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This first interview is with K. Thor Jensen, Cartoonist, Artist, Musician and faux 14-year-old-girl. The interview was conducted during March and April of 2004, and as such, some things have changed. The biggest being that his graphic novel Red Eye, Black Eye has just been published by Alternative Comics (which has excellent distribution — I picked my copy up in a Barnes & Noble!); at the time, it was running on the Serializer website. He’s also currently playing bass in Music For Girls. Amber Forever is still online, though it hasn’t been updated for a few years. The best way to keep tabs on Thor is via his website, A Short And Happy Life. His work has appeared in The Stranger, Pulse Magazine, and lots of comics anthologies and self-published comics, among other work. Here is Thor’s online store, or you can purchase his outstanding Red Eye, Black Eye via Amazon.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that given the age, not all of the links will still work. I’ve tried to update where I could, though. So here we go!
Part the First:
KS: What’s your favorite T-shirt (or if you prefer not to wear t-shirts, your favorite article of clothing otherwise)?
K. Thor Jensen: I have a lot of T-shirts — in fact, I’ve had to call a moratorium on buying any new ones. I’m at somewhere around 40 T-shirts, and that’s way more than I can ever wear in a month, even if I wear two at once. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I have sentimental fondness for my Mari-Chan ‘Zombie Dog’ shirt with the little sewn-up spot by my left nipple where I got shot with a bottle rocket.
KS: At this moment in time, what is your favorite song?
K. Thor Jensen: Like above, I’ve had to call a moratorium on favorite new songs. Current top 3 are “Code Red” by Gold Chains, “Tell You Something” by Charizma/Peanut Butter Wolf and ‘Starry Eyes” by Roky Erickson. Those change daily.
KS: If you had the power to eliminate two films from the history of the world, what would they be?
K. Thor Jensen: I just saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind this last weekend and so the subject of eliminating anything from history is more than a little touchy for me right now. The answer to this question, then, is none.
KS: What’s your favorite band that you don’t think a lot of people would have heard of?
K. Thor Jensen: I’ll go gut and say the Superfriendz, a lovely power-pop group from Newfoundland, Canada that wrote smart, beautiful songs that are also really rockin’.
KS: What, if anything, is on any particular wall (your choice) in your domicile?
K. Thor Jensen: On the wall nearest the door to my room, there is a small James Kochalka painting of a robot, a Neoprint sticker in a small wooden frame of my friends Erikka and Dave posing with me with my child-molester mustache (RIP) and the caption “I’m Sorry,” my finisher’s ribbon from the Chengwin Quarter-Mile Marathon and my ID tag from the march on Washington in September 2002, and a sumi-e painting of a rat. On the other side of that wall is a hand-screened Cuban movie poster flanked by two wrestling masks.
KS: Where is the place where you would do anything to be?
K. Thor Jensen: I’m there now. Doing everything.
KS: What’s the strangest thing you own?
K. Thor Jensen: God, unknown. Creepy plastic doctor puppet (eBay)? Tiny wooden box with anime Jesus on it that says in Korean “Jesus is my Special Friend”? Stuffed doll of myself as Freddy Krueger?
KS: Of the things you’ve done, what’s your all-time favorite (however you want to interpret that, be it artistic works, actions, whatever)?
K. Thor Jensen: Shortandhappy.com, 1998-infinity. It has become my life, my calling card, and my home. I will continue it forever. It has let me reach and breathe and touch and change the world.
KS: What’s your highest bowling score?
K. Thor Jensen: 19. I don’t bowl.
KS: Who’s your favorite visual artist (excluding yourself)?
KS: If you could make one band reconsider their decision to break up, which would it be?
K. Thor Jensen: I wouldn’t — breaking up and changing and moving on are essential to growth. There is no stasis.
KS: What are the five most recent films you’ve seen?
KS: Do you own any original artwork, and if so, whose?
K. Thor Jensen: I own a little James Kochalka painting and soon I will own a Gary Panter drawing. I would like to have more.
KS: How are your DVDs/VHS/Betamax tapes organized?
K. Thor Jensen: In huge, ungainly piles, as I am finishing Evil Video 3 and thus need easy access to all of them. My room is a hazardous mess and it is hard to navigate.
KS: Is Todd Solondz awesome/horrible/unknown-to-you?
K. Thor Jensen: With his first film, he was unknown to me. By his second, he was awesome. And with his third, horrible. [Ed. Note: Todd Solondz' first film was Fear, Anxiety and Depression, although most people tend to consider Welcome To The Dollhouse his first as it was his first breakthrough film, and also because Fear, Anxiety and Depression simply wasn't very good.]
KS: What is your favorite game?
K. Thor Jensen: Kickball. I am joining a league!
KS: What sort of pie do you enjoy?
K. Thor Jensen: Apple. Dutch Apple. Ditch Apple.
K. Thor Jensen: Horrible garbage. I’d love nothing more than to elevate some fiesta of obscenity to the new Buñuel but Tom Green isn’t the man to do it.
