Both Sides Now

Jack Jackson remembers the Alamo

Detail from Jack Jackson's <i>The Alamo: An Epic Told From Both Sides</i>
Detail from Jack Jackson's The Alamo: An Epic Told From Both Sides

As any aficionado knows, real comic books aren't for kids. Just ask Jack Jackson. From Sixties kitsch to historical comics, he has accrued an astonishing array of awards and credentials over four decades, including induction into the Texas Institute of Letters. Not bad for a guy who majored in accounting at Texas A&I and is credited with creating the "underground comix" genre with God Nose.

Today he's 2002 light-years away from being the art director for San Francisco's legendary Avalon Ballroom and is celebrated for his illustrated histories -- carefully researched, painstakingly rendered, and, as of his newest one titled The Alamo: An Epic Told From Both Sides, self-published.

"I am the publisher!" he declared over chips and hot sauce at Güero's one Sunday in September, relating the author's nightmare of out-of-print titles and publishers who go under. Coupled with his longtime experience in the publishing industry, he created Paisano Graphics, "and hooked up with a distributor," Austin's Eakin Press. It's an effort that ensures Jackson's work will stay in print.

The Alamo is the latest of his historical comics, a series that began in the Seventies with Comanche Moon, the story of Cynthia Parker, her son Quanah Parker, and Texas' Comanches. It continued with Los Tejanos, about Juan Seguin and the Texas-Mexicans of the Alamo, and Lost Cause, the tale of gunslinger John Wesley Hardin. Jackson's previous entry in the Alamo series was Indian Lover, tracing Sam Houston's time with the Cherokees. Those titles are a tiny drop in the antique oak bucket of Jackson's oeuvre. His love of history makes him prized among historical authors, who often need maps drawn just so or want the correct detail in illustrations. His drawings and maps have adorned books such as Abel G. Rubio's Stolen Heritage, Robert Wooster's Soldiers, Sutlers, and Settlers, Robert H. Thonoff's El Fuerte de Cíbolo, and Gerald E. Poyo's Tejano Journey.

The comic book histories are what make Jackson transcend the rank of illustrators. His artistic style is instantly recognizable with its short, heavy strokes and uses of black for emphasis, as well his voluptuous depiction of women. Detail after detail allow the reader to experience 1836 Texas through a magnifying glass. For The Alamo, his expert use of cross-hatching combined with computer shading marries tradition with technology with the most pleasing of results. Still, the dynamic of Jack Jackson's books is simple. "I am zeroed in on pen and ink," he says. "Black and white. That's my specialty." And it's a good thing, for history is anything but black and white. An effort such as a historical comic requires intense research, and Jackson approaches his work with a historian's eye as much as an artist's.

"Before I even begin drawing, I'm doing research to make sure the story is good. I sent a copy of the script, for example, to Stephen Harrigan because his novel Gates of the Alamo had a lot of controversial stuff in it."

Even more pleasing is the story itself. Jackson's gift for drawn history is as effective as an oral history. His tone paints the picture of the famous battle evenly, from Santa Anna's Napoleon fixation to how the women and children saw it, a point of view often marginalized in history. Jackson portrays the campaign from the perspective of not just Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, and William Travis -- all of whom are crafted as 100% human -- but the Mexican soldiers. To them, he has returned a kind of dignity by emphasizing their courage and sacrifice, thus living up to the book's subtitle, An Epic Told From Both Sides. It's a loving if unsentimental view of Texas' greatest battle. In his introduction, Alamo curator and historian Richard Bruce Winders points out that "Past events, their telling and retelling, play a critical role in making us who we are." end story

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