Review by Ian Keogh
Big Rock Candy Mountain is an American folk song detailing a legendary and mythical location where the impoverished could find a life of ease with comforts provided. It dates from the times when ‘hobo’ was both a common term and riding the rails and picking up work wherever possible was seen as a preferable lifestyle for the homeless. Kyle Starks takes the hobo mythology as the basis for his comedy, introducing us to the mysterious Jackson, wise in the ways of the world, yet with a demon on his tail. Jackson knows the Big Rock Candy Mountain is real, his purpose is to find it, and he has a form of directions. He’s accompanied by a sidekick he names Pomona Slim, a kid so naive and unworldly he raises suspicion in all he meets.
There’s a nice style to Chris Schweizer’s cartooning, but he’s slightly limited by a lack of imagination when laying out his pages. Unless absolutely necessary almost every panel is a head and shoulders picture, and the viewpoints rarely vary either. A different approach would result in a far more interesting looking graphic novel.
Pomona Slim is the audience’s sounding board, peppering Jackson with questions we want answers to, but without ever revealing much of himself. There may be a reason for this in the concluding volume, but here he comes across as a one-dimensional character. Others share that trait, but their purpose is obvious and usually short-lived, and the plot works its way to a good penultimate scene in jail, and overall makes good use of the times and the mythology.
Starks has made an interesting writing choice. The writing has a Hanna-Barbera comedy tone about it, and Schweizer’s approach gives Rock Candy Mountain the look of an all-ages book, but Starks peppers the dialogue with swear words to ensure that’s not the case. It seems a bizarre act of self-sabotage with which to restrict a potential audience as very little else about the story requires it to be anything other than all ages. Okay, the devil eviscerates a couple of ne’er do wells, but that could easily occur off panel.
The setting is good, the plot has promise, but this opening volume is more the set-up. Jackson tours us around his world and his acquaintances, and he certainly has something in mind, but we’ll only find out what that is next time around.