I love this comic book, I really do. Jack Staff is a wonderfully fun comic book, combining an odd pastiche of American comic books, British presentation and attitude, some horror and some wonderful mystery elements. So why does Jack Staff drive me freaking crazy?
It’s the pacing, the damn pacing of this comic. Ever since I picked up the first black and white issue, creator Paul Grist’s strange way of moving along a story has been his Achilles heel. I don’t mind a story with a weird structure or unusual way of putting together a story. And when a story has Paul Grist’s amazing way of creating a scene, so much the better. It’s just that the transitions are kinda, well, jarring.
Take Jack Staff #9 as an example. The issue starts with a wonderful three-page scene where Tom Tom the Robot Man searches for the accused killer Lord Gilbert Pearce, while Pearce holds Detective Maveryk hostage over a deep pit. The scene has a lovely composition, with wonderful line work by Grist and gorgeous colors by Craig Conlon. It’s muted and attractive, and then the next page suddenly transitions with a bright blurb to show “Blazing Glory! Jack Staff! Sgt. States! Tommy Twister! Together they are the Freedom Fighters.” The mood is broken. Readers suddenly have to adjust to a Nazi menace that we assume is attacking our heroes in World War II. We get a page of edgy tension, and then suddenly on the next page, “Sixteen hours earlier…” the story transitions again. Again, there’s a different color palette, a different mood, a different feel. A few pages later, suddenly, readers are confronted with a spooky black, white and dark green dream sequence. Again, it looks and reads wonderfully, and the colors are terrific, but for readers the transition is a real shock. I found myself getting frustrated with each scene. I was often so engrossed in a particular moment in the story that I resented being suddenly jerked out of it.
If it weren’t for the transitions, this comic would be a damn masterpiece. Paul Grist is a magnificent cartoonist, with a brilliant control of his line work. His art is both cartoony enough to be welcoming and tight enough to convey a scene with realism. The scenes of Tom Tom floating against a star-speckled sky are absolutely gorgeous, and the dream sequence has some astonishing panel work. The sequence where Tom Tom swoops in to save Detective Maveryk is absolutely wonderful. He works magic in his panel arrangements. This is heady, smart stuff. But the transitions are a fatal flaw.
I’ve stuck with this series since it was first out in black and white from Grist’s own Dancing Elephant Press, and I’ve always loved the book. But I’ve always been struck by just how much better it could be if Grist just was able to make the comic flow just a wee bit better.