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Collective Memory: Jack Jackson, 1941-2006
posted June 13, 2006
 

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Jack "Jaxon" Jackson, a cartoonist whose influence was so varied he was a seminal figure in underground comix, alternative comics and the rise of the graphic novel, died Thursday, June 8 according to reports emanating from one of his publishers, Fantagraphics Books. He had less than a month ago turned 65 years old.

Jackson was born in 1941 in Texas. He is widely considered the first underground cartoonist, making the transition from doing comics in various underground publications and college humor-style magazines to making his own God Nose in 1964. Five years later, as the scene had developed Jackson found a wider place in it, co-founding Rip-Off Press.

Starting in the late 1970s, Jackson's career made a shift the likes of which are rarely seen in any art form when he became a chronicler of Texas, and through it American, history. Scrupulously researched works like Los Tejanos, Lost Cause and Comanche Moon, some of which were touched with a hint of with deranged fantasy and some of which weren't, were collected at first into graphic novels while the later one were born of that form. Jackson's histories were studies in misapprehension and out-of-control appetites, authoritative portraits of a region whose future was shaped from the buffeting winds of greed and desire. Of all the early graphic novels that appeared in the late 1970s, Jackson's were the most like the form as we understand it now, and would stand out the least were they published for the first time today.

What made Jackson's work a compelling force was that these insights were communicated from some of the most pungent, terrific art of the underground generation. At first glance, Jackson's art work is much like the classically rendered mainstream comics art of the 1950s, something by John Severin or Joe Maneely. But spending time with Jackson's art, it takes on a more evocative role, the expressive line hinting at the natural state of man. The feathering on an officer's coat might suggest decay, while Jackson's figures were sensual and violent. Jackson's Texas was capable of grotesquery and atrocity because Jackson's art was able to communicate extreme, transcendent moments without hesitation or shame.

Jack Jackson, author of the first underground comic, a driving force behind the first independent underground publisher, creator of the first Fantagraphics graphic novel, and the owner of an esteemed body of work to match anyone in his field, will be missed by his peers and by fans of the art form. Friends of a man described by publisher Gary Groth as a gentleman and a scholar will miss those personal qualties as well.

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