Sunday, October 24, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 263 (10/24) -- Werewolves of Montpellier by Jason

Jason is one of the last cartoonists that one would suspect of engaging in hidden autobiography; his mask-faced animal characters with their hidden, unknowable motivations and his absurdist pseudo-monster movie settings are emotionally very far from quotidian life. And yet his latest book, Werewolves of Montpellier, is about an expatriate artist (like Jason) living in the French city of Montpellier (like Jason), playing chess with other expatriates and commiserating about the French (like Jason?), and roaming the rooftops by night in a werewolf costume to steal jewels (surely not like Jason, right?).

(In fact, the biography on the back flap of Werewolves of Montpellier reads, in its entirety: "Jason was born in Norway in 1965. He now lives in Montpellier, France, where he almost never prowls the rooftops in disguise.")

By this point, a Jason graphic novel is a known quantity: it will be short (around 48 pages, the length of a French album); it will have a supernatural element treated offhandedly, almost as a joke; it will focus most intently on the interpersonal relationships of its main character, primarily on his silences and halts, since he's not good at those relationships; what seems to be the spine of the plot will happen almost as an afterthought, in between scenes of dialogue or everyday life that are equally important, if not more so; and it will end, at best, inconclusively. Jason's characters are not blank-faced because he can't draw them otherwise; they look like that -- with animal heads that never quite look like any real animals -- because their faces are all masks, and their true feelings are kept resolutely inside at all times.

The Norwegian artist in Werewolves is Sven; he's in love with the girl across the hall, Audrey. (She doesn't seem to notice, but her live-in girlfriend, Julie, certainly does.) We see him working at his art for one page -- far less than we see him doing things with Audrey, playing chess with fellow expatriate Igor, and roaming those rooftops on full-moon nights, dressed as a werewolf. I could say that things don't work out for Sven as he planned, but he really doesn't have a plan -- just things he wants (like Audrey) and things he does (like the robberies), and we don't see if he thinks deeply about any of them. (And why should he? How deeply do any of us think about the things we want and the things we do?)

As ever, Jason's characters are universal precisely because they're so specific and odd; dog-faced werewolf Everymen, living their lives of quiet desperation. His art is precise and carefully defined, a collection of moments carefully chosen and arrayed to imply so much more than his characters could ever say. His silences are theatrical -- he's the Beckett, or Pinter, of comics. And Werewolves of London is another masterly performance from one of our modern best.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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