On May 19th of this year we lost one of the best painters of our generation. Jeffrey Catherine Jones was an incredibly prolific painter and comic artist with an uncanny sense of composition, among many other amazing traits. This installment, we look at the artist’s underground comic, Spasm.
Published by Last Gasp Eco Funnies
Jeffrey Jones is or should be well known to all Ink Stains readers (and comic fans, and fans of great art in general). Starting in the late sixties, Jones was producing gorgeous and sometimes singular art seemingly right out of the box. You will find his work in many Ink Stains columns and hopefully many more in the future. For now, I am focusing on his underground comic, Spasm. Though not a fanzine, per se, I feel it fits well enough within many of the higher quality art zines that he played a big part in.
This nifty little collection of stories shows Jones at his most loose. Most of the stories look as if they were done quickly, without worrying about perfectly feathered lines or incredibly detailed backgrounds. Some may think these are mere wisps of stories, but, in my opinion, Jones’s quick sketches are better than ninety percent of the finished work in comics and some of the illustration world. Lately, much of the illustration world is littered with faux naive scratchings and jaded, ironic work with little feeling. Jones can be called many things, but unfeeling is not one of them.
Jeffrey Jones is probably most known for his gorgeous renditions of full figured women, usually with very little clothing on. However, if you look at his website (urls will be given at the end of the article) you will see many evocative landscapes amidst the beautiful babes, dinosaurs, and flights of fantasy. Late in life, Jones seemed to be more interested in painting the wonders of nature all around him than filling the bookshelves with paperback book covers (something he did with gusto in the 1970s). When following his fanzine work, I was always taken with his command of the human figure, and especially the out of the ordinary contortions and positions he could put his characters in, such as the dying spaceman to the left. Jones himself posed much of the time for illustrations such as this and many of his paintings that would come later. This illustration is one of a few stand alone drawings in this comic, so let’s talk about the stories, shall we?
The cover of Spasm, as Patrick Hill tells me (and he would know; he is probably the go-to person for knowledge on the career of Jeffrey Jones), is a rejected cover for the Dragonriders of Pern, a very well known entry in a fantasy saga by Anne McCaffrey. I have a feeling the very average looking dragon rider might not have been heroic looking enough for the editors, but that is just my opinion.
After another full page illustration (seen above), Jeff launches into a two-page story called “Co-incidence.” Done in a sparse and sketchy style, the story is much like his Idyll work, simple and somewhat whimsical. Some may see this story as merely an excuse to practice some figure drawing. But, when you can draw figures as good as this, I say, so what? After this, we get one of the best stories in the comic, “Spirit of ’76,” seen below in its entirety. I have a feeling the printing, combined with my scans, do not do justice to the soft gradations of watercolor used in this story. But enough jabbering; you be the judge.
The following story, “Saved,” is told in blocks of type and art within ovals of black. Perhaps this was meant to echo the prison/safety of the female astronaut’s suit, or maybe contrast with the vast emptiness of space…or both. Jones combines his influence of the old EC comics with his own still and small observations, giving us a Jones/EC twist ending, as well. I think you can also see a possible influence from his friend, contemporary, and Studio mate Berni Wrightston in the rendering of the dead astronaut’s face (and the dying spaceman near the beginning of this installment). Below you see two “panels” from that story.
Next, we are treated to “The Enemy.” Now, I will not pretend to totally understand this story. Maybe you can read it and get back to me? There are several instances where I had some unanswered questions; questions like, “How did he get there?” and, “Why did she throw the book through the window?” But despite those questions and some sloppy inking here and there, a few panels stand out for being beautifully composed. Composition was always a very strong component of Jones’s work. Possibly his best. Whether individual comic panels or large paintings, Jones was almost always able to arrange the objects on the surface in a very visually pleasing way. This story has a few panels that are drawn really well and also lead the eye where he wanted it to go. Two of these panels you see below.
