If the American literary comic book field has a John the Baptist, a madman in the woods making wonders while the rest of the world toils away, that artist is Jack Jackson. Jackson makes lurid, sometimes nasty and always compelling history books about his native Texas. The key to his effectiveness as a historian is that Jackson cuts himself off from the burden of making sense of his stories in terms of a wider overall narrative, such as American manifest destiny or capitalist exploitation of native cultures. This gives him an uncommonly even hand that relies solely on the accumulation of facts as they are presented to him. Sooner or later, every single entity in a Jackson history becomes indicted for their role in some act of horror or cruelty. Because Jackson explores history so specific, his books frequently seem to take place in one farmhouse after another; the cycle of blame they delineate provides a great amount of dramatic tension. His books may be good history, but as stories they touch on greatness -– ugly, heartbreaking, and mind-bogglingly true.
COMANCHE MOON, a recently reprinted collection of three stand-alone comics from the 1970s, is the first of Jackson's great historical sagas. He tells the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, a white child raised by the Comanche, and her son, the warrior-chief Quanah. Quanah's eventual defeat as leader of a military force that dominated the Texas plains offers up several thrills, while his slow dissolution once absorbed into American Western culture proves difficult to read. Not far removed from the heyday of underground comix, Jackson unpacks this tragedy with an eye towards detail that is communicated well in his expressive take on classic adventure comics art, and with a welcome predilection for inappropriate and sometimes bawdy humor. It's a comic worth stumbling in the woods towards.
Tom Spurgeon is a writer living in Silver City, New Mexico. He can be found online at The Comics Reporter.