Funny and tragic, but mostly funny

The work of the Norwegian cartoonist who calls himself Jason is unique in the medium of comics, which is probably why it is so difficult to describe. His strange, blank faced anthropomorphic animal characters manage to convey a surprising range of emotion while also keeping the tone of his stories quiet and understated. He often draws on the clichés of genre films to comment on the absurdity of everyday life.

Almost Silent and What I Did are both collections of material previously published in slimmer, less bookstore-friendly volumes. These editions are designed to look good on the shelf with his more recent novel-length Low Moon, but the market driven format of the books does nothing to diminish their content.

Almost Silent starts out with Meow Baby, a collection of short stories and gag strips, most of which use classic horror film conventions such as zombies, werewolves and vampires to get their laughs. Tell Me Something is a longer, more ambitious and surprisingly cinematic story of labyrinthine romance, telling the tale of a pickpocket who tries to marry beyond his station and blurring the lines between his daydreams of a better life and reality. You Can’t Get There From Here re-tells the Frankenstein story as a bizarre love triangle with unexpected results, and The Living and the Dead sets a sweet romance amid a zombie apocalypse.

What I Did collects earlier work that originally appeared in Jason’s Mjau Mjau comic book series. Hey, Wait… is a melancholy remembrance of childhood and its effects on adult life. Sshhhh! is an entirely silent and very surreal tale of one bird-man’s life that uses absurd imagery to illustrate the subject’s emotional roller coaster ride. In one memorable sequence, the bird-man’s girlfriend leaves him (their argument is illustrated by her donning boxing gloves and knocking him to the ground), after which his apartment building literally crumbles to the ground, neatly symbolizing the feeling of one’s live falling apart around them.

The final story is What I Did is The Iron Wagon, a comics adaptation of a Norwegian mystery novel originally published in 1909. The artwork is by far his best to date, with the still anthropomorphic animal characters blending seamlessly with the highly detailed backgrounds to provide a great sense of the turn of the century setting. The story is a fairly typical whodunit in the Agatha Christie mode, and unfortunately the novel’s one major breakthrough as far as originality goes doesn’t really translate very well to the comics medium. But it is proof of Jason’s cartooning abilities that this doesn’t make the story any less enjoyable.

— Jefferson Powers