COMICS JOURNAL PROFILE.
following is an article by Matt Madden for the "Young Cartoonists"
issue (#205) of The Comics Journal:
are sure to be surprised at the level of accomplishment of Jason Little's
Xeric-funded Jack's Luck Runs Out when it comes out this fall.
Jack's Luck Runs Out is a lurid, hard-boiled tale of a Vegas
blackjack gambler at the end of his rope who grasps at one last chance
to get out of town. The plot is classic pulp, and Little uses genre
conventions and stock characters to good effect. However, what elevates
this comic above a simple noir retread is the fact that the three
main characters are drawn as the classic playing-card trio of Jack,
Queen, and King. Furthermore, the entire book (which will be printed
in color) follows the primary color scheme, the flattened perspective,
and the decorative patterning of traditional playing card design.
The plausible extrapolation of a world based on playing cards makes
for a compelling and unsettling "through-the-looking-glass"
effect. Little's conceit is more than just a clever bit of eye candy,
though. Rather, it generates numerous levels of playfulness and irony
within the story. The notion of playing cards gambling and, well,
playing cards, suggests an apt metaphor for the vicious circularity
of gambling, luck, and fate -- all classic themes of pulp literature,
not to mention literature in general.
Little's work is characterized by two main features:
his coolly-inked, off-kilter drawing style, and his interest in playing
with the form of comics. The drafting and color design of Jack's
Luck Runs Out are sure to dazzle everyone who comes across it.
Throughout the rest of his -- largely unpublished -- work, Little
shows great aptitude at imitating other styles -- romance comics,
playing cards -- and at incorporating influences - Ware-esque formality
and Clowesian caricature while maintaining a confident style and attitude
all his own. His brushwork is clean and economical while remaining
extremely expressive. One of his great strengths is an ability to
endow even side characters with unusually vivid personality: just
take a look for example at the eye-patched, hunched-over "newspaper
magnate" in "Choking Victim" from Zero Zero #23
-- incidentally one of the few places where you can currently see
Little's work. Little's style is further enriched by his strong ear
for dialogue. He shows a facility for naturalistic dialogue, which
helps to ground the formality of many of his narratives, yet he is
also adept at other styles, sometimes to hilarious effect, such as
the two airline pilots in "Safety Instructions" (from the
forthcoming Drawn & Quarterly 2000) who inexplicably speak
like old-fashioned seafarers: "Looks like we'll have to scuttle
her in the drink, Mister Mate! Action Stations!"
Formal play is an essential aspect of Little's comics.
He draws inspiration from the formats of various everyday visual media
such as instruction manuals ("Maintenance and Repair of your
1972 Chevrolet Malibu''), public service posters ("Choking Victim"),
in-flight safety pamphlets ("Safety Instructions"), and,
of course, a deck of playing cards.
In a recent unpublished work, Little took an old
pulp romance comic called "Man Shy," removed all the images,
and re-drew the comic while maintaining the original narration and
dialogue. These experiments in form are closely in line with the playful
experimentation encouraged by Europe's OuBaPo (Workshop for Potential
Comics), an offshoot of the famous literary group OuLiPo, founded
in the '60s by a group of French writers including Raymond Queneau,
and counting Georges Perec and Italo Calvino among its members. As
in the best "ou-x-ian" work, though, Little manages to keep
his comics from being mere exercises in style. In Jack's Luck Runs
Out, the form is essential to the enrichment of the content. Elsewhere,
Little consistently seeks to wed form and content in productive ways.
"Man Shy" explores the dark hints of perversion and desire
underlying even the most banal pop romance, while "Safety Instructions"
uses the format of an airline safety manual to poke fun at human inadequacy
in the face of disaster whether aeronautical or emotional. Of course,
Little is not above using his talents in the service of straight humor,
as in "Choking Victim," which uses the instantly recognizable
design and orange/blue color scheme of the ubiquitous Heimlich Maneuver
poster seen in restaurants to tell the story of an overzealous practitioner
of the world's most famous do-it-yourself lifesaving technique.
Little has been cartooning at a professional level
for quite a while but has yet to have any major work published. Little
has had an even more frustrating history than many young cartoonists:
he had a four-issue mini-series lined up with Fantagraphics in 1994,
but the plug was pulled for presumably financial reasons before it
got off the ground. The one comic of his that people are likely to
have seen is his two-color "Choking Victim" in Zero Zero.
Fortunately, this situation should change soon with his appearance
in the Small Press Expo '98 comic this summer and the release of the
very impressive Jack's Luck Runs Out by the end of the year.