Saturday, June 10, 2006

Jack Jackson, 1941-2006

I learned this morning that my good friend, comics legend Jack Jackson (aka "Jaxon"), died earlier this week. This is a harsh blow.

The last time I saw Jack was a few years ago when he presented me with a self-published, limited-edition (only 20 copies were printed!), 80-page, signed book called “Jaxon’s Rant.”

He had made sure to reserve a copy for me because I was mentioned in the book, under my other name “Bison Bill.” This was due to something that had happened a few years before.

What happened was, the Austin Chronicle published a review of Jack’s graphic novel about Reconstruction-era Texas, “Lost Cause,” which the reviewer illogically and stupidly called racist. And to make matters worse, the Chronicle refused to publish a rebuttal Jack had written. This was important to Jack, to be allowed the opportunity to defend his reputation against a very serious slander, thus he felt grievously betrayed by the Chronicle’s staff, whom he had thought were his friends.

The day after the review appeared, Jack called me. He was beside himself with anger. He was considering legal action, at the very least. If it had been an earlier era in Texas, I think Jack would have strapped on his six-guns, marched down to the Chronicle’s office, and called out both the editor and reviewer to receive a powerful dose of frontier justice. He was that mad.

I suggested an alternative: “Publish your rebuttal on the Internet.” Jack didn’t have Internet access at that time, so he gave me the ten or so handwritten pages, which I typed and posted on the old “comix@” email discussion list.

This brought the matter to the attention of the larger comics community outside Texas, causing a great many people to inundate the Chronicle with letters defending Jack, and led to Gary Groth doing a great interview with Jack that ran in the Comics Journal.

Another effect of the episode was to demonstrate to Jack the usefulness of the Internet. He immediately got Internet access and posted his rebuttal (or rant, as he called it) on the “Austin Ghetto” discussion list. And he expanded the rant into a much longer work, posted in installments, that evolved into a memoir recounting the early days in Austin when underground comix were born.

This was the origin of the book “Jaxon’s Rant,” which contains not only the entire rant, but also his interview with Gary and a wonderful assortment of artwork. It would be great if this book could be published for a wider audience some day.

Jack lived in north Austin. His studio was in a metal building in the backyard where he would work all night, listening to country music. I remember sitting in his studio on that last visit while he showed me the artwork for his next book, “The Alamo.” I was very excited, and felt privileged to get this sneak preview.

After that, we talked on the phone a few times, but I didn’t see Jack again. I always meant to drop by and have him sign my copy of “The Alamo,” but after I moved to the suburbs I didn’t get into town much, stayed busy all the time, etc. Time got away from me. That’s the way it is; you take for granted someone will always be there, then suddenly one day they’re not, thus causing your sadness to be mixed with regret.

Jack was great. It was a joy to read his comics, and an even greater joy to know him. We're in mourning in Austin today.