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Jessica Farm, Vol. 1
posted March 20, 2008
Fantagraphics, softcover, 104 pages, 2008, $14.95
This is a softcover volume collecting the first 96 pages of Josh Simmons' Jessica Farm
, a project where the cartoonist plans to draw a 600-page graphic novel by drawing one page a month for 50 years. About half of this work was at one point on-line [Simmons disputes this, saying only a couple of pages were on-line; that's not my memory], and reading it I was struck by how much the laconic pace and page to page beats suited Simmons' particular brand of grotesque horror. With this project, he literally has a lifetime to drift between vignette and vignette, to slowly build to a point, but the monthly spacing allows him to fire through any number of frightening or just plain funny tableaux.
Most of this book is given over to Jessica's tour of the house on Christmas morning, and its best quality beyond the quality of Simmons' imagination when it comes to the intimate and disturbing is that he keeps everything on an even keel tone-wise. This allows several of the individual scenes to make an impression -- my favorite is either the one where's she's dragged into a crawl space and forced to look at a spread of bodies by someone who seems to blame her for their existence, or the encounter with a semi-sentient storm cloud that pierces her soldier, although I may have different favorites tomorrow. The secondary effect, which I think may be even more important, is that the easygoing feel endears us to the protagonist, her subtle shifts in mood, the even-handed way in which she embraces new information and the glee with which she greets the joyful portions of her tour.
Where this goes I have no idea. It's easy to imagine that Simmons could be heading for a larger, interlocking metaphor about Jessica being abused in some way, making her someone that stays in her head (the house) rather than deal with certain external realities (which pop up in various forms), all the time haunted by those specific memories. Knowing Simmons, it will probably be something way more lurid and depressing, if the "what's going on here, exactly?" is ever answered. In most cases I wouldn't recommend a comic where I'll be in my mid-eighties when it finishes (six months ago, I'd be making a Berlin
joke her), but I think this one has enough potent cartooning and is reflective of a truly dark mindset that I think getting there will be an valuable experience in and of itself.