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Jessica Farm (January 2008—April 2011)
posted September 28, 2011
Self-Published, mini-comic, 40 pages, June 2011, $7
I don't know that this is a review as much as an advertisement for this comic's existence, a self-published mini that I missed when it was initially released this summer. This is the latest chunk of comics from Josh Simmons' Jessica Farm
project, a comic book that the cartoonist is making over the course of 50 years at a rate if one page per month. A first volume in book form was published in 2008, with a second one due five years from now.
I have no idea if Simmons finishes the book or abandons it sometime between now and December 2049 -- I likely won't be around to see a finished version -- but joining the journey for even three years at a time proves kind of a thrill. In this issue we get less of Jessica wandering around various rooms and pocket landscapes and more of the same effect of loss of control interpreted through other people. It's a map of dubious alliances. The book essentially breaks down into two halves. The first concerns a friendly/nasty encounter with a group of intelligent yet extremely violent creatures with a reason to hold a grudge against Jessica they decide for some reason not to inflict on her except perhaps through intimidation and salty language. In the second, we see a gonzo battle between a team-up of these creatures, Jessica and her friend Mr. Sugarcock, and their respective steeds versus a small army of more abstractly-conceived monsters.
It's hard to tell which act shows Simmons off to best effect. Although the second half of the book is a orgy of violence no less effective for all the company such scenes have on the comics page these days, the first half is far more unsettling and creepy. That section revolves around a combination character study and information drop, from the mouth of an extremely scary and thoroughly violent speaker, much of which is set in and around the casual torture of a monster with less of a humanoid shape. A lot of this scene depends on knowing where everyone is at every single moment, even though Simmons takes that away from you buy adding on an nebulously defined setting literally above the characters' heads. The creature narrating this section is a cold, hard and very scary thing, and the reader may find themselves slightly attracted to his certainty and force of will even though his actions are thoroughly abominable. It's putting a smile on horrible things that unites much of Simmons work, all with a confidence to do so that lets him be funny throughout. When he's as engaged as he seems here, despite the gaps in time, Josh Simmons can be a special cartoonist.