Friends, fans remember Jack Jackson
By Joe Gross, AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Ahead of his time, this creator of comics and histories managed to transform both
To his friends and admirers, Jack "Jaxon" Jackson was an artist's artist, an historian's historian, a Texan's Texan.
And to his artistic credit and financial detriment, Jackson was always a little too ahead of his time.
Jackson, who died June 8 in Stockdale, published the underground comic book "God Nose" in Austin in 1964, three years before alternative funny books sprang forth half a continent away in San Francisco.
Five years later, he founded San Francisco's seminal Rip Off Press, which would become a staple of the burgeoning countercultural economy.
His comics moved away from hippie-flavored shock value and into Texas history well before nonfiction cartoonists such as Joe Sacco galvanized the form.
Jackson's graphic novel "Los Tejanos" (1981) was the first book published by pioneering art-comics house Fantagraphics.
But the years of laboring on the cutting edge — if not the more lucrative center — of art, comics and history took a toll on Jackson.
Tina Jackson, his wife of 22 years, said Jackson was struggling with prostate cancer and diabetes at the time of his death, which is being investigated as a suicide. Jackson also is survived by his son Sam, 19.
"If Clifford Antone was like my kid brother," a clearly upset Threadgill's owner Eddie Wilson said Wednesday, "Jack was like my older brother." Blues champion Antone died May 23.
Jackson was born May 15, 1941, in the south-central Texas ranching community of Pandora, the descendant of Texans who settled here during the Republic years after 1836.
Like many Texans of his generation, Jackson grew up reading "Texas History Movies," a collection of comic strips on Texas history that was distributed in schools, a book that inspired and influenced many Texas cartoonists and aided Jackson's fascination with the state's complicated history.
Jackson worked at the Texas Ranger humor magazine while at the University of Texas. "Jack had this list of college bookstores and traded the Ranger with other schools," said friend and Rip Off Press co-founder Dave Moriaty. "It's how the Ranger was voted best humor magazine over and over. Jack made those connections."
In 1964, Jackson created "God Nose," regarded widely as the first commercially available underground comic, featuring discussions between the Almighty and "the fools he rules."
" 'God Nose' was printed in secret in the basement of the Texas State Capitol building on a state-owned printing press," said Moriaty. "He hawked it on the Drag. Little old ladies claimed he was a godless Communist and others claimed he was a fascist. It was a nice, middle-of-the-road comic book."
"Jackson was first, but he was stuck in Austin," Fantagraphics co-founder Gary Groth said Tuesday. "Robert Crumb was better able to tap directly into the zeitgeist in San Francisco."
Jackson moved to San Francisco in '66 to join the "Texas Mafia," the transplanted Texans who were juicing up the San Francisco scene. He became the art director and informal accountant for the Family Dog, a music booking concern founded by fellow Texan Chet Helms, for whom Jackson created wild posters.
Along with "Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers" cartoonist Gilbert Shelton, Moriaty and college buddy Fred Todd, Jackson in 1969 founded Rip Off Press, which became an internationally known publisher of underground comics and the counterculture's printer of choice.
Jackson's girlfriend Beatrice Bonini, and Dave Moriarty
"Jack still had that list of bookstores from his time with the Ranger," said Moriaty. "It occurred to him he could sell Family Dog posters to college bookstores. To everyone's amazement, they sold incredibly well and were a major source of income for the company. Rip Off used the same list and suddenly we had a distribution network." Jackson's underground comics work has been collected in the books "God's Bosom," the surrealist history "Secret of San Saba: A Tale of Phantoms and Greed in the Spanish Southwest" and "Optimism of Youth."
A page in history
By the late '70s, Jackson had returned to Austin, where he produced comics about Texas history, including "Los Tejanos," "Lost Cause," "Comanche Moon" and "The Alamo."
"Jackson's histories were studies in misapprehension and out-of-control appetites," comics critic Tom Spurgeon wrote on his "Comics Reporter" Web site. "(They were) authoritative portraits of a region whose future was shaped from the buffeting winds of greed and desire.
"Of all the early graphic novels that appeared in the late 1970s," Spurgeon continued, "Jackson's were the most like the form as we understand it now and would stand out the least were they published for the first time today."
