If you’re not familiar with Jason then you’re missing out on one hell of a minimalist graphic novel.
No I’m not referring to the horror movie monster, but the man behind such works as I Killed Adolf Hitler and Why Are You Doing This? He’s a cartoonist like no other because he creates such realistic worlds populated by humanoid cats, bunnies and birds. His latest book is out in English this week at a whopping 200 plus pages; does it continue his high standards or trail off like many of his tragic characters?
If You Steal (Fantagraphics Publishing)
This volume contains 11 chapters, each of which is a different story — so call this a short story collection if you must. Jason understands the famous mantra, “tragedy plus time equals comedy” very well since most of his stories take place over a good stretch of time and most of them are populated with sad characters who are incredibly reflective yet cannot control their fate. If you’re new to Jason’s work you’re going to notice this right off the bat. The other feature of his stories you’ll notice is the story structure with only 4 panels per page. That in itself creates a slower more reflective read since only so much can take place on a page yet time tends to jump leaving the reader the ability to use their imagination to fill in the blanks.
Comical and weirdly captivating.
The first story is titled If You Steal and is about a man who may or may not rob a man with a vault in his home. The story is incredibly surreal with almost random occurrences with a man in a bowler hat reminiscent of the film Being There. The story moves backwards and forwards showing us what could have been or will be if the protagonist steals. It’s incredibly poetic in its slow march towards its end and it’ll leave you feeling a bit reflective.
The second story is called Karma Chameleon and it’s about a small town in what looks like Arizona with some members of the townsfolk going missing. A zoologist is brought in as there is a suspected giant chameleon roaming around eating folks. Underneath this is a love story between a doctor and the zoologist’s daughter. It plays out with comedic effect.
The third story is titled Waiting for Bardot which is a play on the famous play Waining for Gadot. It’s slow and focuses on two men discussing what’s great about women. A short story worth a slight chuckle.
The fourth story is titled Lorena Velazquez and it’s about a luchador rushing to save a damsel from black cloaked scientists. This is about as action packed as Jason gets with not only a vampire attack but Frankenstein’s monster too. There’s even more for our wrestler protagonist to take on and an ending with a surprising cliffhanger.
The remaining stories include a man who has his face changed, a story told in only the covers of pulp comic covers, a vampire hunter who must kill vampire children, a violent tale of a hitman, a drug addict story and a tale of druids who due to actions centuries prior had a hand in killing JFK. All of these range from action adventures to semi-thoughtful stories and most of which include some kind of twist ending.
The final story entitled Nothing is an extremely powerful one. This is about a woman who appears to be going through dementia. When she forgets where something is though we see two birds wearing black taking away or covering up the things she is looking at. In one scene her daughter enters and the black crow is covering her eyes. The mother can’t tell who she is, but later in the conversation he moves his hand to reveal her daughter and she remembers. It’s a clever idea and an interesting way to convey such a debilitating and sad disease. It of course ends on an extremely reflective and thought provoking moment.
Powerful and endearing.
All of the thought provoking and fun action adventure aside this is a slower more introspective type of read. If you’re looking for something with inventive layouts and long dialogue heavy moments look elsewhere. This is all about telling a story at a slow and measured pace. By doing so it reaches a core that you wouldn’t find quickly, but it’s certainly going to wear on those who aren’t patient. Not every story lands either, with two of these 11 feeling a bit undercooked and more like half thought out ideas thrown in for good measure.
Jason’s art is simple yet incredibly refined. There is very little detail, but the thought put into every panel must be enormous. There is a calculated effort to tell the story between the panels, much harder to do than simply adding panels and showing us, and his ability to tell a story between them is incredible. It’s in these reflective spaces between the panels where we must fill in the blanks that the story lives and breathes, bringing the reader in and making us part of the story. Since the characters are all animals it’s easy to think this is a kid’s book, but the adult themes are heavy throughout and there’s the occasional naked breast to remind us as well.
Action and adventure!
Is It Good?
A powerful book that allows the reader to reflect on the human condition but also have a little fun with a few action adventure stories. Above all else it brings the reader in as we read between the panels making us part of the story.