We expect comics to affect us on some basic level–to jolt our imagination into action or just leave us with a smile on our faces after our reading experience. We get something out of reading comics or we wouldn’t do it. Exactly what that is and how we measure it would vary from reader to reader. Kyle Starks’ new comic (the creator of the Eisner-nominated Sexcastle), out in its first issue this week, Rock Candy Mountain, is pure energy and zaniness, and self-identifies as such. It’s like that friend who arrives at the party, bringing the comedy and also the eccentricity, with a wilful combination of the two, and suddenly the party just got more interesting.
And Rock Candy Mountain is one of the more eccentric comics you’ll pick up this week, this month, maybe this year, among plenty of nicely eccentric comics being published right now. It promises “hobo fights” and lots of punching. It promises a post WWII set world of transients and migrants, and one guy, a kind of hobo-ninja, who’s looking for a magical place with a possibly magical map. And the first issue really delivers on the strangeness.
First off, though, Starks’ artwork is endlessly fun to look at. It’s full of energy, movement (well, so many fights), and its own stylization of body shapes and facial expressions that doesn’t hold back on the inking. It’s clear that Starks feels the energy behind the story and is conveying it through his lines. Whether he’s portraying the actual Devil or his main character Jackson, there’s comedy-action verve in every panel.
Plot-wise, we have a mysterious drifter (usually a solid start to any fantastic tale), a “hobo-mafia” (well, you might not have seen that coming, but it works), a seeming outsider would-be-actor from California (who’s going to say the things you’re thinking as a more “modern” type, which works well, too), and scuffles on trains, in forests, on the move. Looking for a mystical place that may or may not be real. It’s a great folk-tale set up with modern spin and the potential to surprise you.
One thing you shouldn’t miss out on is the essay in the back of this issue. American history and American folk culture is fascinating, particularly in the context of comics, and just glancing at the back up essay by Eric Newsom, Ph.D., from the University of Central Missouri on actual hobo culture caught my attention to the point of reading every line without pausing.
Newsom rightly closes in on the mythology we still create about mythical places–like earthly paradises, Avalon, and the like, and conveys with kind of heartbreaking empathy the way that hobo travelers of the 19th and 20th century in America developed their own land of plenty where hardships would end. What a great addition to the comic, telling the origin of the “Rock Candy Mountain” mythology which you might know from the hobo song that made it into popular culture.
Kyle Starks’ Rock Candy Mountain #1 is out this week, and it’s one hell of a ride. You really out to check it out. You’ll most likely be left with a smile, and you’ll definitely feel the comics party has been improved upon by this new arrival.