KS: If you could say one thing to David Byrne, what would it be?
K. Thor Jensen: I love your PowerPoint presentations. They are calamitous and beautiful and soothing to a former office drone. Please make more of them and put them places where I can see them.
KS: Have you ever watched short track speed skating?
K. Thor Jensen: Short track, no.
KS: Describe some horrible local commercials.
K. Thor Jensen: I don’t watch much TV, sorry.
KS: What are your five most favorite books in the world?
K. Thor Jensen: Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Ulysses by James Joyce. A Fan’s Notes by Fred Exley. Stupefaction, The: Stories and a novella by Diane Williams.
KS: What is the most boring thing you’ve ever experienced?
K. Thor Jensen: THIS INTERVIEW LOL. Honestly, I don’t get bored easily — there’s always something I can do to keep me occupied. I pack a book, or a sketchbook, or a walkman, or I hum to myself, or I look around and think. Boredom is boring.
KS: If you could name a child anything in the world, what would it be?
K. Thor Jensen: I was just watching “The New Americans” on PBS and this Nigerian guy names his kid “Karm” which is a name for the strongest tree that grows in Nigeria. That was a beautiful name.
KS: Favorite sort of puppy?
K. Thor Jensen: Raccoon.
KS: Favorite sort of kitty?
K. Thor Jensen: Bunny.
KS: Favorite sort of chicken?
K. Thor Jensen: General Tso’s chicken.
KS: Of the TV Batmans, including both animated and live action, and all spin-offs/related shows (i.e. Justice League, Superfriends, etc.), which is your favorite?
K. Thor Jensen: I don’t watch a lot of TV but I remember liking the original Adam West TV Batman as a kid.
KS: What would be a better weapon, a gun that fires dogs or a gun that fires cats?
K. Thor Jensen: Gun that fires cats, obviously. A gun that fires dogs would have to be calibrated to shoot the dog muzzle-first and the dog would have to be trained to bite precisely at the moment of impact. A cat, lobbed by some sort of grenade-launcher device, would spin in midair and instinctively unsheathe claws, making whatever it landed on more likely to suffer getting all scratchy on it.
KS: What is your favorite meal?
K. Thor Jensen: There’s too much food in this beautiful universe to list just one. Vegetable samosas, Cuban sandwiches, General Tso’s chicken, jerk chicken, home-made macaroni and cheese, plain green salad with fresh tomatoes, the list must never stop.
KS: What is reality?
K. Thor Jensen: Reality is everything anybody perceives or imagines. It is impossible to remove yourself from it. It is all that matters, because it is all that is. Even the most unlikely events can be contained within it.
Part the Second:
KS: My first exposure to your work was the Short and Happy Life comic strip that ran in the Stranger — I think I told you this before, but it was kind of funny, since we went to the same high school (I think you graduated either my freshman year or the year before), and a lot of the teachers would, when they saw a student with an issue of the Stranger, flip to the back, point to your strip and say “Thor was in my class!” Anyway, though, do you think you’ll ever put the “A Short and Happy Life” comic strip online?
K. Thor Jensen: I doubt it will ever be completely online, but there should be a nice little collection of those strips formatted for your! Bookshelf by this time next year. Unless, of course, you have some kind of odd, non-Euclidean bookshelf, and then you may have to wait for another printing. There will be between 8 and 16 new strips that have never seen print included.
KS: One thing I remember from a long time ago was a Magic Whistle strip that was a parody of Short and Happy Life, “A Short And Magic Whistle” (I think it was called) — are you a fan of Sam Henderson’s and what did you think of the strip?
K. Thor Jensen: Sam is a friend of mine and I was atrociously flattered when that strip showed up — it kind of signified that I’d “arrived.” And it was significantly funnier than anything I’d ever done.
KS: Last year, you made a resolution to be in 12 different anthologies, one for each month of the year. How did that work out? Any resolutions for this year?
K. Thor Jensen: I did it. Not all of them have been published yet but 12 acceptances happened, which was the goal. This year’s resolution is to learn how to draw. To accomplish this, I am keeping two sketchbooks — one of observational drawings (stuff I see) and one of inspirational drawings (stuff I imagine). I draw a page in each every other day, approximately. It is going very well.
KS: About how long does it take you to fill them up, and about how long each day do draw in them? So far, do you have a favorite between the two sketchbooks?
K. Thor Jensen: Depends – about an hour to 45 minutes a day to do a page. I like them equally.
KS: I’ve been enjoying “Red Eye, Black Eye” at Serializer; about how far into it are we (my guess is about halfway)?
K. Thor Jensen: Almost 2/3 of the way done as of this writing — it’s going to hit 300 pages when it’s finally done, which should hopefully be by the end of this year. I am very tired, already.
KS: I especially like the construction of the story with the main narrative going on which gives way to the mini stories from the individuals you meet. In the story, it seems that the start of the trip is pretty spontaneous — how far into the trip did you decide to make it into a graphic novel?
