Thursday, December 24, 2015

If You Steal by Jason

I've previously pointed out that we always need to call him "the Norwegian cartoonist Jason" to place him, as if he has a Homeric epithet, and so I'm doing that again here. (If you say something is necessary, and then don't do it, you undercut your own argument.) If I'm counting correctly, this is his third Jason collection of short comics to be published in the US, after Low Moon and Athos in America. Since none of those collections list place or date of first publication, I have no idea if this means that Jason has been doing a lot of short stories over the past decade -- and, if so, where they've been appearing -- or if his US publisher, Fantagraphics, is just catching up on a huge backlog.

(Once again, we see a side effect of the fact that I am not King of All Books; requiring detailed listings of previous publications would be my very first decree.)

If You Steal has eleven stories in just over two hundred pages -- it's the short-story companion to Athos in America, which had six longer stories in about the same page count. As usual, it has some genre exercises -- "Karma Chameleon" is a 1950s giant-creature movie in comics form, and "Lorena Vasquez" is a deadpan spoof of a Mexican wrestler-movie fight scene -- along with more surrealist pieces, like the openers and closers ("If You Steal" and "Nothing") and quick jokes, like "Waiting for Bardot," which mashes up Brigitte with Beckett. And there's also the ultimate conspiracy-theory story about JFK's assassination, "Ask Not," which manages to encompass every possible variation in thirty pages, with its only captions giving time and place.

Jason's work is chilly and intellectual at its core, but the outside is familiar and welcoming, using ideas and characters and plots we all recognize -- though transformed into his trademark dead-eyed animal-headed people, who never show any emotion. I can see readers being turned off by either of those two elements -- the underlying cold analysis or the surface triviality -- but they're the ones who are missing out; Jason's stories are smart and funny and sneaky and silly (in a very dignified, artsy way).

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