By Kyle Starks, Chris Schweizer, and Dylan Todd
There is something clumsily endearing about Rock Candy Mountain #1, with its crude art style and adult situations. That’s what you get with books from creator, Kyle Starks. He does it all; writing and art, and it is a glorious combination. This book follows hobos, some likable and some not so much. We meet our protagonist, Jackson as he is on the rails running away from what we can assume are the authorities. Jackson is an experienced hobo used to life on the rails, so when he meets Pomona (a new to hobo-ing guy down on his luck) he helps him out. The two are on their way to Kentucky, when they come across the hobo mafia and things take a turn for the worse.
Starks does a great job introducing a lot to readers in a 32-page book. When we meet the two main characters, we already have some backstory on. The nemeses are already fleshed out as well; we have some random police we see chasing Jackson and then we meet Marion Flimbo, the head of the hobo mafia. By the end of the book, we know who we are rooting for, and why. The dynamic between Pomona and Jackson is great, with the ‘experienced badass hobo who may also be crazy’ Jackson playing perfectly against a ‘down on his luck city boy’ Pomona who is forced to use the rails to go to Kentucky to work with his second cousin’s pest control business. The book is stuffed with intention, every panel and dialogue serves the purpose to further the story and develop the characters. With the minimalist art style of Starks, it is impressive how he can express so much in such a short book.
it is imperative to note the juxtaposition this book represents with the kid-friendly art style and the not-kid-friendly content matter of Rock Candy Mountain #1. It is just like the famous song this books takes its title from: it became a watered-down kid song that celebrities would sing on kid shows. The song started out as a hobo song; yeah, they have those. It was more than a song to hobos – it was folklore. You can read all about it if you buy this book, as Starks includes a two-page explanation of the origins of the song “Rock Candy Mountain” at the end of the book.
This book has many endearing qualities, but probably the one that stands out the most is the simplicity of the story and art. There is a “What you see is what you get” quality to Starks work, that allows the reader to read it entirely without feeling like they are missing something. Comics now sometimes have hidden meanings, glances, and easter eggs, that sometimes we read and reread books to make sure we understand them completely. Other books, it feels like you need a Master’s Degree in Literature to understand what the writer is trying to convey. This book really capture the essence of why comic books work; it is about capturing the things not needed with words with pictures. Starks does a beautiful job to only use dialogue, no narration, and his story is communicated in a very effective and beautiful way. Even though Stark’s art is simple is nature, it is complex enough to denote emotion, detailed enough to differentiate characters, and colored and shaded effectively to covey story tone.
Rock Candy Mountain #1 is a refreshing book amidst an array of ‘been there, done that’ books. This book has a story that has not been told about hobos; train-hopping, treasure-seeking, hobo mafia-dodging, hobos. It’s super fun, with a quirky art style and fast-paced story, and an easy read that will have you excited for the next issue. It is a book not many will pick up while searching for new titles, but those that do will become completely enamored with the story and will be believers in the lore of the Rock Candy Mountain.