Rock Candy Mountain #1
Writter & Artist: Kyle Starks
Colors: Chris Schweizer
Design: Dylan Todd
Publisher: Image

Review by Christoph Staffl

What does the life of a hobo in the middle of the 20th century look like? Rock Candy Mountain tries to answer this question as we follow Jackson on his adventures. But first, we are introduced to another character… Right from the beginning there is this feeling that something strange is going on. We see Satan (yes, the Satan with horns and everything – but dressed as a cowboy) as he is beating up a bunch of hobos in search for Jackson, because he seems to have something that everybody is looking for. The fight scene or massacre -there is no better word to describe the things happening than with massacre- is not very bloody at all, but at the same time it is very brutal and raw.

The art is perfect for this kind of story and the time it takes place in. It is not very detailed but sketchy. The color theme is mostly dominated by one color at a time like brown, yellow, reddish or blue depending on the lighting. Everything that happens, happens under cover of darkness. I really loved this look because it helped contribute to making it very atmospheric. Be it the light of a gas lamp, the moon or a campfire, the scenery always looked great.

Hobos live in their own world with their own set of rules, symbols and hierarchies. The little things we get to see in this first issue are very intriguing and I really want to see and learn more about their world. I especially want to know why are they doing this? Some of them chose this kind of life and I really want to know the reason behind it. What is their mentality on life? How do they feel about society? This comic could be a manifest for those people and for us a way to understand them. Our protagonist has a clear vision of his destiny and what he wants from this life: he wants to find the Rock Candy Mountain. It is like a fairyland for hobos. A dream world where they can just live their lives without jumping on trains and worry about the next meal or the next place to sleep. And Jackson might be in possession of the one thing that might be able to find the Rock Candy Mountain but is it really the fantastic place that he wants it to be? On his journey he meets a strange man who doesn’t even have his hobo-name yet. But they seem to have similar goals so they team-up and agree to help each other.

Besides those two there is the mentioned Satan and the hobo mafia. Yeah, that’s right, there’s a hobo mafia. How they got power and influence is beyond my imagination. How the mafia boss got his status is hinted at, but I will not spoil that for you. I was very surprising for me how invested I am in this characters. I want to know more about them, their backstories and just read more conversations between them. At first the artwork wasn’t really my style, because it is so different from what I am used to, but in the end it worked really well.

It is like Scott McCloud said in his book Understanding Comics, “If you are confronted with simplistic art, you have to fill in the gaps.” The same is absolutely true for Rock Candy Mountain. It is a bit cartoony and therefore the reader has to “mentally complete that which is incomplete”. We are forced to work with our imagination and therefore the characters are far more interesting and comprehensible. It is as McCloud has written: “If who I am matters less, maybe what I say will matter more.”

The Verdict
Buy it! I have to admit that the first time I read Rock Candy Mountain #1 I wasn’t very fond of the story and the characters. What changed my mind? Two things in particular: At the end of the book we have an essay from Eric Newsom about the song Rock Candy Mountain and how hobos lived there lives in this time period. The essay is very interesting, especially after you read the story about Jackson and the others. The second thing that changed my mind was writing this review. At first I didn’t really know what to write but the more I thought about the comic the more I liked it. Give it chance. It is a story that allows you to take risks and dream of another life. Just jump on the train, maybe you find something meaningful at the end.

Christoph Staffl

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