Even those who don’t own a Netflix subscription are familiar with the show Stranger Things. Many have noticed how the series sparked a wave of intellectual properties that uses the show’s spooky ‘80s nostalgia. Some properties may feel derivative while other properties use the Stranger Things atmosphere to create something that tugs at the heartstrings while serving up pulse-pounding thrills with a generous side of B movie horror that sticks to the ribs like gravy and biscuits. One such book is The Rock Gods of Jackson, Tennessee, written by Rafer Roberts and illustrated by Mike Norton.
One can be forgiven for not having heard of the Rock Gods of Jackson, Tennessee (so as not to confuse them with the other Rock Gods). But they’re an immediately lovable group of rockers, even if they aren’t the coolest. There’s the band’s overeager mouthpiece and emotional center Doug, gentle giant Lenny, and rebel-inside-a-strict-household Jonny. Along with juvenile delinquent Marty, who is by far the coolest of the group, they have a chance to open for world famous Tommi Tungsten and show everyone who thought they were losers that they’re anything but. However, a stampede of mutant pigs capable of destroying their town might upend their rock n’ roll dreams.
Rafer Roberts’s story feels like if Stranger Things took place a little further south and didn’t take itself too seriously. This band’s members might not have the cool factor of Metallica or Mötley Crüe (or even Warrant), but Roberts makes them all immediately relatable. Doug has a surplus of confidence but a dearth of musical talent. Lenny is constantly being misjudged because of his size. Jonny is desperately trying to break free of his religious upbringing. Even Marty, the truly talented one, is enduring a less-than-stellar home life. These are the lovable heroes that are destined to save the day in their heroic but comedic manner.
There is an element of danger, one that is beautifully portrayed with a countdown up to the concert, but the danger is never too dark. Norton’s artwork strays far from any kind of realism, going more for a clean animation style that gives a certain lightness to the book more reminiscent of ‘80s B-horror movies. This book doesn’t skimp on the gory effects. There’s no shortage of mutated pigs (some even have extra heads!) and several characters die seemingly out of nowhere. Even when the book is having the citizens of Jackson, Tennessee be pig food, the story never loses its heart and that’s the friendship that, in this moment of Jackson’s near destruction, binds the Rock Gods of Jackson, Tennessee.
Those who have lived during the ‘80s (or loved ‘80s metal) will love this book as well as horror fans who don’t mind having a few giggles with their gore. The book’s writing and its characters, both past and present, ground this horror book and prevent it from being just another blood-splattered book or Stranger Things knockoff.
The Rock Gods of Jackson, Tennessee
By Rafer Roberts
Art by Mike Norton
Dark Horse Books, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: 13-16 years
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)