calamity jack

Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale

Illustrated by Nathan Hale

Bloomsbury, 2010.

144 pages.

It’s Jack’s turn to be re-told with a creative twist. Calamity Jack is the sequel to the graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge (2008); and if you’ve read the first you will remember that Calamity Jack is the Jack from that Beanstalk story. If you haven’t read the first, you don’t have to read Rapunzel first, but you’ll enjoy Jack better—and it is Jack, as in Jack & the Beanstalk. The name Calamity Jack recalls the West and its popular figure of Calamity Jane, and then, Calamitous just seems apt when referring to Jack.

Calamity Jack is told in 4 Parts. Part 1: “The Beanstalk Bonanza” opens with a full page panel of Jack’s face saying ‘what have I done!’—the kind of expression that is equal parts disbelief, fear, and amazement. He stands amidst the pandemonium caused by chopped down beanstalk.

“I think of myself as a criminal mastermind…with an unfortunate amount of bad luck.”

Cue the flashback where our narrator in the yellow text boxes, Jack, tells us he was “born to scheme.” He takes us through the highlights of his growing up into a career as “a criminal mastermind.” Until he sees his mother cry, and he realizes that maybe there are consequences he should consider.

But then, there is Blunderboar, the giant, and business magnate. A not ignoble plan to break into Blunderboar’s Penthouse at the height of a skyscraper ensues. Magic beans come into play rather accidently. Jack uses the beanstalk to its advantage, but is forced to chop it down and then flee as the repercussions very quickly take effect.

Page 38 catches the reader up on what happened after Jack left Shyport to head West. 38 features a two panel summary of Rapunzel’s Revenge; yes, another glimpse of Jack in that ridiculous female disguise.The two panels also sum up Calamity Jack. the first glimpse is his debacles; the second is Jack victorious.

Having helped Rapunzel, he is headed home with a plan to rebuild his relationship with his mother, and maybe rebuild a building or two. Rapunzel is coming with him. “Out West, Rapunzel was a hero, and I was…well, I was sort of her sidekick. But now we were on my turf, and I couldn’t wait for her to see Jack of Shyport in charge, in fashion, in his element” (54).

You may recall a budding romance in the first book; this continues into the second. Jack needs to return to Shyport, but he is afraid Rapunzel will discover the extent of his past as a criminal. When they encounter another character who is charmed by Rapunzel and is much more eloquent in expressing his adoration, Jack experiences a jealousy that is very amusing to the reader. Central, however, is our Hero trying to do the right thing, figure out the right way to go about things—and still make use of his gifts; which is scheming coming up with a plans and artfully placed self-deprecation.

Rapunzel: “But you better be careful, Jack the Baker’s son.”

Jack: “Don’t worry about me. I’m wily.” Also, fairly stupid.

But only on occasion.

Such as when I’m descending alone into a sewer hive of gargantuan flesh-eating insect people.

Right about when that dank, rotten stench hit me I questioned the whole going-it-alone thing.

But it was the kind of deed that’d make my momma proud, wasn’t it?

The sort of thing good guys did?

The type of heroic action that Rapunzel could admire. (96-7)

The writing is witty. The story original and brilliant. And the drawing is just as dynamic.

Freddie ordered a cake for Rapunzel, “because you’re, you know, sweet. Like Cake” (84).

Page 85: first row, three frames: 1-close up Rapunzel’s face tilted up and smiling “Jack, Do you think I’m sweet like cake?” 2-Jack, busy at his drawings, Freddie and Rapunzel distant,“Not on your life.” 3- Rapunzel’s face again, chin angled down, lips together, creating a tonal shift, “Oh.”

2nd row:  Jack looking worried, not turned but eyes toward shoulder where Rapunzel stands in the background, distant, in a Wonder Woman pose (appears as if to stand on his shoulder),[narrated] ‘Cause she’s not some silly pastry girl. She’s strong and great and amazing and fun and beautiful and—‘

The frame I want to get to: Second row second panel: Rapunzel announces, “I love cake!” The drawing explicates the exclamation mark. Rapunzel hooks her arms around Freddie’s arm, her hair is swinging, and she looks somewhat maniacal.  She isn’t coy or sweet, loving cake. She is angry and determined. Meanwhile, Freddie is ready, holding up his gold-plated cake server (a little something for the adults in the room).

I like Rapunzel’s Revenge. I love Calamity Jack. I think the chemistry is more richly developed in the sequel.  Jack is endearing. The story is crafted. The action sequences are great. Each page is well-composed, intelligent and colorful and easy to follow, enticing the eye to move along and yet maybe linger a moment.


Appreciated: The Criticism–a foreign contingent (the Giants) dominating the indigenous population; a magnate and his violent elimination of the competition in order to create a monopoly. Jack’s ingenuity and grit determination.  Freddie the technophile. The pigeons. The idea that one little person can effect the establishment in a major way (magic bean/Jack metaphor). Jack‘s ability to make me laugh out loud.


Nathan Hale’s blog.

My short bit on Rapunzel’s Revenge, here.

Art: (1) second panel, p 23. (2) top half, p 55. (3) b/w "preview" on Nathan Hale's Blog, in color p 130.

Published by L

I read, and I write. and until recently, I sold books.

3 thoughts on “calamity jack

  1. I liked Rapunzel’s Revenge, so I’ll definitely look for this – especially as you say that it’s even better. I need to see if Shannon Hale is writing any new novels too. I haven’t checked up on her in awhile.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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