by Bruce Sweeney
It breaks my heart to have open with this paragraph, but word has it that the great underground artist John Jackson, aka Jaxon, has died at his own hand by a gunshot. We have lost an enormous talent. From the same college as Gilbert Shelton, the University of Texas; Austin, Jaxon created one of the first underground comics, God Nose.
He made an enormous contribution to the genre, telling true historical adventures through his medium of a caliber and stature that few could reach. Some of his finest material was a remanifestation of the old EC comics of the ’50s. He worked that explosive horror line into titles drawn for Skull and Slow Death in the ’70s. His Comanche Moon, the true story of a kidnaped white girl on the Western frontier by Comanches was one of the best titles of the decade.
I never formally met Jaxon. We collaborated on a page for Fire Sale; a benefit comic for a hospitalized Larry Todd. Our interplay on the telephone was substantial, and we were close to becoming friends. I was always impressed with him as a scholar, an artist, and an intellectual. He was a great guy and a superlative talent. I clinked a glass the other night with collector Steve Sattler to the memory of Jaxon. It is a substantial loss.
Rick Geary has done it again for NBM (www.nbmpublishing.com) with The Case of Madeleine Smith at a reasonable $15.95 in hardcover. Rick has devoted enormous attention and talent to illustrating the historical assassinations of British and American history. He has done enormously compelling tales about Jack the Ripper, Lizzy Borden, and Abraham Lincoln. The Case of Madeliene Smith is about the events surrounding the poisoning of a young Scottish society lady’s unfortunate suitor. Rick plunges us into the details of an obscure Victorian murder trial. He draws no conclusions, and we’re left with uncertainty as to the poisoning death.
Further, NBM has another $15.95 hardback title out, Warfix, about a news junkie who turns into a war correspondent hooked on war itself. The book is done by David Axe and artist Steven Olexa. This is way topical, of course, and clearly speaks to this generation.
A great deal kinkier is Carnal Comix (www.demicomix.com), which has three racy titles out: Dirty Hex #1, Demi Hardcore #3, and – are you ready? – Rear Entry #11. Yup, you guessed it: The Love that Speaks Over its Shoulder. Jesus Christ in the Foothills, there’ve been ten previous issues of this title? It would rather give your game away to leave these on the front seat when you pick up the new date, eh wot?
Sort of back up the street, the University Press of Mississippi is publishing and distributing a lot of material covering comics and animation. Ol’ Miss in the ’60s was a hotbed of segregation; resisting integration of its campus until President Eisenhower nationalized the local National Guard. Ol’ Miss wanted little to do with the 20th century. Forgive me for shaking my head over their title, Black Superheroes available as a paperback for $18 from www.upress.state.ms.us. Eerily, their Comic Books as History features the recently deceased Jack Jackson, as well as Art Spiegelman and Harvey Pekar.
I recently picked up a copy of Beg the Question by Bob Fingerman on Fantagraphic (www.fantagraphics.com). I got this at a used bookstore in Davis Square, which is a good resource that I’m begrudgingly sharing with you. Beg reprints Bob Fingerman’s Minimum Wage comics #1-10. The hard cover (there was no paperback) is a gloriously executed book with an intense sense of detail and a precise eye and ear for the twenty-somethings around Fingerman’s NYC world.
Canada’s Drawn and Quarterly (www.drawnandquarterly.com) continues to excel as a small publisher with an enormous amount of talent in its roster. They have a superior stable of polished artists turning out high grade product. They have material by R. Crumb, Adrian Tomine, Chris Ware, Charles Burns, Joe Sacco, and Joe Matt, to name some obvious successes. They also show heart in developing a format for some lesser known but stupendous emerging artists in their robust compilation, Drawn and Quarterly Showcase: Book Four. I have yet to tease a copy from them, but the promotion looks promising. It retails for $14.95.
Saving the best for last, The Art of S. Clay Wilson is finally out from Ten Speed Press (www.tenspeed.com). It’s going to be near impossible to beat this title this year for sheer magnitude. It retails for a top of $35, but you can get it from Overstock for $20 and change. Physically, it’s 9 1/4″ x 12 1/4″ with 154 pages, mostly in full color. S. Clay Wilson was one of the original Zap artists. He’s an ex-biker from Nebraska, and his art is filled with bikers, dyke gangs, pirates, and outerspace schizoids. Mayhem and intensity rule his violent yet laugh-out-loud expression. Torture and debauchery have never been more detailed, funny, and downright breath-taking.
There’s a new fanzine out, Mineshaft, devoted to underground art (get it?). It’s one of these sporadically published little magazines that seems to attract as many older underground artists as it does subscribers because it’s chock-filled with material by Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Kim Deitch, and a host of others. The cost is $17.50 for a three-issue subscription, but this is too funky to be without. (PO Box 1226 Durham, NC 27702)