Art and Artifice
Jack Jackson, 1941 - 2006
Jack Jackson, aka Jaxon 1941 - 2006COMANCHE MOON 1979 and
LOS TEJANOS 1982
published by Rip Off Press and Fantagraphics
Jack Jackson is noted for being a cofounder of the "underground comics" publishing house of Rip-Off Press in 1969, and for encouraging a young Richard Corben to produce his own self-published comics. Jackson published what seems to have been the first "real" underground comic book ("God Nose") in 1964. But I think it is his serious efforts at analyzing and presenting historical subjects, particularly Texas and Native American history, that stands out as unusual and of a certain quality that is rarely attempted in the comics medium.
Significant is how Jackson dedicated his Comanche Moon collection (the stories previously had run in standard comic form):
"This book is dedicated to Jack Patton and John Rosenfield Jr. and their little comic book, "Texas History Movies," which taught generations of Texas school children more about the history of our state than they should have known [emphasis Jackson's], and to the kids of tomorrow, whose delicate minds will mercifully be spared the shocking truth about their ancestors."
Jackson has three example pages from the Patton/Rosenfield comic books reprinted on the dedication page of Comanche Moon, and a sense of the same flavor of humor that is there also shows up in Jackson's work.
The Patton/Rosenfield comics may have been the starting point for Jackson's method, but in the larger sense of trying to create a real historical milieu, I do not think anything could have provided that for Jackson except his own narration and research. Both figure as the dominating items that gets the reader from the beginning to the end. The research is parsed through Jackson's skill as a caricaturist and the writer of the dialogue for his cast (these books remind me, especially Los Tejanos, of a theatre play); and, Jackson's ability to set a visual tableau, to give a sense of the physical reality and placement of the events shown.
The dilemma of Jackson's method is the obviousness of dialogue that Jackson has included that is certainly not based on any actual historical record. It is one thing to invent a physical scene that represents an era, but another an entire comment from the mouth of a famous figure of history. Does that make these books really more history-fiction? I do not think so, because most historians must "fill in the gaps" and this gap is all the more pressing in a comic book in regards to word balloons. I doubt Jackson could have made an entertaining (or convincing) historical work that showed only visualizations of places without talking, moving humans doing human things upon his stage. Plus, this is the avenue Jackson has used to add his author's voice directly into the proceedings by way of sarcastic and ironic remarks from the mouths of some of his unnamed, minor cast. (Jackson's caricature work also lends more than a little editorial comment, for example his small portrait of Teddy Roosevelt on page 113 of Comanche Moon.
It adds no realism to Jackson's tale when the main historical figures in question voice 20th century slang and colloquialisms, but it lubricates this pageant of history, and it informs the readers directly what Jackson wants the reader to think is happening. It seems like there are two Jackson's: the historian trying to get every detail right through narration, and the underground cartoonist who is mocking and laughing at the hubris of these marble beings via the word balloons.
JACKSON'S FACTS AND HUMOR
Was Jackson's intent to simply mitigate the violence and blood being shown by catching the reader off-guard with these funny remarks, or is it a way to give the reader a little wink? Either way, the amount of history in both of these books present not just facts and figures, but Jackson's feeling for the time periods and what the conflicts of those eras meant. Santa AnnaHis sympathy is toward all sides in the contest, though he does not shy from showing the cruelties and less than flattering human sides to the people in view. It is obvious when Jackson does not approve of a person, for example Santa Anna in the pages of Los Tejanos, but how many historians have held approval for that Mexican dictator? Jackson does not invent an episode in the small vignette he uses to describe Anna's peripheral historical personality (Los Tejanos is primarily about Juan N. Seguin and his role in the establishment of Texan independence from Mexico) but the reader gets a full dose of Jackson's more or less mocking portrait of the man.
Jackson demonstrates the engagement and detachment of a genuine historian in the narration of these stories, but the sympathy and and reaction of an underground cartoonist at the craziness and horror of the politics, greed and sloth of the people in question. I guess it is fitting because Jackson was both.
Jack Jackson died June 8, 2006, apparently from suicide. A link to an obituary at the Austin American-Statesman is here. A screenshot of the page is here.
Pages from Jackson's Comanche Moon and Los Tejanos
PAGE IMAGES - Click on the page images [below] for enlargements.
LINKS FOR JACK JACKSON
The Comics Reporter has an excellent collection of links and info on Jackson (part of their 'Collective Memory' pages).
SilverBulletComics has an interview with Jackson about the reprinting of Comanche Moon.
An interview with Jackson talking about the "racist" controversy from his book Lost Cause is at the Comics Journal.
Written by Erik Weems ©2004-2010
Artwork is by Jack Jackson