Fantagraphics published "Los Tejanos" in 1981. "(Jackson) was doing this stuff long before it was commercially viable," said Groth. "Jack was a genuine historian, and there was an authenticity to the art, that gritty visual aspect. He could really capture that period, re-create it, dramatize it and make it relevant to readers. But it's historical, and how many Americans really want to know about history?"
"These are confrontational histories," lifelong friend and writer Mike Price said Wednesday. "He defied his readers not to wallow in glamorous mythology."
On a more local level, Jackson also drew "Threadgill's: The Cookbook," (1996) with Eddie Wilson of Threadgill's. "He really paid me the biggest compliment that anyone has ever paid me by turning my life story into a comic book," Wilson said. "I knew how serious he was about his history. He told me, 'I'd love to do it, you just can't be in a hurry.' He really believed anything worth doing was worth doing slowly."
Groth is torn about Jackson's direct artistic impact. "What Jackson did was so sui generis and so noncommercial that I think a lot of artists wisely chose not to follow in his footsteps. The comics underground was about breaking taboos, and Jack moved away from that, breaking comics into a new field. I think it was only in retrospect that people saw how mature that was."
But Jackson's study of history wasn't confined to comics. An independent scholar who published a number of works on Texas history, Jackson's books included "Los Mesteños: Spanish Ranching in Texas, 1721-1821," "Almonte's Texas: Juan N. Almonte's 1834 Inspection, Secret Report & Role in the 1836 Campaign" and "Indian Agent: Peter Ellis Bean in Mexican Texas."
"In my opinion, Jack is the only professional historian I knew," said fellow historian Tom Lindley, author of "Alamo Traces." "Most historians don't write history to make a living. They teach. Jack wrote history, and he was always very generous with his research."
Lindley says Jackson's scholarship was pioneering, especially his work on early Texas ranching. "Those books aren't going to sell in the thousands," he said. "They're going to go to libraries and specialists. But he was a unique and irreplaceable guy."
"I could ask Jack questions on Texas history all day and all night," Wilson said. "The information that flowed out of him. It turned me into a little kid."
A final salute
A memorial service for Jackson was scheduled yesterday at Hyde Park Christian Church. The cover of the program was drawn by Jackson's son Sam, who has inherited his father's skill and has started drawing his own comics.
"When we found out about Jack," Tina Jackson said Thursday, "Sam's pals came over to be with him, and he stayed up all night drawing a portrait of himself from the back drawing his father drawing comics. He called it 'A Meager Salute to an Artistic Genius.' "
Nobody's arguing with that last part.
Mariann G. Wizard
In 1987, Jaxon and I collaborated on The Adventures of Oat Willie (copyright Austintatious Comix), then operated in partial partnership by Doug Brown and Mike Kleinman. (Planet K didn't yet exist.) A daily question in every Oat's store was, "Who the heck is Oat Willie?" Mike and Doug wanted a comic response.
We talked with Jack about the art for about a year. Supportive and agreeable, he'd say, "Come see me when you have a story!" But when I had a script, he wasn't totally thrilled! He'd been working hard to establish himself as a historical artist and historian, struggling with opposition and outright disrespect because of his underground past. Now we wanted him to draw Austin's silliest iconic hero: a skinny guy in shorts in a wheeled bucket of … oats???
But he started reading it, laughing, seeing how to draw it, and exclaimed, "It's a history of Austin's counterculture!" Although we did only one issue before Doug and Mike split the sheets, it was a start: An innocent kid comes to the Big University seeking Truth and Purpose, finds instead Parties and Lies, Takes Acid, Runs Amok, and Changes the World … or at least himself. Oat Willie is our Pilgrim, our Everyman, his life a metaphor for our lives and times. Though many stories remain untold, I'm so proud that Jack saw the people's history in my words and gave them life with his craft and pen.
We went to a comics convention in California. Dozens of people came to see Jaxon, bringing cherished copies of Comanche Moon and Skull, Family Dog posters, even ancient God Noses – not only for autographs but to thank him for his work. Jack was amazed; he had no idea he was a legend.
