There’s little that’s quiet about Hellen Jo’s Jin and Jam, a Sparkplug Comic Books release. In the tradition of cartoonists like Charles Schulz, she’s clearly exploring different aspects of her self through her various characters. Jo’s characters are very much grounded in a familiar sort of suburban malaise that they’re reacting against. “Reacting” is a good word to describe what her young teens are doing in this story and how she depicts it visually. They’re literally pushing, grabbing, punching and reaching for a life that has some kind of spark beyond the status quo. Jo comes at the reader with all kinds of crazy angles and perspectives, pushing motion and energy on the reader instead of making them think about the actual drawings. There’s also a certain propulsiveness to what she’s doing, pushing the reader along the page.
The story is a simple and familiar one. Jam is clearly an outsider, thumbing her nose at authority (depicted as both brutish and buffoonish) whenever possible. Sitting outside a church with a friend, she meets Jin, who would seem to be a “good girl” until she swipes a cigarette as she’s leaving. That sets up a time-honored scenario in alt-comics: a bunch of teens trying to get in to see their favorite band play, but getting denied. While that’s straight out of the Jaime Hernandez playbook, it’s really more of an opportunity to get these seeming opposites (but actual complements) together in an effort to figure each other out. The triggering event and highlight of the issue was a harrowing but hilarious fistfight between Jin and Ting & Terng, conjoined twins. One can sense the glee that Jo took in drawing the two of them fighting as dirty as imaginable; those scenes pop off the page. It’s the visceral quality of this comic that separates it from other stories in this genre; Jo really has a way of positioning figures that makes the reader almost feel their sweat, breath and blood. It’s an uncomfortable and in-your-face sensation, but one that makes for compelling reading.
The Sparkplug edition of Jin & Jam is now out of print. A second edition published by the artist is still available.