The many virtues of one-named Norwegian cartoonist Jason’s work are well documented, but one of the less talked-about pleasures of Fantagraphics’ publication of it is how nice the books themselves look as objects.
Individually, the slim, 10-by-7-inch-ish volumes are all well designed and attractive looking, but all lined up next to one another on a shelf? Oh boy, that makes for a fine looking half-a-foot or so on one’s book shelf! So uniform, so orderly, so…perfect!
And then Low Moon came along, and while it’s contents were rock solid, Grade A, tip-top, master-level cartooning, the format itself broke the streak—it was shorter, squatter and much thicker. It was still a beautifully designed book, radiating that pleasant sense of positive aesthetics that comforts a bibliophile’s heart just know it’s around, but it broke the harmony of the Jason section of my book shelf.
Thank God then for Almost Silent, a new collection repackaging some of Fanta’s older Jason books—some of which are no longer in print in their original format—as an anthology the same size, shape and design as Low Moon. Problem solved!
(And yes, I realize I’m using a pretty broad, silly definition of the word “problem” here, and that I’m lucky that something like how graphic novels look lined up on a bookshelf is one of my worse problems on any given day).
Almost Silent—which takes its name from the fact that there are very few words in it and it is thus almo-well, you get the idea—collects Meow, Baby!, Tell Me Something, You Can’t Get There From Here and The Living and the Dead.
Meow, Baby! was perhaps my favorite of the stories, in large part because it’s so different from a lot of Jason’s work. Not in style or subject matter, of course; it’s still almost completely silent, it uses the same cast of blank-faced, deadpan anthropomorphic animal actors, and it’s full of devastatingly effective gags premised on mistaken identities, the marriage of he mundane with the fantastic and sudden realizations.
But it consists entirely of short gag stories. Some are as short as newspaper comic strips, just a single tier of three or four panels. Others are a full page. Some are a few pages. The same characters appear over and over throughout the stories, making it feel a lot like a collection of some great newspaper comic strip you’ve never heard of. Dracula, Van Helsing, Frankenstein’s monster, an angel, a devil, God, an alien, a couple of skeletons, a werewolf, Elvis, a caveman and a couple of zombies run around being very funny for over a hundred pages.
That’s followed by the only monster-free story in the book, Tell Me Something, which is a melodrama of love and crime told in the format of a comics adaptation of a silent movie, with the only dialogue occurring on panels serving as title card-like “screens” between panels of action.
Frankenstein’s monster returns in You Can’t Get There From Here, which is a lot like a combination of the previous two stories. In it, the mad scientist creates a bride for his monster, but then falls for the bride, and tries to make her his own, leading to a globe-trotting conflict between Frankenstein and his monster.
The final story is The Living and The Dead, Jason’s take on the zombiepocalypse genre, in which an earnest, hardworking dishwasher tries to earn enough money to buy a night with the prostitute he’s in love with, but, as fate would have it, the night he meets his goal is the same one in which a meteor lands in a graveyard and the dead rise to feast on the living. It’s a must-read for zombie fans, of which the comics-reading public sure seems to contain quite a few, in large part for the way it riffs on common aspects of zombie stories in new, Jason-esque ways.
Buy it to read the stories, keep it to restore order and balance to your bookshelf.