Jack: Adventures in Texas' Big Bend is an ongoing comedy adventure comic about the animals in and around Big Bend National Park. New episodes arrive at least once a month, and hopefully a bit more frequently than that. Currently, the regional newsblog West Texas Weekly (westtexasweekly.com) is posting an episode from the archives each week.
Jack is written and drawn by Chris Ruggia of Alpine, Texas, who also co-operates Vast Graphics ( a graphic design firm) with his wife Ellen.
On April 24, 2009, KRTS FM (Marfa Public Radio) aired a 20-minute interview with Chris about Jack. Click here to listen to an mp3 file of the interview.
The Big bend Region is a mountainous area in the northern reaches of the Chihuahuan Desert, and it's where I've lived and worked since 1994.
The idea behind Jack is to provide an entertaining story, while at the same time sharing information about the animals that live here and their actual life-cycles, behaviors, diets, etc.
Now, to the best of my knowledge most of these species do not speak English, nor do they seem to worry much about what the other animals think of them, beyond the "do-they-want-to-eat-me" level.
What I have tried to do is take the information I have discovered in my research and use it as the basis for situations, character traits, etc., that I hope will will make far a story that's fun to read. Of course, there are inevitable distortions in this process , as well as outright errors on my part (hasty research, out of date sources, bad note-taking, poor memory...), so please don't take Jack as a replacement for any decent zoology text.
I do hope you enjoy the story, and if you are interested in learning more about the actual creatures behind my characters, I've included some of the details on the characters page. Also, I've put some notes about my research sources below, along with a short list of some of the books that have been most helpful.
I started researching for Jack by reading a few general overviews about desert animals, looking for possible characters. With a few helpful suggestions from friends, I found the following books to be very helpful:
- Schmidly, David J. 1977. The Mammals of Trans-Pecos Texas, including Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Texas A&M University Press.
- Wauer, Roland H. 1980. A Naturalist's Big Bend. Texas A&M University Press.
- Jaeger, Edmund C. 1961. Desert Wildlife. Stanford University Press.
More detailed information on particular species was difficult to find, with the exception of the coyote.
- Leydet, Francois. 1988. The Coyote: Defiant Songdog of the West. University of Oklahoma Press. [very interesting, but focuses almost exclusively on human/coyote/predator control interactions, which don't really fall into my thematic ballpark]
- Dobie, J. Frank.1949. The Voice of the Coyote. University of Nebraska Press, Licon, NE. [fantastic -- includes thorough explorations of natural history,behavior, folklore, almost all of it useful to me]
For ongoing reference (double-checking geographic ranges, habitats, scientific names, etc.), I use my copy of
- MacMahon, James A. 1985. The Audobon Society Nature Guides: Deserts. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
as well as general web searches by scientific name. I mostly take general web info as it comes without paying a huge amount of attention to the source, beyond your basic "does-this-site-look-like-it's-for-real" filter. But there are a few sites that come up often in searches and are always helpful, including the following.
- The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition (www.nsrl.ttu.edu/tmot1/Default.htm)
- The University of Michigan Museum of Zoology: Animal Diversity Web
- Herps of Texas (www.lifesci.utexas.edu/research/txherps/)
But by far the most helpful sources all along have been people.
Dr. James F. Scudday gave me great pointers towards possible characters and some terrific details at the outset.
David Elkowitz, Chief of Interpretation at Big Bend National Park, presented a great seminar on reptiles and amphibians - one day they'll even make it into the story!
Martha Hansen answered a question I had about owl ranges.
And most recently, John Karges, Conservation Biologist for the Nature Conservancy of Texas, has spoken with me several times, sharing his knowledge and even taking me on a field trip to see some actual kangaroo rat mounds. Most importantly, John tipped me off to the scientific literature, a gold mine of details on life-cycles, behaviors, you name it. He loaned me a whole book of articles on hetermyid rodents (the family of the kangaroo rat) that gave me a ton of ideas for Mel:
- Genoways, Hugh H. and James H. Brown. Biology of the Heteromyidae: Special Publication #10. American Society of Mammalogists, 1993.
So now, thanks to John, when I need solid info for a character, I go straight to the journal databases (available through our local public library)!
In a more personal, non-research sort of way, I also owe a big debt of thanks to lots of people, including these:
- Ellen Ruggia
- Dawn Trook and the participants of her Creative Writing Workshops
- David Lanman
- Jean Hardy
- Cheryl Frances & John Tuck
- Tom Gaffaney