If you’re reading this because you have not yet purchased Rock Candy Mountain, I implore you to drop your device and do so. This is, hands down, my favorite trade I have read this year. The cover boasts a powerful picture of a wayward soul standing on top of a train as if he had conquered the world, and if you read the story, you’ll see that could not be further from the truth.
Jackson is a solitary soldier turned hobo, and life on the rails has dealt him more blows than he can take. When he picks up a struggling would-have-been actor, whom he affectionately dubs Pomona Slim, his quiet demeanor appears anti-social and potentially sociopathic. But we quickly learn that Jackson is less about running from his past, and more about running back to something he has left behind him. Something so important that the Devil is on his tail to uphold a twisted bargain, the Feds are turning towns over in search of an object they have linked to him and a folk tale has taken on a whole new life. With trains, prison breaks, a chicken king and a devil that does not understand the concept of corn, Jackson and Slim go on a journey that unravels secrets and spills blood over all of your misconceptions on what life on the rails is truly like for a hobo with a cause, all while done in a modern world with a Western vibe.
I cannot talk about this book enough. Kyle Starks is a genius. Mixing a dark humor with a darker reality, he somehow manages to craft an entire experience that reads as serious and urgent without bogging the reader down in the negative shadows cast over our cast of characters. He comes with a warning label, though, because while the cursing isn’t overly excessive, Starks makes creative use of some of the more vulgar terms out there in a way that helps the story progress, and seem more realistic (as realistic as deals from Hell and magic maps can be), rather than label it crass and uncouth. I think one of my favorite aspects of Starks story-telling, aside from how well it works with his own art and the colors of Chris Schweizer, is the vocabulary. It is not easy to find a story arc that gives off an air of alertness, seriousness and importance without sinking into the trap of using bombastic words and frivolous details. Starks keeps his wording simple, his meaning clear and there’s no second guessing what is being said.
Well, unless you’re trying to decode the hobo-speak, but I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to be as confused as Slim. Jackson translates well enough though.
The illustrations only adds to and compliments Starks’ writing ingenuity. Whoever came up with the decision to use ‘hoboglyphs’ before each chapter is my hero. Those are, for those wondering what I’m babbling about, symbols often used by transients to carve or paint onto a surface. These indicate a lot of things; roads that are safe to use, places patrolled by cops, if it’s safe to sleep there, etc. It gave a unique insight into the world of the homeless nomads, and a degree of foreshadowing on the upcoming chapter. Starks himself just has an amazing style. His thick lines and unforgiving strokes make clear cut characters that stand out against their backgrounds, which almost seem to fade into just a water and ink simplicity that gives each panel more depth than normal shadowing would. The character design is impeccable; Starks gives everyone a unique look all their own, there’s no mistaking one person for another, while keeping it just similar enough that they go together as a cohesive unit from the same universe.
Schweizer on colors was beautiful. The simple tones seem like they’d be a drag to the art work, but the solid colors compliment Starks linework and simplistic designs perfectly. Despite a lack of nuance and tone variation, Schweizer manages to give the artwork depth and character with his chosen scheme.
Like I said, I cannot sing high enough praises for this story. ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN skyrocketed to my top 5 favorite comics of all time, and I will consider it a personal affront every time I find out someone has not read it. Starks and Schweizer are an unstoppable duo, and I’m waiting with bated breath for Volume 2 to hit the shelf. My little toolbar can only go up to five stars, but if it were able to be adjusted, this is easily a seven star book.
(W) Kyle Starks (A/CA) Kyle Starks (C) Chris Schweizer