‘Small Pressganged’ has been, perhaps, a little micropublisher-heavy over the last couple of weeks so today we’re returning to the world of DIY culture comics with one of the true grassroots mainstays on the UK self-publishing scene, Rob Jackson.
Now, if you’re unfamiliar with Jackson’s work then just a quick scroll down this page will underline that there is, self-evidently, a certain sense of visual naivety to the presentation of his comics. Having reviewed a number of his books though – including The Storytellers and California here, A Handful of Groats here and Rhizome Volume 1 here – I can attest to the fact that, regardless of the unrefined nature of his pages, there’s a certain undeniable charm to what Jackson does. He may not be the most accomplished UK small press artist but he’s always an engaging storyteller, and while you’ll be unlikely to see any bold or innovative uses of the form in his comics you will always come away from them entertained and amused.
Jackson could never be accused of limiting himself to just one genre and the material I have reviewed from him here in the past has ranged from Lovecraftian horror to autobiographical family history through to science fiction and historical drama. The three issues of Slaves of the Megapode are billed as an “Octavian Columbas adventure”, after the comic’s protagonist, and take the form of a Roman police procedural story with a touch of trippy fantasy and slapstick humour thrown in for good measure.
Octavian and his slovenly sidekick/slave Quinceps arrive at an isolated outpost of the Empire to investigate the death of its governor and the disturbing disappearance of patrols of soldiers. But as their inquiries in this remote settlement get closer to the crux of the mystery they uncover a drug-worshipping barbarian sect, a bizarre psychic entity and a sweeping conspiracy that goes back to the very heart of Rome itself… all of it crucially tied in to the intrigue that surrounds the substance known as Megapode.
In Octavian and the unkempt Quinceps, Jackson provides a wonderful comedy pairing of traditional straight man and comic relief; the often deadpan delivery of humour in Slaves of the Megapode being one of its greatest strengths. Jackson’s sense of comedy timing is well developed and those unable to look past the cruder nature of the art will be missing out on some cheekily paced verbal sparring and smirkworthy visual gags. In particular, the various anachronisms spouted in dialogue by the cast are a lot of fun. The sheer incongruous silliness of lines like “I’ll never talk copper” from a suspect, or “I’ll be the bonum cop, so you be the malus cop” when the duo are about to interrogate a prisoner, are worth the price of admission alone.
But, beyond that buddy cop double act, there’s a carefully plotted and engaging story in Slaves of the Megapode. It’s full of twists, turns and carefully interweaving subplots as the truth behind the plants cultivated to create the narcotic Megapode, and the role it plays in the lives of those it enthrals, is gradually revealed. Don’t be put off by the DIY values of Rob Jackson’s work because every single comic I have picked up from him is an engrossing page-turner. The man tells a great yarn – sometimes a little awkwardly admittedly – but losing yourself in one of his slightly daft worlds is always a highly entertaining way to spend a lazy hour or two.
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