Jin & Jam by Hellen Jo

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Jin & Jam
By Hellen Jo
Sparkplug

hellenjojinandjamno1Kids can be cruel—especially to one another. There’s really no revelation in that statement. Surely we’ve all been tormented by peers in some form or another.  For better or worse, it’s a key part of the process of growing up—for the cast of teenage nihilists that populate the first issue of Hellen Jo’s new Sparkplug series, however, it’s something of a way of life.

There’s a strange rhythm to Jin & Jam. It’s hardly noticeable at first, just slightly off the norm. Jo introduces Jam first, gnawing on a greasy McDonald’s hamburger on the sidewalk in front of a church on a Sunday morning. Next to her is Hank, in ripped jeans and long hair, reclining, knees up, puffing on a cigarette. These kids are clearly troublemakers.  Jam, on the other hand, makes her first appearance well-dressed, stepping out of church. She berates the two hoodlums for loitering. The dichotomy between the titular characters is made fairly clear early on.

The first sure sign that we’re operating slightly off the norm here is a quick visual cue—panels of Jin and Jam on a background of fish floating by, for no immediately discernable reason—it’s easy to write such visual digressions off, however, as Jo’s art is clearly steeped heavily in a manga tradition—one that’s never been too heavily invested in the laws of reality. Moments later, Jin upsets the black and white character balance by snatching an unlit cigarette into her bible for later consumption. There are no truly “good” characters in Jin & Jam, at seems, just different shades of “bad.”

The extent of Jin’s own badness is soon revealed, as Jo pulls back the curtain a touch further to reveal a key way in which her characters’ reality differs slightly from our own. Jin, something of an amateur fashionista when she’s not busy attending church ceremonies, instigates a fight between herself and pair of troublemaking Siamese twins. Again, no doubt owing at least a little to Jo’s clear debt to manga, the fight soon escalates to super-violent proportions, with characters smashing brick walls, crushing garbage cans, and crashing through windows. And the moment one is ready to chalk such actions up to the activities of a few bad kids, a bicycle cop arrives, head butting and kicking students for the transgression of, “being fucking annoying.”

By now its clear that Jin and Jam’s world has different rules than our own. What is less clear is whether or not Jo has opted to imbue any of her characters any redeeming qualities, beyond, of course, the visual characteristics of Jo’s clearly talented line work, which work in some brilliant angles during the spectacularly theatrical fight sign.

Redemption does, however, arrive at the tail end of the first issue. Dodging the face-kicking, head-butting  police office, Jin and Jam become quick friends, as their paths lead them to a playground across the street from a 21 and over bar where Jam’s favorite band is playing. Asked why anyone would put a playground in such close proximity to a bar, Jam answers, poetically, “so all the kids in town will know exactly where they’re gonna end up.” Jam quickly acknowledges that she herself is likely to end up there soon.

The dichotomy between the two main characters is once again opened up as Jin announces her plans to avoid such a fate by going to college, a statement compounded by the image of SAT flash cards that begin fluttering from her pocket. As Jin and Jam gain height on the swing set, a monsoon of cards begins raining down, making for a lovely image while highlighting both the forking paths of the characters and the sense of carefree/carelessness that has endeared Jin to her new friends.

By the end of the first issue, there’s certainly something intriguing, if not completely likeable about Jin & Jam’s cast. At the very least it’s likely enough to drive most readers to pick up issue two.

–Brian Heater

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