A review a day: Rooster Jack comics

Hey, I'm back! Well, I didn't really go anywhere, but you know what I'm talking about. I'm way behind once again, so let's get to it! First up: Something that came to me in the mail. You know how much I dig getting stuff in the mail!

Adam Hansen sent me three of his mini-comics starring a character he and some others created called Rooster Jack. The introductory book is called The Sad State of Affairs of Rooster Jack, a second self-contained one is The Visible Rooster Jack, and a third story is Rooster Jack Vs. the Mermaids, the second issue of which Hansen sent to me.

The first costs $3, the second $4, and the third is $1.50. Hansen writes them, Ben Zmith draws them, and Sara Witty and Laura Ault have colored them. You can find them at their web site.

These are, to be as fair as possible, rough comics. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but they are very, very indy, and the most admirable thing about them is the DIY ethos that leaps off the pages. However, they do have some things that are very commendable, and the best thing about these comics is that the creators are obviously getting better. The Sad State of Affairs of Rooster Jack is the roughest, art-wise. Zmith's line work is fine, but the lack of shading makes it look more amateurish than it should, and Zmith doesn't seem confident with the characters yet. In The Visible Rooster Jack, the shading is better, adding good definition to the line work, and Zmith seems like he knows the characters a bit better. Finally, when Rooster Jack's gang encounters the mermaids, the shading work is even better, Zmith is better with facial expressions (this is a humorous comic, so that's important), and the detail in the backgrounds and in the ancillary characters improve quite a bit - when the mermaids turn evil, they're actually quite creepy. It's interesting to watch the progression of the art as Zmith gets more confident and is paired with "colorists" (the books are in black-and-white) who assist him greatly. As you read these comics, you feel better and better about Zwith's growth as an artist.

Hansen has some writing chops, but the biggest problem with these books is their brevity. I understand that the creators wanted to get the product out, but the writing lurches and then leaps all over the place, leaving us a bit befuddled, and it's frustrating, because Hansen seems to know what he's doing, he just doesn't have the pacing down yet.

In The Sad State of Affairs, we meet the gang: Jack, who is half rooster for some unknown reason ("My past is my own," he narrates); Le'Dove, a guy who wears a bird costume and wields a sword inexpertly; Skoogan, a Viking; Thinkster, whose brain is so powerful he can't walk and must be carted around in a wheelbarrow (although Jack suspects that's a ruse); Pixel, a tiny fairy and the only one Jack trusts; Razzle Dazzle, a wizard dude who has visions of a strange world, which turns out to be ours; and Leon, who's just some regular guy they pick up on their way. In this comic, they're questing for a gem that happens to be in the middle of a lake (it's implied they let Leon stick around because he knows how to swim). But the issue ends and the quest is put on hold. In The Visible Rooster Jack, the group is lured to a village full of demon-worshippers who plan to sacrifice them, but as it turns out, the villagers are done sacrificing for the day, so they let our heroes go. And in Rooster Jack Vs. the Mermaids, it appears Hansen picks up the quest for the gem again, as our heroes reach a large lake. Luckily for them, a passage has been opened on the bottom of the lake, with the water held back like Moses came through, and as they walk along the passage, they see mermaids on the other side of the waterwall. Leon does something stupid and pisses the mermaids off, unfortunately, and they're attacked by a giant octopus and barely escape with their lives.

There's nothing wrong with the plots, and Hansen has a good sense of humor and decent timing, but because the books are so short, we just get going with things and suddenly, the book ends. Rooster Jack Vs. the Mermaids, for instance, which is by far the most technically proficient story in terms of art and writing, is eight pages long. Hansen has a lot to get to in those eight pages, and because of that, it feels very rushed. If we go back to the first comic, we have no idea why Jack wants the gem in the first place. The Visible Rooster Jack is 28 pages long, and it's much more satisfying because Hansen has more fun with it, giving us a fairly long (five pages) prelude in which Razzle Dazzle dreams about basketball and which actually comes into play later. As this is a ridiculously tiny concern, I understand the economics involved with printing costs and time constraints, but if Hansen and Zmith want to have any kind of audience, they need to add some more meat to their product.

The Rooster Jack comics are silly, to be sure, but they're also amusing in many ways. Both creators get better as the comics progress, which is nice to see, and it's always fun to see people doing comics in such a bare bones way, because they're obviously having a blast. I don't love Rooster Jack, but I do think it has potential. And reading these comics makes me smile, because they're so obviously a labor of love.

Tomorrow: More hard-core independent comics!

DITKO: A Play Honoring the Spider-Man Co-Creator Hits NYC This October

More in Comics