Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Strange and Rewarding World

Books Reviewed: Hey, Wait..., by Jason; I Killed Adolf Hitler, by Jason; Werewolves of Montpellier, by Jason

The graphic novelist Jason must inhabit a world different from our own.  It's the only way he could twist it around in the ways he does and still manage to make succinct observations about the human condition.  Originally from Norway, Jason has lived in various places in Europe and America, and he publishes at least a couple new graphic novels a year.  I think I can safely say that he's my favorite comics writer.

I've read a lot of Jason's work over the years, and many of you have probably heard me talk about my love for his book, The Left Bank Gang, which re-imagines various Lost Generation writers as haphazard bank robbers.  It's a wonderful piece - funny, suspenseful, and very moving.  I've read a handful of his stuff in the years since.  Jason is clearly a sci-fi/comic/monster-movie nerd, and his anthropomorphic animal characters are often slightly touched by an otherworldliness.  Recently, I decided to go back and read some more of Jason's work.

I Killed Adolf Hitler is about time-travel, but it's also about the ups and downs of a relationship.  The protagonist is a hitman (a legal career in this world, apparently) who is hired to use a time machine to off Hitler.  He attempts to do so, but not without some consequences to both himself and the world.  The book is barely about Hitler.  Instead, it's about the relationship between the protagonist and his one-time girlfriend.  The end of the book is a sweet reflection on the way past wrongs hurt less over time.  Jason's artwork is quite lovely in this book, particularly in a scene where an attempted hit is reflected in a television screen.

Werewolves of Montpellier is one of Jason's more recent works, and like I Killed Adolf Hitler, it maps out the story of a relationship between a man and a woman (well, male and female animals as the case may be).  I didn't find this one quite as affecting as some of Jason's other melancholy work, but I did appreciate the way this story unfolded.  I think Jason's greatest asset as a visual storyteller lies in his transitions.  He handles the transitions between scenes in a way most writers could only dream about.  They are near-perfect.  This story has werewolves and self-loathing and lots of hilarious depictions of drinking, but it just didn't have the emotional connection I usually look for in Jason's books.

Finally, there's Hey, Wait..., which I've read before.  I love this book; it's my second-favorite Jason book after The Left Bank Gang.  At the beginning of the book, we meet a boy and his best friend, two inseparable kids having constant adventures.  Unfortunately, a tragedy occurs that forever shapes the life of one of those boys.  He grows up into a bitter adult constantly haunted by guilt and a failure to connect to others.  The book's ending is dark and beautiful.  This is one of Jason's earliest books, back when he was still using black and white.  The absence of color only heightens the book's sense of longing and strife.  It's a heartbreaking book, which is a minor miracle when you consider that it only takes about fifteen minutes to read.

Reading Jason's work is always a pleasure.  His deceptively simple art and narrative sixth-sense masks a world that's seething with human emotion.  You may be looking at pictures of walking and talking animals, but you are seeing a world that all too closely mirrors your own.

Note:  If you're new to Jason, I'd recommend starting with Why Are You Doing This?, which is an emotionally-rich thriller.  And of course, if you are a literature fan, you can't go wrong with the clever and melancholy The Left Bank Gang.

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