If life in suburbia constitutes a kind of long, drawn-out soul death on the installment plan — and I’d contend there’s probably no need to start that sentence with an “if” — then what must life in suburban Florida be like? The mind shudders at the prospect of such a barren cultural wasteland, and yet — either enough people simply don’t care where the hell they live, or don’t see a problem with the idea of chugging gas-guzzling SUVs from one monstrous “cookie-cutter” chain business to another that the so-called “Sunshine Stare” is literally loaded with suburbs. And, like anywhere else, the kids who live there need to do something for fun.
In Portland cartoonist Ross Jackson’s 2017 Cold Cube-published mini Sticky Sweets, a pair of bored (of course) young teens decide the best way to while away part of their ample free time is to fuck off at the mall and shoot a bunch of video footage of their hijinks — and, hey, maybe search for a friend of their who’s gone missing while they’re at it. When they make a new acquaintance, however, they may have found more than a helping hand — they may have found an actual clue. And thus we have both a heartfelt slice-of-life tale, and a bit of an amateur detective story.
Time for some caveats : yes, this book came out a few years back, but it’s starting to pop up at a few of the more popular indie distros now, as these things sometimes do; yes, it’s a follow-up to Jackson’s earlier Ha Ha! Very Funny, but familiarity with its predecessor is in no way a necessity; and yes, it’s ostensibly the first chapter in a longer series that has yet to materialize, but it’s still reasonably self-contained in a number of respects — though, tantalizingly, not all. So am I really recommending you read a comic that’s both a sequel to one thing and a prequel to something else — by itself?
Weird as it no doubt sounds, I am — and recommending it quite strongly, at that.
Which, admittedly, is me issuing a final verdict before this review is, ya know, final, but this book’s merits are so obvious that there’s no need to beat around the bush for the sake of decorum. Jackson’s art is equal parts sketchy and detailed, his backgrounds richly-delineated and his expert use of shading lending depth and atmosphere to a setting that, by all rights, should be pretty damn bleak. When paired with his wonderfully authentic and unforced dialogue, the result is something immediately absorbing and quietly magical, finding wonder and dread hiding in plain sight in the most mundane of scenarios — and sure, while part of that is down to the fact that kids make a bigger deal out of anything than whatever that “anything” really is, it still takes a special kind of adult to be able to convey that adolescent sense of dread, eagerness, and awkwardness in equal measure that charges every action and interaction, large or small, with the added import that’s a hallmark of almost everyone‘s pubescent years. If kids just kind of drive you nuts in general, then sure, you may not dig this book all that much, but almost everyone else is more or less guaranteed to find it both charming (a term I despise, but that well and truly applies here) and compelling.
As we’ve come to expect from the riso masters at Cold Cube, the production quality here is as top-notch as the writing and art, blues and reds and well-placed blacks deployed with both sympathy and precision to make the printing process an integral part of the story in its own right. If you love everything about comics, then — not only in terms of what’s on the page, but how those pages are presented — you’re going to love Jackson’s book. Now, where’s the next part of the story?
Sticky Sweets is available for $5.00 from John Porcellino’s Spit And A Half distro (which, admittedly, is where I poached a couple of scans included with this review from) at https://www.spitandahalf.com/product/sticky-sweets-by-ross-jackson/
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