Friday, December 30, 2016

Jar of Fools by Jason Lutes

There aren't all that many stories about real-world losers in comics. Even the indy scene, which revels in oddballs and square pegs, tends to place those folks into surreal or otherwise quirky environments. So the realistic story of people who never made it and never will, in something like the real world, is mostly left to literary novels (who, admittedly, staked out that territory for their own a century or so ago and have been zealously cultivating it ever since).

But there are a few exceptions. Jason Lutes's first major graphic novel Jar of Fools is a notable one. It's full of losers.

Ernie Weiss is a failed magician and an alcoholic, haunted by his more successful and now-dead brother. Ernie's mentor Al Flosso is a once-successful magician, now going senile. Ernie's ex, Esther O'Dea is trapped in a dead-end coffee shop job. And then there's Nathan Lender, a small-time con man, and his young daughter Claire.

They're all in some minor city, somewhere in the late 20th century -- living in bad single-room apartments or battered old cars, grabbing a few bucks here and there, just holding on. They keep bumping into each other, bouncing off each other, as the story goes on. They're all broken, incomplete in some way -- but maybe, in the right combination, their missing pieces can help each other.

But not in a simple Hollywood way, and not all together -- Lutes is telling a quieter, more muted story, one where the hope is buried deep in the melancholy. The people you think should stay together, or remain together, won't.

Lutes tells this story with a precise, inky, illustrative line, full of dark blacks and crisply defined faces. He makes all of these characters, these losers, specific people -- ones you might pass on the street, and never notice. It's just up to you to pay attention to them.

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