LOW MOON

LOW MOON
Written and Drawn by Jason
Published by Fantagraphics

I got off to a bit of a rough start with the work of Norwegian cartoonist Jason, many years back. I read HEY, WAIT…, and SSHHHH! and was singularly unimpressed with what I had seen, regardless of the critical hosannas the creator had been receiving. But as I got to THE LEFT BANK GANG and THE LAST MUSKETEER, my opinion began to shift: this was the work of a major league creator, and he had me firmly in the palm of his hand. Now, with LOW MOON, he has clenched his fist around me and won’t let me go- this is easily my favorite of his works to date.

MOON is an anthology collection, bringing together four stories (including the title effort) of wildly varied plots. “Emily Says Hello” is a wicked tale of murder, sex and betrayal; “Proto Film Noir” mixes James M. Cain with cavemen; “&” is a story about love and the many ways in which it makes us incredibly stupid; “You Are Here” deals with alien abduction and devotion to family; and “Low Moon’, which has to be the first-ever chess-western. The start here is “Moon”; in it, Jason takes the tropes of sheriff versus outlaw in the old west and mixes them potently with the game of chess quite literally. An old nemesis returns to town to fight the sheriff and beat him once and for all, but bullets aren’t involved- pawns and rooks, however, play a prime role. What amazes, though, is that the danger is no less real. Families and loves are at stake if the sheriff chooses to engage in this fight.

It’s that sort of creative character thinking that makes Jason such a good read. He takes very simple and traditional story clichés and gives them a new and unique spin. The characters are all anthropomorphized, but each is unquestionably human in their wants, desires, and reactions.

Top to bottom, I enjoyed LOW MOON very much. And I also enjoyed the format; Jason’s previous works have been printed in softcover format at a slightly larger than normal size for traditional graphic novels. This, however, is a 6×9 hardcover, and a handsome one to boot. A worthy addition to one’s bookshelf.

Marc Mason

THE LAST MUSKETEER

THE LAST MUSKETEER
Written and Drawn by Jason
Published by
Fantagraphics

Athos the Musketeer is till kicking around France, though 400 years have passed since his swashbuckling heyday. Unfortunately, the local citizenry doesn’t see and recognize him as the hero he was; instead, they see him as a drunken, homeless bum. But glory calls one night as his beloved Paris is beset by destructive death rays sent from the planet Mars. Hijacking an alien ship, he makes his way towards the source of the threat, determined to save his homeland one last time and remind the French of his heroic greatness.

Early on as Fantagraphics translated Jason’s work for North American audiences, I was one of the few people seemingly unimpressed, even as the artist accumulated accolade after accolade from the critics. His work had a technically sound feel to it, but it struck me as emotionally stoic and even somewhat flat (but not on purpose). However, as the years, and the books, have passed, Jason’s material has really grown on me. Partially, it’s because there’s an increasing sense of warmth and whimsy to his stories; certainly, the ludicrous plot at the core of this one demonstrates that well enough. But it’s also because he’s gotten better at balancing how he delivers the heavier moments. There’s a poignancy and a moral core to Athos’ character that rises above the sillier trappings of the story. That’s something that really only comes with time and experience as a creative force, and Jason now seems to possess a wealth of it.

There’s also something to be said about how he packs a ton of story into a small space; what happens in forty-eight pages here would typically be spread out over 132 pages in a traditional pamphlet comic. That makes the thirteen dollar price tag a bargain.

Marc Mason