Growing up, I didn't know many college folks. My parents, though, expected me not only to go to college but somehow to select one. My friend Nancy had a sister in school here who sent the Texas Ranger home to Fort Worth. A total teenage misfit, I devoured it – proof that college weirdness existed outside of the out-of-reach The Harvard Lampoon. "I'm going to Austin," I decided and did so, against all common sense. Whatever I've done with my life since then, it's the fault of Jack and the other Rangeroos, my real-life heroes, without whose dubious influence I might have been a conservative talk-show hostess or a NASCAR fan.
Jack was my friend. But it was only at the Austin memorial service that I began to see his contribution to Texas history. Not writing or teaching, although he did that, but his own potential role in it. Jaxon showed us what we must grasp if Texas is to survive as anything but a theme-park subsidiary of the earth-eating octopus of multinational greed. He told us a great economic and demographic truth of our time, recalled by Reies Tijerina: "Somos tejanos." Could we, his Anglo friends, truly comprehend and embrace that fact, then history would be made, and Jack Edward Jackson be remembered as its agent.
And if he left any drawings of old forts along the Red, can we please harden up that pesky northern border?
Vaya bien, hermano. – Mariann G. Wizard
Paul Buhle on Jack Jackson
The unique, voluminous work of Jack Jackson, recognized as an important scholar of early Texas history as well as one of the innovators of 1960s-70s underground comics, has put on display an artistic as well as scholarly “revisionist” who offers sympathy to nearly all sides. From the siege of the Alamo to the multicultural Indian Lover: Sam Houston & the Cherokees, Jackson created historical documents of complexity and detail.
Paul Buhle, Brown University
Austin Chronicle obit special
Interview with Jack Jackson, Comics Journal #213
Excerpts from a tribute to Jack Jackson, Comics Journal
Robert Faires on Jack Jackson, Austin Chronicle
Tribute to Jack Jackson, Art & Artiface
Jackson bio in Wikipedia
Underground Comic Books
All Stars (1970)
Barbarian Comics #4 (1975)
Berkeley Con Program Guide (1973)
Best of Rip Off Press (1973)
Bogeyman #3 (1970)
Douglas Comix (1972)
Exile into Consciousness (1970)
Fantagor #2 (1972)
God Nose (1964 & 1969)
Grim Wit #2 (1973)
Happy Endings Comix (1969)
Hydrogen Bomb & Biochemical Warfare Funnies #1 (1970)
Insect Fear #3 (1972)
Juicy T-Shirt Catalog (1975)
Mother's Oats Comix #2 (1971)
New Gravity #1 (1969)
One Color #1 (1979)
Radical America Komiks (1969)
Rip Off Review of Western Culture #2 (1972)
San Francisco Comic Book #1 (1970)
Skull Comics #1 (1970)
Skull Comics #2 (1970)
Skull Comics #3 (1971)
Skull Comics #4 (1972)
Skull Comics #5 (1972)
Slow Death Funnies #1 (1970)
Slow Death Funnies #2 (1970)
Slow Death Funnies #3 (1971)
Slow Death Funnies #4 (1972)
Slow Death Funnies #5 (1973)
Slow Death Funnies #6 (1974)
Slow Death Funnies #7 (1976)
Tales From the Berkeley Con (1974)
Tales From the Leather Nun #1 (1973)
Up From the Deep #1 (1971)
Zap #7 (minicomix) (1972)
"The Adventures of Oat Willie", with Mariann Wizard, also includes work by Gilbert Shelton, Charlie Loving, Kerry Awn, Micael Priet, Joe E. Brown, Jr. and Lieuen Adkins, Austintatious Comix, 1987.
Plus several strips of “God Nose” in The Rag.
