Writer/Artist: Josh Simmons
Release Date: April 19, 2016
Planning ahead and going with the flow might seem like opposite concepts, but there comes a point where the former, pushed to a certain extreme, meets the latter. That point is Josh Simmons; Jessica Farm, a planned 50-year project in which the cartoonist draws one page a month. He’s been working on it since January 2000, and these two volumes (the first is now being reprinted) cover his production through December 2015.
They’re slim books, with sometimes only one or two panels per page. And even 15 years into the project, it feels like Simmons is still getting started. Jessica Farm is a person, not a place, although the kind of person who seems to be one with her patronym. She also lives on a farm, although she doesn’t say much about farming and it’s not clear what the farm produces. She lives in a big house, with all kinds of nooks and crannies—the sort of building that you find in a horror movie or a dream, where the inside seems bigger than the outside and the way the spaces fit together isn’t clear. And the building/farm is being attacked by horrible, aggressive creatures, against which Jessica and her compatriots must fight. It’s also Christmas Day, which it has been since the first panel.
Trying to make sense of these pages is not an easy matter. One might think that a project so lengthy would involve slaving over each image, but Simmons has done neater and more involved work elsewhere. There’s a looseness to the lines, and even the speech bubbles are outlined in thick ink, as though drawn tiny and enlarged for print. Character development is clearly not the point. Almost a third of the way through, Jessica is still a mystery. There’s little time for self-reflection, but plenty of time for hacking, slashing, geysers of blood, decapitation, cloud critters that shoot lightning, entrails ripping and so forth.
Jessica Farm Vol. 1 Interior Art by Josh Simmons
Is it a bit much? I suppose so, but if you look back to François Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, one of the finest examples of the picaresque form, it’s equally concerned with physical limitations, focused on the here and now. The point is less the end than the journey, as well as the pleasures found along the way—pleasures that have to be snatched from the almost-unremitting horror of the world. The feeling of not knowing where you’re going can be frustrating. One often wonders if Jessica Farm is going anywhere at all, or if it’s more of a ritualistic exercise for the artist.
Some works of art are directed at those who will experience them, while others ignore their audience. So far, Jessica Farm appears to be the latter, which can make it aggravating—like hearing someone else’s dream. It’s frequently ugly and confusing, but it also has a vitality in its images. Often, everything within a panel is squished up right next to the frame. Dialogue is delivered with exclamation points, and sound effects are rendered large and bold. Whether Simmons will maximize his strengths is yet to be seen—and he may not care to do so.
Jessica Farm Vol. 1 Reprint Cover Art by Josh Simmons