Soaking It In: Gin Palace

Posted by on April 7th, 2010 at 5:53 AM

Rob reviews the 40-page Rob Jackson-edited anthology, GIN PALACE.

Rob Jackson is one of the quirkier talents working in comics these days, a tireless worker in nearly every comics genre you can think of and an even more tireless promoter of other Britons’ work. Jackson’s figurework has always been crude, but there’s no question that he brings an enormous amount of energy to each page and has an astute eye for layouts. His prior PASTY ANTHOLOGY, devoted to stories about a particularly British snack, saw his contributors indulge in amusing and highly specific flights of fancy surrounding it. GIN PALACE was mostly about the more universal experience of drinking, but the contributors continued to take this in unusual directions.

For example, Dave Hughes did a strip about the importance of swirling vs shaking a particular concoction that might lead to the creation of monstrous life. His art is appropriately dense, if for no other reason than to show off some monsters he thought up. Lee Johnson’s “Sin Cat” was so highly stylized as to be nearly unreadable at points, like a more incoherent Jim Mahfood story. Simon M. took the anthology’s title quite literally, as he described a particular kind of bar experience. With his thin but expressive line, he told the story of a person who faced being ignored by bartenders (as though he were a ghost, which he draws into the story more than once), hating his life until the booze actually came.

The stand-out stories belonged to Jackson, Jarod Rosello and Francesca Cassavetti. Rosello’s “The Rain” was about a man in a coffee shop who took pity on a dog outside its window on a rainy day. The story is a slight one, but his line and character design (all bulging eyes and angular limbs) made this a perfect three-page diversion.

Jackson spoofed Victorian-era penny dreadfuls with “The Ballad of Hatty Jack”, a loopy story about a giant-hat wearing hero protecting the hatted and hatless alike. Jackson has a knack for dreaming up the most ridiculous concepts possible and delivering them in a remarkably straightforward fashion. A shadowy cabal of upperclass hat-wearers conspiring against immigrants and their strange hats is an idea that’s even more ridiculous in Jackson’s comic than in print, yet it’s the sturdy plot frame for all of this silliness. Jackson’s brevity and focus make this story a particular delight.

Cassavetti’s loose line reminds me a bit of Colleen Frakes’, while her autobiographical subject matter puts her closer to Mary Fleener. “Measuring Up” detailed her history and feelings about alcohol over the years, starting from connecting it to hearing “the reassuring sound of adult voices” at parties in her parents’ house to connecting drinking with key emotional events in her life. What’s refreshing about this story is that, despite the fact that her drinking tailed off greatly as she grew older and had children, this isn’t a story about either guilt for drinking or unearned nostalgia for earlier times. Indeed, the story ends as she goes to bad while a party at her house is still at full tilt, but she “no longer need[s] to answer” the call of those reassuring voices. Cassavetti is one of the best new memoirists I’ve encountered in comics in recent years, and I’m grateful to Jackson for showcasing her work. That sort of gem is what one always hopes for in anthologies such as these.

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