Jook Joint #1
Writer: Tee Franklin
Artist: Alitha Martinez
Colors: Shari Chankhamma
Letters: Taylor Esposito
Cover artists: Martinez (regular)/Mike Hawthorne (variant)
Editor: Brendan Wright
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US
Tee Franklin is the real deal, folks. She has quickly emerged as a powerful and resonant voice in comics, and you’d do well to sit up and take notice of her. Her first big splash was this year’s Bingo Love, one of the best graphic novels I’ve read in 2018. And with Jook Joint, she demonstrates that fantastic debut was no fluke. Furthermore, she proves she’s a versatile writer as well, as the tone of this book is much harsher, much more intense and significantly angrier. And for good cause. The timing of Jook Joint couldn’t be better, given last week’s controversial events in American politics and justice (though some would understandably argue what occurred was far from justice). Jook Joint would have been written at least several months, well ahead of the Kavanaugh hearings and confirmation vote, but the anger in America and abroad seems perfectly reflected in this story of a horrific #MeToo movement before its time.
Mama Mahalia is the hostess with the mostest, as her jook joint in the Louisiana swamp allows all to enjoy their loves and lusts, no matter what “civilized” society thinks of them. The rules are simple: keep your hands to yourself, and everything that transpires must be consensual. The penalties for breaking the rules are severe. Mahalia offers other services as well: magical solutions for desperate women who can no longer take the abuse meted out in their lives on a regular basis.
I’m more familiar with artist Alitha Martinez as an inker, but her linework throughout this first issue is quite effective. She achieves a fairly realistic tone throughout this opening chapter, with some exaggerated and noir elements that reinforce the dark, macabre atmosphere nicely. Her work here reminded me at times of the styles of such artists as Patrick Olliffe and Paul Azaceta. I enjoyed her character designs, particularly the variety of shapes for the female players in the dark drama. They come in all sizes, but are all equally beautiful and alluring. My only qualm with the art was that it was difficult to discern what was happening in the pivotal, closing scene.
There’s a brutality to the revenge wrought by Mahalia and her girls here, and extreme reaction to the sins of men. But it flows from the outrage and anger that understandably should arise from the everyday assaults, both physical and sexual, forced upon women in the period — and sadly, still to this day. I don’t subscribe to the notion of answering violence and cruelty with more of the same, but the message here isn’t about offering solutions, but rather giving voice to the rage and injustice.
I was reminded a bit of classic 1970s horror comics here, but at the same time, there was a genuine tone to the writing. Aside from the monstrous and supernatural elements in the story, there was a real feeling that Franklin was able to take her audience back in time to 1950s Louisiana. I also appreciated that the notion of fluid sexuality had to be hidden from the outside world, but that it was ever-present then, allowing it to eventually emerge from the shadows today.
I was struck by how much Jook Joint has in common with DC/Vertigo’s newly launched House of Whispers — and how much more accessible, enjoyable and relevant Jook Joint as compared to it. I found the plot in House to be impenetrable and the characters too alien, but JJ is alive, its anger infectious.
Bingo Love was such a heartfelt, joyful expression of love in the slice-of-life genre, and I was thoroughly impressed with its positivity and earnest nature. But Jook Joint is a cynical, brutal and unique journey through the horror genre. Franklin still explores sexuality and the judgment of others here, but this is such a drastic shift in tone for the relatively new comics writer that I was taken aback — but in a good way. The writer clearly has a knack for tapping into raw emotion and using that to great effect in storytelling, and she can do so in a variety of ways. She’s a powerful and important new voice in comics, and I plan to watch for her name in the years to come. 8/10