Monday, December 3, 2012

Two New Minis From Rob Jackson

Let's check in with the latest from Rob Jackson, whose career has an uncanny resemblance to that of Lewis Trondheim's. Like Trondheim, Jackson likes doing fantasy and adventure strips that are thrilling in their own right but also gently mock their source material. He's also quite adept at autobio comics as well, and has his own little publishing empire. He was the first of the new wave of British cartoonists to send me their work when I started reviewing comics at a number of years ago, and while his linework is still quite crude, his storytelling and sheer inventiveness are as sharp as ever.

Take California, for example. It's The Grapes of Wrath meets H.P. Lovecraft by way of the show Carnivale. It's the story of a poor farming family in Depression-era America that drives west in search of a better life in California. The only problem is that that their car wrecks in a mysterious small town, and they settle in with a farmer/repairman who fixes their car in exchange for help around the farm. Billy, the hero of the story, discovers his younger brother Jake wandering off and falling asleep in front of a mysterious old statue. It's not long before Jake takes on a malevolent air and starts performing "miracles", and he manipulates the family into heading west without Billy. Jackson then spins this into a sort of cult-like conspiracy, as Jake (now a revival-tent preacher) tries to create new converts by way of the water from the town's spring, ending the issue on a cliffhanger. Mashing up eras and genres with his distinctively dry and wacky sense of humor is Jackson's specialty, and the earnestness of Billy's homespun narrative mixed with the feeling of creeping dread is effective and funny.

Segway is a collection of shorter Jackson stories. "Professor McGregor's Fantabulous Time Travel Device" is the sort of silly sci-fi pastiche that Jackson does so well. The title character goes back into time with a couple of dupes to right some personal and petty wrongs, only to find his lab assistant (who punched out some people going back in time), wants to further his time travel experiences as "The Time Puncher". The story stacks silliness on top of time paradoxes as Jackson jams every page with detail (while still using a clean and clear sense of design). The rest of the comic consists mostly of even shorter stories, like the autobio piece "The Great Ice Cream Disaster of 2011", wherein Jackson admits to trying to get solace out of an annoying accident by knowing he'll be able to get a page out of it. "As Far Back As I Can Remember, I Always Wanted To Be A Ventriloquist" is exactly what it sounds like--a send-up of Goodfellas by way of a guy with his hand up a dummy. "The Interpretation of Dreams" is an especially funny story that leans on anthropology in providing a man first with a life of leisure and then rulership of his tribe thanks to his bizarre dreams. His eventual, grisly fate is based on an incredibly silly dream that's entirely within the logic of teh rest of the story. Jackson is really a master of coming up with an absurd premise, fleshing it out logically, and then capping it off with a killer gag. The final story is a slice-of-life fragment called "Marigold", about the adult daughter of a celebrity chef who doesn't quite know what to do with her life. I'm hoping Jackson returns to this character, as the premise (the chef essentially owns the small town she lives in lock, stock and barrel) is clever but more low-key than most of his fiction. Those curious about Jackson's comics would be well-advised to start here, given the wide variety of storytelling devices he uses here.

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