Thursday, July 19, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #200: Pocket Full of Rain by Jason

There are two ways of discovering beginnings. If you were there at the time, you see it as it happens, and watch as it becomes itself and turns into middle. But most of us aren't there at the time, particularly for creative works -- the point of beginnings is that creators come out of a vast pool of humanity, and can be anyone, anywhere.

So, most of the time, we see beginnings retrospectively, through the lens of what happened later. And that tends to make them into Just-So stories, the same way we judge old SF by how it predicts the present day -- in both cases, the assumption is that Now was inevitable, and we're just looking to see the proof of that inevitability.

But Now was not inevitable. Now is contingent and semi-random, based on a million choices and random accidents. And we need to remember that, whenever we look back. We could have been somewhere else; we could have been other people; we could have been almost anything.

Pocket Full of Rain collects basically the first decade of the Norwegian cartoonist Jason's career -- the album-length title story, a couple of dozen other pieces of various lengths (including one daily strip), covers from his self-published comic Mjau Mjau. It was published in the US in 2008, translated by Kim Thompson, in the wake of several album-length Jason books over the previous few years. All the material here was originally published from 1992 through 2003, I believe primarily in Jason's native tongue Norwegian, though the bulk of the material is from 1997-1998, with the title story coming in 1995. (At some point, Jason started publishing initially in the larger Franco-Belgian market, and even later than that moved to France himself. But I'm not sure when that was, or if it was in the middle of this material or later.)

Some of the work looks like his later books: deadpan animal-headed characters, absurd moments, random genre borrowings. That doesn't mean his later career was inevitable, though. History has no vector, particularly personal history. Jason could have become any of a dozen other potential cartoonists; had a dozen other possible careers.

The title story is skittery, like melting butter on a hot skillet, full of moments that cohere into a narrative eventually but look separate when they appear. At the center is Erik, a young police sketch artist, and the girl he meets and starts dating. Her ex is an deeply possessive international assassin, who is himself being stalked by one of his surviving targets. Jason draws all of the people realistically, but their world is not always so: one date with Erik and his girlfriend seems to be a picnic on the moon,and several of the criminals he sketches are cartoonish monsters. In the end, there's a mostly Jason ending: first the appropriate one for the genre, and then a coda to deflate it.

Everything else is shorter: some only a single page, the longest only five. They're very different in style and subject, as you'd expect from anyone's early work. Jason was clearly trying out different things -- autobiography, parody, slice-of-life, several different varieties of surrealism -- and finding the parts of each that he liked and wanted to work more with. The art is also quite varied, from pieces that look just like his mature style through less refined versions of that look to realistic people to one story, "Papa," that looks to my eye like he's trying out a version of Dave McKean's style from that era.

The back of the book has a collection of non-narrative art: covers for Mjau Mjau and other things, posters, an ad or two, a Christmas card for Fantagraphics. This is even more varied -- and less "Jason looking" than the narrative pieces, and maybe more interesting because of that.

This is the beginning, but is this the place to start with Jason? Well, it was good enough for whoever was reading Mjau Mjau back in the '90s, so it's not a bad place to start. But his standalone books are probably easier ways to "get" what it is he does in his mature work -- something like I Killed Adolph Hitler or Hey, Wait or The Living and the Dead. Jason is worth reading, though, wherever you start -- as long as you like genre materials subverted, dreams dashed, and endings twisted.

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