K. Thor Jensen: A few weeks into it — I was keeping the sketchbooks, obviously, and people told me these stories, and it just all kind of fell into place. I was corresponding with people back home and saved all of those emails so I had plenty of records to draw from as well, which is good, ’cause my memory is going.
KS: Is there going to be a print book version of Red Eye, Black Eye? If so, will it include the sketchbook pages you’ve put up also?
K. Thor Jensen: Yes. The sketchbook pages will be included partially in some way — perhaps as endpapers.
KS: I really thing it’s interesting how in REBE, you don’t seem really concerned about meeting and staying with the people you’d never met, except over the internet; when you were doing it, were you actually worried at all, or did you just figure that everything was going to work out, and if it didn’t, so be it?
K. Thor Jensen: At that point, I didn’t have a lot of choice — if something went wrong, I was confident that I’d be able to handle it. And, later on, some things do go wrong, but we’re not quite there yet.
KS: One of the things I liked about the older “Short and Happy Life” website was the way it seemed sort of like a brain-dump, with things like Squirrel Week or the occasional comics (the one about Masks really sticks out in my mind), where One-A-Day seems a little more structured in the format — do you miss that at all (or is the difference wholly in my mind, because it could very well be)?
K. Thor Jensen: I miss it but I need the focus — the old ways were drawing out a lot of my creative energy to places that weren’t ideal for it. Oneaday keeps me in the present, while the other parts let me classify and file as needed.
KS: I also liked how you’d occasionally write album reviews (the one that really sticks out for me is the one of the Captain Beefheart “Grow Fins” box set) for the earlier incarnation of the website — are there any cool albums that you’ve come across lately?
K. Thor Jensen: I recently joined a LiveJournal music community – fuckyoucrew – come talk to me about music there. I am trying to find homes for all my interests.
KS: About your answer to the David Byrne question above, have you seen his new book/DVD EEEI? I haven’t had a chance yet, but I do have Your Action World which has some of his PowerPoint stuff in it — the faux-inspirational posters (which I think he did in PowerPoint). His other PowerPoint stuff is more in the style of corporate presentations, isn’t it?
K. Thor Jensen: Not really – they occupy a wide range, stylistically – some are very abstract. Let me see if I can find a link – there we go.
KS: I want to ask something about DogsJournal, but I don’t know what. I really dig it, though, but I’m afraid to ask something about it, because I figure it’s one of those things where It Is What It Is, and any information would actually take away from it.
K. Thor Jensen: It is what it is. It has grown in directions I never planned for it and a lot of the time it is one of my favorite things, just because of its inexplicability.
KS: Is Unholy Three finished? I know there were some delays with it, but I was just wondering how it was going.
K. Thor Jensen: It’s done. Did you order a copy? If you did and I didn’t send it, I’m a complete idiot. [Ed. Note: Thor is not a complete idiot; he sent it, but it got lost in the mail.] It turned out — not as good as I would have liked. Too many in-jokes — like fifteen thousand too many. Some of the drawings are nice.
KS: Also — haven’t had a chance to read the Lord Rexington Fear book yet — I know a little bit about it (or rather him), but not a whole lot. Who all is involved in that project? Did you edit it, or just contribute (since it does seem to be a topic close to you, since Fear’d post, say, Tubgirl in the DogsJournal sometimes, I remember)?
K. Thor Jensen: I did neither — the book is completely anonymous. The editor, a man who wishes to be known only as “Filipino Alias,” drew the cover and the longest story ‘Burn Kiss” and then entrusted the book to me to sell. I know nothing about his motives, only that he is very, very handsome. For more Lord Rex Fear info, read http://www.shortandhappy.com/fatrexfear.htm
KS: One of your most popular features seems to be the a_m_b_e_r_4_e_v_e_r chatlog archive (I know this because you say so on your “about” page). Do you have any opinion on sites like Perverted Justice who do the similar things, but instead of being surreal and rather disturbing at people, post as 14-year-olds and try to catch pedophiles vigilante-style, to post their personal info on the web for harassment?
K. Thor Jensen: I’m not crazy about it — for one thing, the legality of what they’re doing is pretty questionable, and even if they do “expose a pedophile” or whatever, it’s not like anything’s going to come of it except for a lot of news coverage. I’d rather let truths come out with humor than with yelling, but that’s just me.
KS: Are there any graphic novels or other comics that you’ve been getting into lately?
K. Thor Jensen: IRON WOK JAN!!!!! It’s this amazing translated manga that’s about cooking in a Chinese restaurant and it’s so insane and crazy, like reading an episode of Iron Chef. I am also heavily into Kevin Huizenga, Darwyn Cooke and POPEYE!!!!
KS: Do you have any other projects you’re working on now that you’d like to mention?
K. Thor Jensen: Just lots of anthologies. I’m doing a slideshow performance in NYC in May. My band should start playing out this summer. More comics, art, weird public spectacles, writing, collapsing in heaps. Keep an eye on the Oneadays. That’s where you’ll learn.