realities, and his new series for Image, Change. Ales Kot's Wild Children, published by Image Comics in July this year, is a delicious metafictional confection. It takes the ideas and theories about the multiverse explored by the likes of Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis and Alan Moore, and pumps them full of ideological rocket fuel. A group of the eponymous 'wild children' take over their school. Their dialogue, the narrative and panel borders bristle with elliptical quotations from the likes of Bjork, Ian Bogost and Hakim Bey. Wild Children had the same devastating impact as Morrison's early Invisibles issues. Ales Kot's first graphic novel arrived fully formed; a bastion of a new, densely literate and allusive type of comics; marrying complex, high-art notions and minimal, Situationist drama. Kot is now working on three new series for Image. Change is about a fictional Los Angeles which revolves at an 'odd angle' through time. Zero is a metafictional, futuristic spy thriller. The Surface, meanwhile, is a cyberpunk surveillance adventure with strong metaphysical leanings, which sounds like an LSD-inspired take on The Matrix. Ales Kot shows no signs of slowing down, or of diluting his mercurial, research-intensive, high-concept subject matter. Like Wild Children, the new worlds he has created for Image are packed with references to music, net culture and futurism. Mishka caught up with Ales Kot for a wide-ranging discussion about his work, his influences, and the start of a meteoric rise through the ranks of comics creators.
Kot got into comics at a young age: “I was about four and very sick, and my parents brought me a comic book - Donald Duck, that kind of stuff,” he says. “I started reading and I forgot I was sick. Then, a few years later, my grandfather, who used to be a truck driver, brought me comics from some abandoned factory he was clearing out. The Stern/Romita Spider-Man era, Conan the Barbarian, the late 70's Marvel stuff, mostly. It blew my mind again. I made a few of my own comics, for example this mash-up of Street Fighter, Batman and True Lies that got really weird because the main character had a pig head. I was about seven, I think. I continued reading comics, but I haven't had any idea that I wanted to make them and be serious about it until late 2008. I was seriously considering killing myself at the time and I thought: 'Maybe I should try doing something that will really make me creatively happy first, and if it doesn't work out, I can always kill myself later.' So I sat down and started learning and writing.”
“Comics are unique as an art for they give readers complete control over time and space in which they appear.”
Kot quotes Alan Moore's thoughts on comics, and what they can achieve as an art form: “Rather than seizing upon the superficial similarities between comics and films or comics and books in the hope that some of the respectability of those media will rub off on us, wouldn’t it be more constructive to focus our attention upon those ideas where comics are special and unique? Rather than dwelling upon film techniques that comics can duplicate, shouldn’t we perhaps consider comic techniques that films can’t duplicate?” Asked how he applies this in his own work, Kot embarks on an epic explanation: “I'm interested in whatever is the most effective way to communicate whatever it is I want to say. Comics are unique as an art form because they give readers complete control over time and space in which they appear. We can flip through a comic book in a minute or spend an hour reading it. We can read just the first panel on every page and string together something deeply meaningful. We can just look at the images and not read the words. There are so many ways to read comics, so many ways to ignite our imaginations through them. The empty space between two panels is where we fill in the blanks - it's where we participate on a level that's quite uncanny. We finish the story in our own mind. We develop it. No two readings will ever be completely identical. The amount of information we can convey through words and pictures on one page can be quite something. And words are also pictures, technically speaking.”
For Kot, Moore's axiom that language and magic are the same thing finds a particularly powerful expression in comics: “It's all sigils,” he explains. “The way we put them on paper influences reality. When we create a new work, whether it's a new comic book or painting or film or performance art or whatnot, we present new information and new ways to process information. Being a creator is a social function, and it's a tremendous responsibility.” This notion of comics as a unique and fascinating way of playing with time and space is given space to breathe in Change: “We're playing with information density quite a bit,” says Kot. “It's quite unusual these days to get something like twenty panels on one page and I think it shouldn't be. I look at someone like Guido Crepax or Michael DeForge and I marvel at how much information one page can deliver. Now, combining the density of panels with density of text and increasing complexity is a game I'm currently into. It's a theme that plays directly into our current narrative as human beings and I'm interested in what's happening now. I want people to feel incredible things when they look at the comics I make, I want people to feel incredible things when they read them. I want to help people be more alive. I like the idea of increasing empathy and making the world a better place. Now, that can be achieved through a vast variety of stories - not just the ones with good endings or stereotypical three-act exercises.”
