Thursday, June 19, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #169: Sshhhhh! by Jason

If you want to tell stories about an Everyman, one thing that can help is to strip out all language. A story told only through images -- in film, painting, or graphic novel -- becomes a blank slate each reader fill up independently. If you want universal applicability, it's one giant leap in that direction.

Another way to universalize your main character is to tell mutually exclusive stories about him -- say, ten different stories that all seem to be about the same man, but clearly can't be placed into any coherent sequence. Kill him in one story, make him rich in another, kill his girlfriend, give him a son who grows up and flies away, give him a pursuing skeleton he comes to befriend, send him on vacation, have his girlfriend (a completely different one) break up with him, turn him invisible, give him a doppelganger. Subject him to the entire panoply of human life, or as close as you can, in a hundred and twenty pages of comics. Leave him wordless and open-faced the entire time, facing a world that alternately destroys and rewards him, none of it having anything to do with his actions. Add in unexplained genre elements -- possibly supernatural buzzard-men, that ambulatory skeleton, curses, Satan, collapsing buildings, time control, children delivered in unusual ways. Make the world and random and chaotic and unexpected and thrilling as it actually is, and even more so.

What you'll have then is Sshhh!, an early graphic novel by the Norwegian cartoonist billed only as Jason. And the bird-man at the center of its ten stories is your Everyman: tossed about by fate and life, given highs and lows (though many more of the latter), persevering through all of it -- because he can't do anything else but keep on going. There are no words in Sshhhh!; none are necessary and one would be too many.

The original edition is hard to find -- even its cover difficult to track down online. But it's available in the omnibus hardcover What I Did, along with Hey, Wait... and The Iron Wagon. And it's well worth tracking down.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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