If you are missing Jones’s incredibly beautiful renditions of women, then you should be happy with the next story, “Luce.” This story features two women on a hillside, both with wings, one very attached to her chairs. Like much of Jones’s sequential work, there are metaphors and allegories masquerading as simple objects and actions. And also like much of the artist’s stories, the characters are beautifully rendered amidst designs where the artist intelligently utilized negative spaces. See for yourself.
From the light and airy open spaces of “Luce,” we are plunged into the black of space with “Deja Vu.” This story has some of Jones’s favorite subjects…spacemen and trees. And he is darn good at trees! The story mirrors the title cleverly as well.
The composition of that last panel on the first page and the second panel of the second page just boggle my mind. To take all those various elements and compose them so perfectly seems like a mysterious gift to me, though I assume it was a product of many years of learning.
Next, one of many stories and paintings exploring the different ages of women, the frailty of the human condition, and the things we cling to as human beings. Below you see a few panels from “The Bridge.”
I don’t know of many artists/writers (especially in comics) that focus so much on how easily broken we humans can become, and how fragile we can be. Many of the heroic figures in his paintings are normally proportioned figures, as are most of his renditions of the female figure.
After this quiet tale, we move on to “Guarantee,” possibly a morality play on the ethics of the police, or at least those in power. See below.
As you can see above, more open space is utilized in the last story of the book, coincidentally the last stage (to some) of life, that being “Death.” Another seemingly simple meditation on a very weighty subject, it is contrasted by the thin line weights and quick, almost gesture-drawing style.
I feel lucky that I was able to speak to Jeffrey a few times about his site , asking various questions and offering advice. He was usually succinct but prompt. About a year ago, he started posting very frequently on Facebook. It was truly a joy to see all the sketches and other works we might not have seen otherwise. Jeffrey seemed to really be enjoying himself on Facebook, interacting with his fans and friends. Posts were very frequent, many times just posting funny photos he found on the ol’ interweb. I wish I could ask him questions now about Spasm…but that can’t happen. It was such a terrible surprise to hear of his passing little more than a month ago. There were so many good things happening…a new book from Desperado press, a new film documentary on Jones called Better Things by the positive-vibe tornado of Maria Carbado. So much was happening…but now…he’s gone. It was a real shock. I can’t say I had a personal relationship with Jeffrey Jones…but I have loved his art for over 30 years. For a truly touching personal account of Jones’s life, read George Pratt’s eulogy of sorts here. It is truly worth seeing.
There are many places you can see Jeff’s work. The website, the existing books, all the comics, the fanzines, the paperbacks, and more. He was so prolific, especially early in his career. I thought I had seen most of it, but things I somehow missed seem to materialize daily. Download the pdf!
Here is an announcement from Maria Carbado about a Jeff Jones/Better Things panel coming up at the San Diego Con:
Better Things Panel Description: Comic-Con International 2011Thursday, July 21st7:30 pm – 8:30 pm Jeffrey Catherine Jones: The Documentary — Filmmaker Maria Cabardo is joined by artists Bill Sienkiewicz (Elektra: Assassin), Mark Bode (Cobalt 60), Rick Berry (Sparrow #6, Double Memory), Robert Wiener (Donald M. Grant Publisher), George Pratt (Batman: Harvest Breed), and tentative Louise Simonson (Superman, X-Factor), for a preview and discussion of her upcoming documentary feature Better Things: The Life and Choices of Jeffrey Catherine Jones. Using interviews with Jones and a wide range of family, friends and colleagues, the film explores the late artist’s fascinating, challenging life and unique journey through the worlds of comics, illustration and fine art. Moderated by John Butler. Room 4.
I would like to thank Patrick Hill for a few observations and facts (and hopefully, for a few fanzines in the future). I would also like to thank Maria Carbado for some input and the wonderful photo of she and Jeffrey above. But most of all, of course…I have to thank Jeffrey. He may have been too frail to survive this sullied earth, but his art will live on forever.
Ken Meyer Jr.