There are a lot of comics out there, but some just stand out head and shoulders above the pack. With “Don’t Miss This” we want to spotlight those series we think need to be on your pull list. This week, we look at the Hobo adventure series “Rock Candy Mountain” from Image Comics.
Who is this by?
“Rock Candy Mountain” is written and drawn by Kyle Starks, of “Sexcastle,” “Kill Them All,” and “Dead of Winter” fame. He’s joined on the series by colorist Chris Schweizer (“Crogan Adventures,” “The Creeps”) as well as a host of creators, writers, and historians who contribute to essays about Hobo history and culture in the back matter of every issue.
What’s it all about?
Jackson is on a classic Hero’s Journey. Armed with a magical notebook and the seemingly unbelievable ability to win every fight he gets into. Jackson is hopping from train car to train car on the hunt for the mythical Hobo nirvana: Rock Candy Mountain. Joined on his quest by reluctant sidekick Pomona Slim, Jackson’s quest is fraught with danger. An underground hobo fight club, a spell in prison, a confrontation with the Hobo Mafia all while being chased by the FBI, Jackson and Slim must face them all before finding out if their perilous voyage has a happy ending, or if Rock Candy Mountain is nothing more than a Hobo fantasy. Oh, and the literal Devil is on their tail.
What makes it so great?
The self-proclaimed “manic kung-fu Hobo fighting epic” is pure Kyle Starks through and through. For those who aren’t familiar with his previous works, what that means is you get an action-packed, hilarious plot with real heart and depth, something Starks has delivered in all of his work. This is the first time any of his creator-owned comics have been colored, and Chris Schweizer’s choices throughout the run have done nothing but elevate the book’s tone and atmosphere; injecting a real sense of foreboding when villains are on the page, or accentuating the more magical elements with a bright, bold palette.
“Rock Candy Mountain” takes the classic Hobo song (titled, surprisingly enough, “Big Rock Candy Mountain”) and manages to create a hero’s journey of a tale, one that feels exactly like the sort of myths and legends its protagonists are chasing. Through the use of mysticism, magic, and demonic figures, Starks is able to add a touch of the fantastical to his story which is otherwise attempting to faithfully recreate the language, the attitudes and the culture of Hobo life.
This may seem like a contradiction in terms, to say that “Rock Candy Mountain,” a book that includes devils and magical powers, is faithfully recreating Hobo culture but throughout the series, you get that feeling of respect that Starks has for this rich and largely forgotten part of American history. That’s why every issue has back matter that delves into that history, be it the origins of the song on which the book takes its name, or the rise and fall of Hoboes throughout the early twentieth century. Starks gathers a wide array of informed voices to fill out the back pages of each issue, and it’s here that you realize that this is more than just a book about fighting hoboes.
This is, however, still a Kyle Starks book, and as such the humor is ever present, and its timing is always pitch-perfect, not just in the script but in his page layouts. A book filled with jokes and fights needs to get its choreography right, and in “Rock Candy Mountain” the punches and the punchlines both land superbly. Starks’s cartooning is exaggerated and sometimes messy, but this only adds to the frenetic action being depicted, and his sometimes simple linework is deceptively so, as he manages to recreate whole landscapes or crowd scenes with a minimal style. There’s a marked improvement here over his previous works, not that “Sexcastle” or “Kill Them All” are lacking in talent and style. Here though, in his first long-form creator-owned series, Starks has mastered the pacing necessary for the periodical format, crafting story beats that hit that emotional pay-off while still bringing you back for more.Continued below
“Rock Candy Mountain” is a fun, frantic and fast-paced adventure that jumps into the world of Hoboes with both feet. It’s a magical fantasy about a mythical Hobo Utopia, and part of the excitement is waiting to see if the Big Rock Candy Mountain is even real or not. As the series progresses you realize, along with the characters, that maybe the destination isn’t as important as the journey along the way, and as Jackson gets into comically graphic fight after comically graphic fight, with the FBI, the Hobo Mafia and the Devil himself on his tail, you realize that you’ve hitched a ride on one hell of a crazy train.
How can you read it?
It seems strange to recommend a series when it’s coming to an end (the eighth and final issue hits stores and Comixology today), but digital back issues are easy to come by, not forgetting that volume 1, collecting the first four issues, is out now with the second volume, collecting the final four issues, out in April.