Jesse Jacobs’ first book with Koyama Press, By This Shall You Know Him, presented a group of bickering celestial beings creating, in hit-and-miss fashion, life on planet Earth. In Safari Honeymoon, the author focuses on what life needs in order to sustain itself. In Jacobs’ universe, nature is a seething, voracious force of consumption and regeneration—something we tend to forget, ensconced as we are in our comfortable homes and apartments, with sofas and easy chairs, garbage disposals and flushing toilets. Jacob’s’ vision is artfully and imaginatively presented, with the intricate patterns and designs of his drawings and layouts evoking the rhythms and cycles of nature, delineated in eerie shades of jungle green.
Safari Honeymoon is essentially a three-character adventure tale. The plot is simple: a newly married man and woman spend their honeymoon on safari in a mysterious jungle with a young man acting as their guide. The guide was first seen in Jacobs' gripping, compact eight-page mini from last year, Young Safari Guide, fighting to survive the attack of the ferocious spawn of a dreadful crawly creature. By the time he reappears in Honeymoon, the young man has become grimly expert and efficient at staying alive in the wild, knowing the habits and tricks of various parasitic, monstrous creatures infesting the jungle, creatures that forever await their chance to find new hosts, new sustenance.
The safari starts out idyllically enough, with the guide showing the couple myriad exotic sights and sounds of the jungle, waiting on them hand and foot. But he makes no bones about the ever-present danger all around them. After he pulls a hideous centipede-like creature out of the husband’s ear, he explains: "The creature will penetrate any orifice. Most likely it passed through your rectum while you slept.” He cautions them further: “Have you folks been wearing your butt plugs?” Clearly, one needs to be prepared for what this particular jungle has in store.
The characters have interesting arcs, revealing often surprising personalities. Early on, the guide has prepared a sumptuous gourmet breakfast for the couple: “Grilled Croque-Monsieur with Crème Fraîche and Gruyere, topped with an organic quail egg.” Hearing this, the woman asks, “Is this dish local? The brochure led us to believe there would be a sampling of local fare.” At first glance this comes across as typically obnoxious yuppie fussiness. But as the story progresses it becomes apparent that the woman is genuinely interested in fully engaging with and understanding the surrounding landscape, showing genuine respect. She apologizes for her husband’s demanding, arrogant behavior: “Back in the city he is a very powerful man, and unaccustomed to appearing vulnerable.” Her husband is rude and officious to the guide, and seems mostly interested in collecting stuffed heads of exotic beasts to mount on walls, proving his power over nature. At the same time, he shows nothing but love and devotion to his bride. Similarly, we might expect the guide to be wise and spiritually in-tune with his primal surroundings, but he brutally shoots down one of the few sweet-natured creatures populating the jungle that has befriended the wife: "It's just a filthy forest monkey." In Jacob's universe sweetness and innocence are often viciously destroyed, for no real reason other than the alpha asserting his dominance (just as in real life). Ultimately, it is the wife who proves to be up to the challenges of the safari, saving their lives, and fully adapting to what proves to be a new life for them, a literally Edenic existence.
Presenting nature as a pitiless arena for survival of the fittest isn’t the most original of scenarios, but Jacobs’ presentation is wonderfully fresh and drolly humorous - a genuinely personal vision. His page compositions and panels are hypnotically, obsessively patterned and evocatively colored. His creature designs are bizarrely imaginative, at times evoking an almost Basil Wolverton-like horrific-humorous effect, and his intricate, lush depiction of the surrounding forestation creates a claustrophobic feeling – as if at any time the jungle could completely overwhelm these invading humans. The humans themselves are generally presented in much less detail as the flora and fauna about them: Jacobs renders them as smooth and rounded, slightly unformed, revealing somehow their (our) essential naïveté. He occasionally interrupts the narrative with single pages of wordless drawings, each composed of twenty-four square panels, depicting either parasitical vermin, assorted mammal-like creatures, weird, exotic vegetation, or, on one page, an array of human foods. He also occasionally depicts aerial views of the jungle, which offer the unsettling sight of the tops of trees, complete with creepy grinning faces, which speak cryptic messages (or perhaps warnings) such as: “Predetermined patterns of thinking are inadequate. Your thoughts are nothing more than meaningless clouds passing across an endlessly blue sky” or "Within the light grows a forest so deep and sprawling that its existence cannot be contained by the physical world." These eerie echoes prove prescient when the trio of humans starts seeing their doubles off in the distance. The guide explains, "That's us, about 45 seconds from now. These foothills are peppered with pockets of temporal disruptions." Jesse Jacobs is a cartoonist gifted with tremendous imagination and one-of-a-kind visual acumen. I look forward to his next trip-out into temporal disruption and phantasmagorical adventure.