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Comics Journal – Interview

Kaz Interview Conducted by John Kelly Excerpted from TCJ #186 Kazimieras G. Prapuolenis — or the artist formally known as Kaz — first burst onto the comic culture scene in the late 1970s through his appearances in Art Spiegelman’s RAW (along with his School of Visual Arts classmates Drew Friedman and Mark Newgarden). Those early strips, an edgy mix of punk rock and classic comic aesthetics, served notice of the arrival of new voice that was both pioneering as well as grounded in the medium’s traditions. And like fellow RAW alumni Gary Panter (with whom he shares more than a few influences) and Charles Burns, Kaz’s style has evolved to where it is instantly recognizable — especially when it pops up in the work of other artists he’s “influenced.” Born to Lithuanian immigrants in Hoboken, N.J. in 1959, Kaz has created an impressive and immense body of comic strip and illustration work through his apprearances in Weirdo, Bad News, the East Village Eye, The Village Voice, Details, Nickelodeon, The New Yorker, Swank, Eclipse, N.Y. Rocker, Screw, and Bridal Guide, along with many other comics, magazines and fanzines. Since 1992 his weekly comic strip Underworld has appeared in alternative weekly newspapers across the country. Along with Glenn Head, he co-edited the comics anthology Snake Eyes, and has three collections of his work available from Fantagraphics: Buzzbomb, Underworld, and most recently, Sidetrack City. Other projects include the cover for writer Mark Leyner’s book My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist, various work for Topps Trading Cards and Pee-wee Herman Toy Designs, as well as several animation and Internet projects currently in the works. Kaz lives in a pop culture-cluttered apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side along with his girlfriend, Linda Marotta, a book buyer for Shakespeare and Company and book reviewer for Fangoria magazine. The following is an excerpt from the interview appearing in TCJ #186. FACTORY JOBS JOHN KELLY: Before we talk about your schooling as a cartoonist, do you have any opening statements? KAZ: Underground comix made a man out of me. KELLY: Did you go to art school right out of high school? KAZ: No, I worked for a year or so. KELLY: Doing what? KAZ: I had a few factory jobs. The first job I had was at a plant called Springboard Records that had a license to press the Chipmunks’ albums. I swept the floor. That was my first job right out of high school. And it was completely disheartening to think that this was going to be my life. The forklift drivers felt so bad for me that they would lift me up on the forks of these vehicles that would rise up really high and deposit me up onto the top shelves of the warehouse where I would sleep all afternoon. I had a job working at a factory called Boyle-Midway that made Black Flag spray, and carpet cleaner, oven cleaner, that kind of stuff. It was an assembly line job. You would sit there next to the conveyor belt and watch the line in case a cap falls off a bottle. You’d have to put it back on. Or if a can had a leak, you’d toss it into the trash. The most dangerous spot on the line was right after the compression room where they forced the oven cleaner into the cans. Any one of those cans could blow up. One night I was sitting there with my dorky safety glasses on fantasizing about something when I heard a pop. I looked up and my whole face was drenched in oven cleaner. I felt my body being lifted up and then my head was shoved into a water fountain. A co-worker thought my eyes may have gotten sprayed. I also worked in an air conditioner factory. It was another mind-numbing assembly-line job. With an air-powered screw-gun, my job was to put in two screws that held the cooling unit into the air conditioner frame. That was it. All day long. The machines would come down the line non-stop. It was Modern Times. The place was big, hot, and noisy. I had some friends who worked there and they would drop Black Beauties and puncture holes into the compression tanks just to break up the monotony. One guy’s task was to line the cardboard boxes with plastic foam that had a sticky side on it. It would come off these gigantic rolls. One day he wrapped that foam around his head until he looked like a mummy and walked off the line. There he went, wandering throughout the whole factory in a daze. People were jumping out of his way. He finally made it to the nurse’s office where he declared, “My brain hurts!” He was fired on the spot. KELLY: How long did you work there? KAZ: About a year. I had my own breakdown. I disengaged from the machinery much like the main character in my strip, The Little Bastard. One morning I got a bit ahead of myself on the line when I stood back and watched the whole factory disappear. It was like at the end of an old cartoon where blackness engulfs the picture leaving a small circular view until the circle itself disappears. Then I blacked out. I woke up in an ambulance. I later learned from the hysterical Puerto Rican women who worked beside me that I fell down and started to thrash about banging my head on the conveyer belt. My screw gun, which was stuck in the “on” position, was flapping about on my crotch. No one wanted to touch me. They were convinced that I was a drug addict anyway, so they assumed I was having a freak-out! Later, the doctor at the hospital told me that I had some sort of seizure but they weren’t sure what it was. Two weeks later, I learned, the doctor blew his own brains out. I actually went back to work there. But it was so embarrassing. Everybody kept their …

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Carbon 14 – Interview

Say what you will about the “nihilism” that abounds in cartoonist Kaz’s strip Underworld, but don’t say it doesn’t make you laugh. The twisted inner-city universe of Underworld, whose bizarre streets are populated by characters steeped in cynicism and looking like Looney Tunes gone horribly wrong, appears in newspapers nationwide. It features such endearing personalities as Smoking Cat, who walks like a human and smokes like the Marlboro man; Snuff, the (anti-)Popeye; and Nuzzle, who’s always got a syringe of something stuck in his shoulder (and will soon be gracing a Smoke King lighter). The strip has also been collected into two volumes, the latest of which, Barebulbs: Underworld 2, has recently been published by Fantagraphics. He’s also done two other books, Buzzbomb and Sidetrack City, which feature everything from strips to one and two-page comics to long, narrative stories. “Sidetrack City,” the story, is nearly 30 pages of eyeball-popping mayhem that conjures up images of rejected sets and aliens from Lost In Space merged with what Burroughs’ Interzone might look like on really evil acid. Kaz’s work is filled with black humor of the highest quality and imagery that’s funny and disturbing. It’s disarmingly linear and surreal at the same time, making you go back and read parts of it twice to make sure you’ve gleaned all that’s happening in each highly detailed panel.–Larry C14: Are you basically a life-long New Yorker, or as close to that as one can be? Kaz: I guess I’m as close to one as one can be. Hoboken is across the river. Although I’ve only been living in New York proper for about five years. C14: Are you actually a trained artist? Kaz: Well, I’m not sure what that means. I did take courses at School of Visual Arts, illustration courses and whatnot, …

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