Propaganda on the mini comics of Rob Jackson
On The Banks Of The Mighty Croal, 8 Stories and Bog Wizards
3 mini-comics by Rob Jackson
Rob Jackson’s been making his comics for a number of years; never staying too long in any one genre and continually improving both his writing and art. These latest three mini-comics stay true to that generalisation, including travelogue, fiction, comedy and adventure. There’s also a wide range of writing and art styles in here, with Rob managing to look like at least 4 separate artists at times. Some styles work better for me than others, but that’s the point obviously; this is all about experimenting with various styles, telling different stories.
First up is On The Banks Of The Mighty Croal. Rob’s timing for this one is terrible. If he’d shown me this last year I’d have absolutely loved it. But as it is, it comes out after I’ve seen Oliver East’s Trains Are … Mint. And having seen Trains, The Mighty Croal loses some of it’s originality and lustre. The ideas of both are very similar; a guided walk through an area with the artist painting a visual and literary scene as the walk unfolds. Jackson takes us on a gentle meander down the path of the River Croal, from the centre of modern Bolton to the leafy green suburbs of Lostock. Cutting from detailed, intricate drawings straight to dense text passages of descriptive text and hand written annotations alongside the artwork.
But as I was reading it I couldn’t help but compare it with Trains Are … Mint. On The Banks Of The Mighty Croal lacks the first person narration, the running commentary alongside the descriptive text. Croal has none of the romance and emotional journey that Trains has and is all the poorer for it.
(Double page spread from Rob Jackson’s On The Banks Of The Mighty Croal.)
In fact, given that the two artists come from the same general area, I have an image in mind of the two crossing each other’s path as Jackson walks the river and East walks the railway path. On it’s own merits it’s very good, but it could have been, should have been more. It’s text is descriptive and informative. Yet it’s interesting without having the lyricism and heart it needs to make it great. And I believe Jackson could genuinely do something wonderful with it. His love for the subject does come through; but only really in the pictures; they’re detailed snapshots of moments in his walk. And they’re illustrated in such a way to make me believe that if he could but find the words to match the splendour of his locations and his artwork, he’d have a really great comic on his hands.
Completely different in tone, style, artistic and literary, is Bog Wizards. Here Rob adopts a much less detailed art style and tells a good little adventure story, mixing sword and sorcery action with a self-depreciating section in the middle pages where the author over-analyses his own work to comedic effect.
Finally; 8 Stories. A comic that’s all over the place stylistically, albeit in a very pleasing way. As you might expect it’s a collection of 8 stories all but one written and illustrated by Jackson.
As a collection it’s a showcase to the range Jackson commands. With short strips covering his travels in South Korea, a gruesome maths lesson with the Math-ro-mancer, the reason Jackson is never going anywhere near a kayak again and more. The art styles are equally diverse, from the near sketch-book entry of Show Me Your Insect Hooves about Jackson’s trip to see the Cardiacs, to the really tight and rather wonderful highlight of the book: The City That Fell In Love With Itself.
The City That Fell In Love With Itself is an impressive and poetic tale of a city that falls in love with it’s own reflection along it’s own lake shore. Difficult to make me care about a city, but guest writer Shonagh Ingram manages it. And Rob puts some of his best artwork to a good story. The gorgeous colour cover above shows off just how good Jackson’s art can be when he really works hard at it. 8 Stories is well worth the cost of admission just for the City tale alone.
(Page from The City That Fell In Love With Itself, from 8 Stories, written by Shonagh Ingram and drawn by Rob Jackson)
All told, Rob Jackson is doing some very nice things here. I make no bones about it that I prefer his art when he pulls it in a little. Some of his cartooning is just too rough for me. But when he does, as in the Cities story and with the Croal, it’s a pleasure to look at. And he has a good, naturalistic voice for his writing. Whether it’s reportage, humour or anything else he turns his hand to, I’ll definitely be interested in where he goes next.