Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Robert Crumb and Jack Jackson: Horror Comix, Funny Comix

God's Bosom and Other Stories: The Historical Strips of Jack Jackson: written and illustrated by Jack Jackson (1967-1992; collected 1995): The late and much lamented Jack Jackson was a Texas cartoonist of terrific ability with an unusual-for-comics interest in history. Much of his best work from the 1960's onwards, including several novel-length comics works, examines the history of Texas and some of its most famous and infamous characters.

God's Bosom collects the eponymous piece and more than a dozen other pieces devoted to history. These include cartoon op-eds on then-current Texas problems, comic strips about why Texans hate Yankees, and brief histories of Zap Comix and Apex Novelty Press. The bulk of the volume comprises lengthier historical pieces that range from G-rated histories of famous Texas highways and the Colt revolver to graphic treatments of both fictional and factual horrors of the past.

The two masterpieces of the collection are "God's Bosom" and "Nits Make Lice." The first is a partially fictionalized retelling of a Spanish shipwreck in the New World in the early 16th century. The survivors undergo a harrowing quest for safety that goes almost as badly as such a quest can go. It's a graphic, stomach-turning tale of survival and death. "Nits Make Lice" is, if anything, even more graphic and disturbing. It tells of the massacre of a band of Cheyenne in pre-statehood Colorado by the U.S. military in the late 19th century. It's as tragic and awful as it sounds in its indictment of America's genocidal foundation. The other pieces don't come up to these levels, but very few short works in comics do. 

Throughout the collection, Jackson's art -- mostly realistic, but with a clever gift for caricature and 'cartoonyness' when appropriate -- shines. It's beautiful stuff even when it depicts the horrible, with a sure command of line and an attention to telling detail. Jackson was a master with an unflinching eye. One can't unsee some of the things he depicts here. Highly recommended.

Complete Crumb Comics Volume 5: written and illustrated by Robert Crumb (1968/Collected 1990): It took four volumes for Fantagraphics to get to the public beginning of Robert Crumb's career in cartooning. Volume 5 of the Complete Crumb Comics offers a grab-bag of Crumb's late 1960's "Hippy Comix," with such familiar characters as Mr. Natural and Fritz the Cat making early appearances. And the infamous Angelfood McSpade. Can't forget her. And the cover to that Big Brother and the Holding Company album.

This is a series for completists, after all. It's all fascinating stuff, and while much of it really is for completists only, Crumb is such a towering talent in the history of cartooning that even his throwaway material is worth pondering. Some of the material here is graphic and disturbing, and Crumb's problematic 1960's and early 1970's use of violence (sexual and non-sexual) towards women is on full display. Never has one cartoonist so unapologetically, exhaustively and fearlessly exposed the contents of his own Id, to such great and disturbing artistic effect. Highly recommended.

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