Written & Illustrated by Jason
Translated by Kim Thompson
Published by Fantagraphics
Four of Jason’s past comics – Meow, Baby!; Tell Me Something; You Can’t Get There From Here; and The Living and the Dead – get compiled into one 300-page hardcover in Almost Silent. True to the title, most of the comics within operate in pantomime, though text appears more often than you might expect.
First of all, I have to say how much I enjoy the format. Fantagraphics has done a fine job with this book, with a striking cover, sturdy spine, and essentially giving me everything I want in my comic books in terms of collected treatment. Lots and lots of pages in a portable size – Almost Silent looks and feels like a book, slips into a murse easily, and can easily be read on mass transit, in a waiting room or surreptitiously at your desk during work (not that I did, but one could).
As for the content, Tell Me Something serves as Jason’s traditional love story, with the utterly bizarre Jasonian twists. Boy and girl meet, girl’s father objects, pair are separated. Years later, their paths cross, as Jason unfolds the twin current and past sagas simultaneously, all building to a surprising and sad and hilarious conclusion. Contrastly, You Can’t Get There from Here is almost anti-romance, with a bride of Frankenstein scenario, lab assistants drinking coffee together, and a mad scientist trying to steal the bride he’s reanimated.
Short gag strips make up the entirety of Meow, Baby!, and The Living and the Dead charts a young couple struggling against the zombie apocalypse.
Of the four, The Living and the Dead stands out as the most realized, with its sharp focus on essentially only two characters and great zombie gags – snacking on babies, rows of zombies crawling through the front seat of a cab because it’s in their way. It’s also the least complicated narrative, moving directly from humdrum listless everyday living to zombies to suitably odd and happy/sad ending.
Tell Me Something and You Can’t Get There From Here are slightly more complicated, and Jason’s minimal, anthropomorphic character designs something make these stories slightly difficult. When you’re not 100% sure which character is which, it’s hard to follow the absurdity and melancholy, but both stories have plenty of funky twists and solid jokes.
Focusing on short humor strips, anywhere from a few pages long to four-panel traditional strips, Meow, Baby! is suffused with genre puns and gags, most of them incredibly dry, utterly silly, and totally entertaining. Caveman dating, aliens asking for directions, werewolves making too much noise for the neighbors, and the newsstand shopping habits of angels and demons are among the subjects touched on.
Jason’s simple, elegant artwork, from the Hergé-inspired ligne claire school of comics art, allows any reader to dive right in. He uses basic, clear grids on every page, and strong, clean lines provide all the necessary detail without cluttering the pages. He’s a master of pacing out a gag, and he appreciates the fun of genre entertainment while still acknowledging the absurdity of it all.
If I had to sum up Jason’s comics in one word, that word would be silly. They’re funny, and absurd, tinged with sadness and loneliness, outrageously goofy, slapstick, human and just plain pretty to look at. But mostly, they’re delightfully, delightfully silly. It’s a treat to enjoy a comic like Almost Silent.