THE COMICS JOURNAL PROFILE.

The following is an article by Matt Madden for the "Young Cartoonists" issue (#205) of The Comics Journal:

Comics readers 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 Throughout the rest of his -- largely unpublished -- work, Little shows great aptitude at imitating other styles -- romance comics, playing cards -- and at incorporating influences - Ware-esque formality and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.

-- Matt Madden