The Complete Jack Survives, Jerry Moriarty. (Buenaventura Press) $34.95
It is difficult to say anything about the reissue of The Complete Jack Survives comic series that Chris Ware hasn’t already said in the introduction. After being exposed to the book I’m astonished that it is the first time I’ve ever heard of Jerry Moriarty or his work. It should be referenced constantly by comix readers and writers. Maybe I’m just running with the wrong crowd.
The cover looks like the first place winner from an elementary school art contest, which is to say nothing particularly special, and with a simple flip through the book that initial reaction might persist. But there’s a reason Chris Ware writes, “I realize that I’m prone to hyperbole, but as comic art reprints go, this may very well be the most important such book ever to appear.” Its publishers have done a nice job with the presentation and organization, and they’ve added pictures and commentaries that explain and unify the series.
The stories feature Jack, who is a stoic, slightly happier Walter Mitty type of 1950s post-war veterans who bore and raised the Baby Boomer generation. There is nothing terribly dramatic that happens to him. In fact he is so average that he would probably be in the background of a poster of the archetypal person of that time. He seems to have a happy marriage and as a man well into his adulthood life, at least for him, the sort of content stability that American society has been clawing at the walls to regain for the past half-century. Jack notices and takes to heart life’s nuances: clouds that look like running horses while taking a break from yard work or jumping over a puddle in the sidewalk. That is all the stories are about. The difference between his character and most of the American Beauty grocery-bag-chasing indy films of the last few years is that Jack doesn’t take self-conscious, contrived, shy pride in his daily musings. He sees, experiences, and moves in silent satisfaction.
The stories are a biographical portrait of Moriarty’s father, a WWII veteran. Strong, silent types. The series first appeared in RAW in the early eighties—the intellectual, punk rock version of the sixties’ ZAP Magazine—that featured contemporaries like Art Spiegelman. Moriarty’s artistic style itself is bold, simple, and expressive. The comics are almost painted versions of Raymond Pettibon’s drawings. They’re simple but worth truly inspecting, and their organization throughout the book makes the series easy to read. The color paintings and Bic pen drawings aren’t quite as enticing as the black and white comic stories but they’re still great, and the few pictures of Moriarty and his father help personalize Jack.
Chris Ware is right. This is one of the most important comic reprints ever to be returned to the shelves. It exemplifies that less is so much more, when done with skill and without self-consciousness. Jack Survives helps fill the void that was left following the attrition of American culture by the craziness of the sixties. It is nice to know that despite the disillusionment and cynicism we have developed in the post-war era there was at one time comic art that was wholly personal and totally separate of advertising, propaganda, and all the modern bombardment that is now the foundation of our lives.