Comfort Food Comics Potluck: Rock Candy Mountain by Samantha Puc

Comfort Food Comics Potluck is a regular column where I ask some of my favorite people to write about their special Comfort Food Comics.

Today’s column comes from Samantha Puc. I am extremely grateful she agreed to share her Comfort Food Comic for my site. I became familiar with Samantha’s work at Comicsbeat.com where she opened my eyes to so many series, events, or creators in the industry I would have never known about without her hard work. I think she is an incredibly talented, important voice in comics journalism and you should all seek out her work. Anyways, lets let Samantha take it from here:

OK, truthfully? Rock Candy Mountain totally blindsided me when I first picked it up. The Eisner-nominated series by Kyle Starks and Chris Schweizer is ostensibly a historical fiction series about a World War II vet taking up the life of a hobo and traveling between towns via train to look for work. But of course, it’s more complicated than that: protagonist Jackson is running toward his late family, and away from the Literal Devil. Between his slowly-unveiled tragic story and his reluctant companion Pomona’s careful acceptance of his sexuality, as well as a whole cast of iconic characters introduced throughout this eight-issue series, Starks inspires laughter and tears and anger and frustration.

Rock Candy Mountain has been described by Starks as a “jokey fight book.” It’s also, as I wrote in The Beat’s Best Comics of the 2010s, his magnum opus. And somehow, since I first read the series in 2017, it’s become a comfort read that invokes feelings of safety on par with eating a perfect grilled cheese.

For me, this comic — which explores the “golden age of hobos” and the Great Depression, when itinerant workers traveled from town to town and contributed significantly to the growth and expansion of the U.S. — represents the kind of long-form storytelling I wish more comics creators had the opportunity to explore with their work. Mini-series are great, but one of my favorite things about serialized art is that there’s immediate pay-off for some plots, and much longer pay-off for others. Although Rock Candy Mountain is just eight issues, Starks employs long-form storytelling really effectively. The pacing is on point, especially for Jackson and Pomona, whose arcs are so different and yet still explored with equal weight.

By the end of the series, the story feels complete, finished in a satisfactory way that doesn’t lend itself to that frustrating feeling of needing, wanting, craving more. Rock Candy Mountain feels self-contained. And — spoiler alert! — it doesn’t end in horrible, devastating tragedy. While I would love to read more about these characters, especially the ones who don’t get as much of the spotlight, I’m also content with having just this snippet of their lives documented in Starks’ series. And revisiting it always invokes the same feelings of warmth, no matter how many times I re-read.

Among the comics released in the last decade, Rock Candy Mountain feels like a sleeper hit. When I started thinking about what comic I consider my “comfort food” for this piece, I initially thought of two other titles. But when Rock Candy Mountain came to mind, I immediately latched onto it. Perhaps it’s Schweizer’s colors, which are muted but still expressive until the Literal Devil gets involved, at which point they explode into brighter, hotter (literally) shades of orange and red. Perhaps it’s Starks’ earnest exploration of characters we don’t often see written about or illustrated, in comics or otherwise. Perhaps it’s the weird, niche story lover in me that tends to gravitate toward pieces that are outside my realm of expertise and thusly make me want to learn as much as I can.

Whatever it is, Rock Candy Mountain has become a go-to recommendation when people ask me for comics that are off the beaten path. It’s become a book I love, whole-heartedly, and gush about whenever I’m afforded the chance. It’s an excellent, well-paced story with phenomenal art, clever dialogue, and colors to die for. And it leaves me with a feeling of warmth and comfort and contentment that few other comics do, no matter how much I love them. If you need a comfort read and you want to be surprised by the comics you pick up, I strongly encourage you to give this series a try.

Oh, and in case you were wondering…

How to make the perfect grilled cheese:

– Pre-heat a skillet over medium-low heat until hot

– Spread a thin layer of butter (or mayonnaise, if you want extra crisp) on one side of two thick-cut slices of sourdough bread

– Cut 2-3 thin slices of extra sharp cheddar cheese and 2-3 thin slices of havarti cheese

– Place one slice of bread, buttered side down, in your skillet

– Layer cheese over unbuttered side of the bread, then place your second slice of bread, unbuttered side down, over the cheese

– Cover the skillet with a lid and cook for 5-6 minutes, or until cheese has started to melt and the bread touching the skillet has started to brown

– Flip your sandwich, cover the skillet again, and repeat

– Cut sandwich diagonally and enjoy

For extra cold or sad days, prepare tomato soup and dip your sandwich for added flavor and joy.

Samantha Puc is a culture critic and essayist whose work focuses on LGBTQ and fat representation in pop culture. She is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Fatventure Mag. For more, follow her on Twitter.

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