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Lone Star

Jack Jackson

Donald Ely

By Christopher Skokna | Posted 12/27/2006

Jack Jackson had a knack for being places first, or at least near the front of the line. His 1964 God Nose was the second (or third, depending on how you count these things) underground comic book. And his circa-late '70s/early '80s Comanche Moon and Los Tejanos were among the very first graphic novels of the modern, post-A Contract With God era. That pioneering, however, isn't what made the man who signed his work "Jaxon" a favorite of comics readers and fellow cartoonists alike. First man on the moon is a heck of an accomplishment; being the first to, say, write a short story, however, isn't going to make anyone forget Chekhov.

What made Jackson stand out was his yeomanly storytelling. Whether shocking his readers through EC Comics-style horror and science-fiction tales early in his career or relating the history of Texas later, Jaxon's way with a story was always conversational, yet he never got in the way of the tale being told, like an expert campfire fabulist who makes you forget he's there. And once he began focusing almost entirely on nonfiction, in the mid-'70s, that expert ability was necessary--his informal manner and traditional comic-book storytelling made the gobs of information go down smoother. Jackson was never an innovator. But when one is relating an unfamiliar piece of history--the story of gunfighter John Wesley Hardin during Reconstruction-era Texas, as the cartoonist does in 1998's Lost Cause--then clarity is a plus.

That's not to say Jaxon was boring--no way. His drawings, greatly influenced by EC greats like Jack Davis and John Severin, were full of blood and thunder, literally. He may have been a scrupulous researcher who made sure he got the quotidian details right, but you could tell Jackson lived for drawing battle scenes, murders, barroom brawls, and cattle drives. Comanche warrior Quanah's series of raids on settlers and other Indians in 1979's Comanche Moon is just one great set piece in Jaxon's portfolio.

Jackson, like the prototypical Texan that he was, also was admired for his gumption. He seemed sometimes to get by on sheer grit and perseverance. Never the world's finest draftsman, he was further hampered by a debilitating muscular disease that crippled his hands and feet, which made drawing an agonizingly slow process. That effort is seen in his work. While many cartoonists' labor is practically invisible on the page, you can see the sweat in Jaxon's stuff.

He was born in 1941 in Pandora, Texas. After growing up a mostly rural life, Jackson studied accounting at Texas A&M-Kingsville, then moved to Austin, where he got in early on that town's famous bohemian lifestyle, working at the seminal Texas Ranger humor magazine and churning out copies of God Nose. In 1966, he joined the Lone Star State exodus, following the likes of Janis Joplin and Steve Miller to hippie central, San Francisco. There, besides producing dozens of horror and sci-fi underground comix, he co-founded with three other Texas cartoonists the still-operating Rip Off Press, publisher of Gilbert Shelton's The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and one of SF's most popular party scenes.

In the mid-'70s, Jaxon moved back to Austin, got married (the second time to his widow, Tina), and had a son, Sam. And it was there he produced the work he's best known for, his Texas graphic histories, including 1989's Secret of San Saba, '99's Indian Lover, and 2002's The Alamo, most of which are criminally out of print. Jackson also wrote a number of traditional nonfiction books--among them 1986's Los Mesteņos and '95's Imaginary Kingdom--making him a celebrated amateur Texas historian. On June 8, after a long illness, he shot himself, at his parents' grave site in Stockdale, Texas.

That means Jaxon went out the way he lived his life. Underground comic books and amateur histories on obscure subjects are no way to make a living. But Jackson, like those settlers and Native Americans whose lives he chronicled, made what he had work for him.

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