“I want people to feel incredible things when they look at the comics I make... I want to help people be more alive.”
And of course, when working with an artist like Change's Morgan Jeske, a writer's imagination is literally unbounded, in terms of what it can seek to create: “I love being able to have an unlimited budget when it comes to creating the images and getting them on paper,” says Kot gleefully. “Comics allow me to do that and extract the images from my head with the help of my collaborators. They're fast and they're cheap.”
Change is a comic that deals, in a very real sense, with the fallout of the approaching singularity. It's a challenge that Kot says he and Jeske are “doing our best to pull off.” They will be: “...describing the fracturing of space and time that is currently happening to so many people - synchronicities abound, sacred geometries become strikingly visible. The similarities between each one of us and their implications can be quite haunting, transcending time and space.” This exploration of time and space is at the heart of why Kot loves writing comics: “What better medium to explore them in if not the medium that allows you to control both?” Change is also about Kot's experience of living in Los Angeles. “I moved to Los Angeles in 2009 to be with my girlfriend, then wife, now soon-to-be-ex-wife,” says Kot. Did he love the place instantly? “My first reaction to LA was - while still on the plane and walking through LAX - 'Holy shit, I'm in Heat.' I always loved that film. It transcended fiction for me. The way Mann depicts the city, that cool detached sense of space that is still absolutely connected to the inherent melancholy and dreaminess that Los Angeles has in spades - I felt all that. The air was electric and full of possibilities, and not just because of the myths and because I was in love. It was real.” A few days later, Kot had another reaction: “'It smells like hell, but it looks worse.'” His description of the city is characteristically poetic: “I climb on the roof of our then-apartment in Hollywood, above the transsexual hookers and drug dealers and Armenian mothers and old Italian guys with cigars and palm trees, and I look at the city, and I see the mountains and the ocean and the slums and the skyscrapers and the roads and the highways and the mansions, and the homeless and the SUVs and the supermarkets and the parking lots and the paper billboards and the digital billboards and the sand, and I smell the wind and look at the vast blue sky with almost no clouds, and I realize I'm home.” Born in the Czech Republic, he moved around schools a great deal when he was young; part of the inspiration for Wild Children. Kot has gotten used to a somewhat nomadic existence. “I do carry my home within me - I am my own home,” he says. “But there's a connection to Los Angeles that I'm just beginning to unravel and I have no idea how long it will take. I love this city because it has everything. This is where the reality meets up with the dream and they fuck until they can't breathe, so they just rest on each other breathless and merging until you can't tell which is which.”
“Separation into 2D and 3D is a work of fiction in itself.”
Change is in part a time-travel story. How did Kot avoid the pitfalls and plot-holes of this often treacherous fictional ground? “My approach could be called 'Shoot first and let the universe and my hard work sort it out,'” he says. “We all time travel every time we imagine or recall our pasts and futures. I'm travelling into my own past to influence my present, in a sense, trusting my own conscious/subconscious/unconscious autopilot to lead me where I need to go.” As with Kot's prior work, the thinking of Carl Jung was a big influence: “Change is ridiculously Jungian,” he says. “I came up with the - relatively simple - story skeleton, started developing it, then made ten steps back and looked at the entire thing from far away, dissecting it in relation to my own psyche. And oh, the implications.” Info: Come back in a week's time for part two of our in-depth interview with Ales Kot, where he tells us about Zero, Surface, and looks back at his debut, Wild Children. @ales_kot Change Issue #1 is on sale from 12 Dec. Zero and the Surface debut in 2013. Check www.aleskot.com for news and updates.