Friday, May 07, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 93 (5/7) -- Meow, Baby! by Jason

Tonight sees the biggest threat to Book-A-Day since it began three months ago. As I type this, it's late at night, and I'm not entirely at 100% after the alcohol-soaked Welcome Dinner at Wiley's Sales Conference (plus the cocktail hour before, and the Rolling Stones cover-band bar gig afterward). What's more, I might have used up all of my brainpower on the various meeting pitches I just typed out for tomorrow's meetings -- while I do deeply love you all, I'm afraid that blogging can never come before actual work.

To top it all off, the book I have to write about today is a series of mostly wordless strips by the Norwegian cartoonist Jason, with the same iconic cast of characters ringing changes on their iconic behavior in ways that are quite entertaining to read but rather more difficult to explain. So, now, let's see how much I can write coherently about
Meow, Baby! (which I read in the recent Fantagraphics omnibus Almost Silent) before I give up and try to get some sleep before my early-morning meetings:

A caveman clubs a woman on the head and drags her off by the hair. A vampire chases another woman. A mummy chases yet another. A zombie shambles down the street in search of flesh to eat. Vampire-hunters, devils and angels, ambulatory skeletons, spacemen, Frankenstein's monster, a werewolf, Elvis, a Schwarzenegger wanna-be, and various "normal" people fill out the cast. These are the players, and some of the scenes, in Jason's collection of stories Meow, Baby!

Jason has seen the same movies you have, and the cartoons based on them, not to mention heard all of the jokes. He knows these cliches backwards and forwards, and so can treat these entirely iconic characters -- none of whom he ever names, nor needs to name -- as the repertory company in what amounts to a series of blackout sketches in comics form. He knows his punchlines, and uses them judiciously -- not every strip ends with one, though all of the strips are funny. He uses words equally sparingly; a dozen pages may pass before the next one appears, or is needed.

Jason knows the wellsprings of comedy: sex and death, embarrassment and familiarity. And he mixes and matches those elements, using his iconic cast, for a hundred and fifty wry and deeply amusing pages. I'm managed to avoid using the standard cliche to describe Jason's work until now -- I'm talking about "deadpan," of course -- but this is all deeply deadpan, and no pan could be deader than the graves his skeletons climb in and out of to smoke cigarettes, complain to each other about life, raid the refrigerator for a late-night snack, or rake leaves.

The reader has to be willing to accept Jason's Mojave-dry humor, and his simplified, pseudo-anthropomorphic characters, but -- for those who appreciate his wit and his instantly recognizable drawings, Meow, Baby! is a great introduction and a decently comprehensive catalog of his style, subjects, and strengths.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Now playing: Guadalcanal Diary - Where Angels Fear To Tread
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