White Commanche (1977)
Red Raider (1977)
Blood on the Moon (1978)
Commanche Moon (Paperback Compilation 1979 and 2003)
Recuerden El Alamo: The true story of Juan N. Seguin and the Texas-Mexicans after San Jacinto (1979)
Tejano Exile (Paperback Compilation 1980)
Los Tejanos (Paperback Compilations 1982)
Jaxon's Illustrated Tales (1985)
God's Bosom and Other Stories: The Historical Strips of Jack Jackson (1995)
From The Comics Journal website
Texas History Books
Almonte's Texas: Juan N. Almonte's 1834 Inspection, Secret Report, & Role in the 1836 Campaign by Jack Jackson and John Wheat (2005)
Imaginary Kingdom: Texas As Seen by the Rivera and Rubi Military Expeditions, 1727 and 1767 (Barker Texas History Center Series) by Pedro De Rivera, Texas State Historical Association, Cayetano Maria Pignatelli Rubi Corbera Y Saint Clement Rubi, and Jack Jackson (Jan 1981 & 1995)
Texas by Terán: The Diary Kept by General Manuel de Mier y Terán on His 1828 Inspection of Texas (Jack and Doris Smothers Series in Texas History, Life, and Culture) by General Manuel de Mier y Terán, Scooter Cheatham , Lynn Marshall, and Jack Jackson (2000)
Mapping Texas and the Gulf Coast: The Contributions of St. Denis, Olivan, and Le Maire by Jack Jackson, Robert S. Weddle, and Winston De Ville (1990)
Soldiers, Sutlers, and Settlers: Garrison Life on the Texas Frontier (Clayton Wheat Williams Texas Life Series, No 2) by Robert Wooster and Jack Jackson (1987)
Flags along the coast: Charting the Gulf of Mexico, 1519-1759 : A Reappraisal by Jack Jackson (1995)
Shooting the sun: Cartographic results of military activities in Texas, 1689-1829 by Jack Jackson (1998)
Lost Cause: John Wesley Hardin, the Taylor Sutton Feud, and Reconstruction Texas by Jack Jackson (1998)
Indian Agent: Peter Ellis Bean in Mexican Texas (Canseco-Keck History Series) by Jack Jackson (2005)
Indian Lover: Sam Houston & the Cherokees by Jack Jackson (1999)
The Alamo: An Epic Told from Both Sides by Jack Jackson (2002)
Secret of San Saba: A Tale of Phantoms and Greed in the Spanish Southwest (Death Rattle Series) by Jack Jackson (Hardcover Nov 1989)
Long Shadows: Indian Leaders Standing in the Path of Manifest Destiny, 1600-1900 by Jack Jackson (1985)
Los Mestenos: Spanish Ranching in Texas, 1721-1821 by Jack Jackson (1997 & 2006)
Manuscript Maps Concerning the Gulf Coast, Texas, and the Southwest (1519-1836) by Jack Jackson (1995)
Compilations and Collections
Optimism of Youth (1993)
Portfolio of Underground Art (1980)
Threadgill's the Cookbook: The Ck by Eddie Wilson, Jack Jackson, and Threadgill's (1996)
"Jaxon" interview by Bruce Sweeney, Cascade Monthly Vol. 21, 1980
"Tejano Cartoonist" interview by Bill Sherman, The Comics Journal #61, winter 1981
"The Lunatic Fringe" interview by Susan Sneller, Trajectories, winter 1992
"Jack Jackson at Dallas" interview by Gary Groth, The Comics Journal #75, September 1982
"A Phenomenon by Jaxon" written by Jack Jackson, Infinity 1972
"Texas in Bold Dark Strokes" by Jesse Sublett, The Austin Chronicle, Vol. 16, No. 11, November 15, 1996
The Comics Journal #100, July 1985
Comics as History by Joseph Witek, 1990
Comic Books as History : The Narrative Art of Jack Jackson, Art Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar (Studies in Popular Culture) by Joseph Witek, (University Press of Mississippi, 1990).
This well focused and perceptive analysis of a phenomenon in our popular culture—the new respectability of the comic book form—argues that the comics medium has a productive tradition of telling true stories with grace and economy. It details vividly the outburst of underground comics in the late 1960s and ‘70s, whose cadre of artistically gifted creators were committed to writing comic books for adults, an audience they made aware that comic books can offer narratives of great power and technical sophistication.
In this study Joseph Witek examines the rise of the comic book to a position of importance in modern culture and assesses its ideological and historical implications. Jack Jackson, Art Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar are among the creators whom Witek credits for the emergence of the comic book as a serious artistic medium. As American codes of ethics, aesthetics, and semiotics have evolved, so too has the comic book as a mode for presenting the weightier matters of history. It is safe to claim that comic books are not just for kids anymore.