Jessica Farm vol. 1 (2016 Fantagraphics edition) – Josh Simmons

5 out of 5

Like a web comic version of Cerberus by way of Chester Brown…?

Fantagraphics gives us a new edition of the first slice of Josh Simmons’ Jessica Farm, an intended 50-year project – the creator tasking himself with a page a month – that will follow the titular character…  On a journey…  Somewhere.  The appeal of Josh’s creation starts to be felt within the first ten or so pages of this chronicle (covering a real-life timespan between 2000 and 2007), as Jessica’s putterings about her house – avoiding the directly terrifying presence of her father, and his jagged-word-bubble demands that his daughter come downstairs to open Christmas presents – run afoul of a talking cat clock, humorously whimsy sound effects, and, why not, a miniature marimba band playing in the soap dish in her shower.

Aw geez – abusive fathers?  Whimsy?  Are you cringing at the auto-bio indie sadcute of it all?  Thankfully, if that is the kind of thing that appeals to you, that’s not what I was talking about.  Rather, its Josh’s very plain handling of all of the above, and his loose but detailed rendering style – reminiscent of Chester Brown’s Ed the Happy Clown style – that give the pages a distinctly comix vibe, but swerve around that genre’s potential self-indulgence (see: the same Brown reference) by dipping the project in a Looney Tunes-ish reality warp, and sense of glee, filtered through the mind of an artist who’s not afraid of dicks and boobs.  So, sure, daddy’s abusive, but have you seen this stack of rotting babies in the attic?  And Jessica’s certainly sexually healthy enough to nudge for sex from the house stud, Captain, who lives in one of the many hidey-holes in the structure (along with grandma and grandpa in the basement, demons in the ceiling, a whole community of miniature people in the attic…) and, shucks, breaks down crying over concerns that he’s just a piece of meat.

So we stumble with Jessica from room to room, eventually tasked to head to the barn, which is where the volume ends.  But along the way, Simmons executes his other master stroke: We understand this to be a project with an end quite a ways away; the surreal approach also presumes an element of improvisation or randomness; and yet, Jessica Farm doesn’t feel wandering or in need of a plan.

With each page turn I kept expecting the shoe to drop: Into forced wisdom, or unnecessary world-building, or reaching out too far into the random pile.  Simmonds somehow masterfully juggles these attributes, though, pushing his character and story just far enough in any given direction to keep it developing, interesting, funny, and moving forward.

You have read things like Jessica Farm before.  But the application to this long term form make it a unique experience, and, from what I’ve read thus far, one that will be worth staying on for the haul.