Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Checking In With Rob Jackson

Rob Jackson continues to be one of the most prolific minicomics makers in the world, as crazy ideas seem to flow out of him faster than he get them down on paper. While his draftsmanship remains rudimentary at best, there's a delightful wit to be found in his comics. I got the impression that his most recent comics "It's A Man's Life In The Ice Cream Business" and "Flying Leaf Creature" were more about him just wanting to tear through an experience and record it in the former example and playing with a new format and color in the latter.

"It's A Man's Life..." (the title is a take-off on an old slogan for the British military service) is an autobio story of Jackson abandoning his cushy job in order to sell home-made ice cream and soup at local farmer's markets. Jackson gets into the nitty-gritty of how he tried to find new markets, the experience of trying to offer something no one else did and the frustrations that went along with the times where ice cream wasn't selling. This is a very British comic in that Jackson discusses how certain fruits are only enjoyed by people in a small radius, but that a ice cream made from that fruit becomes a real delicacy in that market. Jackson's dry, self-deprecating wit (the notion to quit his job comes from a Cat Wizard talking to him at work) and bespectacled, blank-eyed self-caricature give what is otherwise a straight procedural comic a large degree of warmth and humor. While his line here is strictly for utilitarian purposes, there are portions of the comic where his drawing is rather lovely, like when he's drawing old cottages and vegetation. The second issue of the series is more of the same, as Jackson tries to create new flavors and figure out new wares to offer. Battles with the weather and other cheese & ice cream distributors emerge as new annoyances for a family trying to make a living in an unconventional manner.

Jackson is perhaps better known for his sardonic fantasy comics, and "Flying Leaf Creature" is an interesting variant on this sort of story. It's printed on a newspaper broadsheet and in full color, both of which are firsts for Jackson. Of course, Jackson makes odd use of the extra room, essentially jamming four pages' worth of material on each broadsheet page. One gets the sense that he originally wrote this comic as a regular mini and transferred its contents late in the game. This is a typically demented story, mashing together mad scientists, inter-dimensional travel, stereotypical gangsters, mysterious woodsmen and monsters into one delirious package. The figures are a bit more raw than usual for a Jackson comic, but he makes up for that with his bright, almost lurid use of color. That use of color seems arbitrary at first, until Jackson ingeniously shifts the reader into an alternate dimension of grey-scaling. While that was clever enough the first time he did it, the story's climax features a grisly but subtle use of red in that world of grey that made me laugh when I saw it. It was an extremely clever storytelling solution, to be sure.

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