7.01.2009

Graphic Novel Of The Month

Low Moon (Fantagraphics): Upon examination of the broad span of Jason’s work, three themes seem to inform and haunt his visual narratives. During his “middle period,” which I’ll place somewhere around Why Are You Doing This? or You Can’t Get There From Here, it became clear that one of his strengths and recurring dalliances was to plumb the depths of human emotion. His ostensibly simple anthropomorphic characters transcended to touch upon elements of the universal human experience and became anything but emotionally simple. From there, somewhere around I Killed Adolf Hitler, he slowly started moving toward a second exploration, of the inextricable link between sex and violence. His third storytelling motif has largely played homage to the films of Alfred Hitchcock. It’s always been present; from the very beginning in the way he framed panels, up through subtle works like The Left Bank Gang, and here informs the first Low Moon story Emily Says Hello. Not only are all of the dastardly crime trappings present, but it provides the signature voyeuristic look into human actions. The second story, the titular Low Moon, I believe is a play on the phrase "High Noon," and uses the game of chess as a stand-in for the gunfights of the Old West. The inconsequential details of the Western genre change (coffee bars instead of those serving alcohol) or are modernized (the use of cell phones and mention of modern actors), but those small details and ambivalence about the effectiveness of fisticuffs aren’t really the focus – the human emotion and relationships are. Jason quickly introduces topical issues for examination using chess as an analogy for life. This pattern is present in the way he calls into question violence as a means of conflict resolution, when he shows the cyclical nature of life and how our roles in it are like pieces being moved around the board, or during the scenes where the women characters feel like self-described pawns in a testosterone heavy environment. I liked the next story, &, which leads us down dual paths to a particularly depressing and singular point. To say that Jason’s art style is unique is an understatement. It’s difficult to conjure up an artist working professionally today whose pencils are as easily recognizable, or who can tell stories without the aid of dialogue so clearly. To see this for yourself, pay particular attention to the opening page of &, which works carefully to pull us in to just a couple of the hidden stories lurking in the city, all without a single drop of exposition or verbiage. Proto Film Noir is a quick diversion that has a Twilight Zone sensibility, relies on reminiscence of Fredo Corleone’s fate in Lake Tahoe, and nails the accelerated pace of the murders that induces just the right reaction from the audience. The last story, You Are Here, is probably the most complex of the bunch, doing a couple of different things particularly well. It’s interesting to note how Jason is able to balance the larger, fantastical concerns of a father and son building a rocket to find the aliens that kidnapped the mother(!) against the kid popping his zits in the mirror and all of the other little minor struggles grounding him in daily life. He’s able to capture a 20 year search in just a few pages, a sense of longing, crossed paths, and an ultimate emotional void. Jason’s pencils have improved tremendously over time; the details in the backgrounds (buildings, trains, etc.) are now just as lush as his figures. And the figures do astound. Many of the panels in You Are Here possess only blacked out speech balloons with no text, which further prove his brilliance at hinging understanding on an ability to convey complex emotions through facial expressions and body language alone. Fantagraphics now has an impressive library of Jason works in English, all of which are fantastic. While I happen to enjoy reading the earlier works first and seeing how the themes recur and pencils evolve through straightforward linear time, any place is great to start. Low Moon is no exception, checking in with an attractive hardcover and 216 pages of four all new and one reprinted story for a mere $24.95… Grade A+.

2 Comments:

At 5:14 AM, Blogger Ryan Claytor said...

Wows. New Jason. Glad you reviewed Low Moon. I had no idea this was out. Maybe the fact that I'm on another continent has something to do with it. See you @ the end of the month. (Wait, did you say you'd be @ Comic-Con, or no?)

Ryan in Africa
Elephant Eater Comics
www.ElephantEater.com

 
At 8:32 AM, Blogger Justin said...

Ryan in Africa,

Yeah man, of course. As much as I hate crowds, I think I'm legally required to go as a resident of San Diego County! Will definitely be there Friday and Saturday. I'll stop in and chat!

How's Africa? Are you hiding in a village up the river with conscripted natives all Colonel Kurtz style? Ha!

See you in a couple weeks,

J

 

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