Low Moon, the latest release of one-named Norweigian cartoonist Jason from Fantagraphics, is a hard book to review, as the previous sentence probably tells readers all they need to know about it.
Jason is one of the relatively few working artists that even a jaded, cynical, complain-first critic like me will happily declare a true master cartoonist, without reservation. Jason is—how to put this?—good. Really, really, really good. Good enough that even the very worst of his work that I’ve seen, a handful of the early pieces he’s done, collected in Pocket Full of Rain and Other Stories, are fascinating in light of what he would come to do after those works, and how they signal and reflect his future work.
So, Low Moon? It’s Jason. It’s new. It’s obviously really, really good, you know?
(Can I get away with a three-paragraph review? Or does that look too lazy? It does? Alright, alright; more after the jump then).
Low Moon is pretty different than most of the other Jason books Fanta has released, in a way that at first seems extremely welcome, but at the same time is so different from those other Jason books that I’m uncertain if I was a little less satisfied with it because the work was slightly deficient, or because I had become so used to the previous format, or because maybe his works work best in isolation from one another, allowing the gags and the mood to sink in.
Low Moon is an anthology consisting of five stories, almost all of which consist entirely of four-panel page lay-outs, and their number necessitates a different format than the slim, 50-page, 7-by-10-inch trade paperbacks of The Last Musketeer, The Living and The Dead, I Killed Adolf Hitler and Jason’s other previous books. This is a shorter, squatter, squarer, 200-page, 6.5-by-9-inch hardcover.
The title story is the only one that’s not brand-new. It had previously run in the New York Times Sunday Magazine Funny Pages section, and Fanta bills it as “the world’s first (and likely last) chess western.” And that pretty much nails it. It’s a western, clichés and all, but with chess standing in for gun-fighting, and Jason’s dry-bordering-on-deadpan style depicting those clichés, along with several running gags and his typically obtuse suggestions of backstory and import not immediately visible on the page.
The other four stories are all original to the volume. There’s “Emily Says Hello,” a dark and mysterious story dealing with murder and sex, an unusual payment plan, haunted by questions with no given answers and a bit of awkward humor.
That’s followed by “&,” which is two separate stories that don’t become one until the very last page. On the left hand page, a man attempts to secure the $10,000 he need to pay for his mother’s operation through robbery, which leads to all sorts of Looney Toon/silent movie comedy action involving the rob-ees. On the right-hand page, a man kills the woman he love’s fiancée, and has to keep killing each new one until he’s the last man left in her life.
Then there’s “Early Film Noir,” which Fanta says “can best be described as The Postman Always Rings Twice meets Groundhog Day. But starring cavemen,” which I’ll agree with, as I can’t think of any better way to describe it. Other than to add that maybe it’s even funnier than that sounds.
The final piece is “You Are Here,” which is similar to Last Musketeer in the gentle, organic way it mixes aliens and space travel into an elegiac story about relationships and how time can change them.
They’re all good, but then, if you’ve read any Jason before, you probably already knew that. And if you haven’t read any Jason before, then you’re a very lucky person with a lot of great comics to read yet. Maybe you should start with Low Moon, then you won’t be as caught off-guard by the format change as I was.