What I Did

By Jason, translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-414-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for anybody who wants something a little different in their stocking …  8/10

John Arne Saeterrøy, who works under the pen-name Jason, was born in Molde, Norway in 1965, and appeared on the international cartoonists’ scene at age 30 with his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) subsequently winning Norway’s biggest comics prize, the Sproing Award for 1995.

He won another Sproing in 2001 for his self-generated comic series Mjau Mjau – from which all the tales in this latest magical collection are culled – before turning almost exclusively to producing graphic novels in 2002. Now a global star among the cognoscenti he has won several major awards from such disparate regions as France, Slovakia and the USA.

This latest hardback compilation gathering ‘Hey, Wait…’, ‘Sshhhh!’ and ‘The Iron Wagon’ first appeared in Mjau Mjau between 1997 and 2001, and the volume opens with an eerie and glorious paean to boyhood friendships as young Bjorn and Jon enjoy a life of perfect childhood until a tragic accident ends the idyll forever. Life however, goes on, but for one of the lads it’s an existence populated from then on with ghosts and visions…

Jason’s work always jumps directly into the reader’s brain and heart, using the beastly and unnatural to gently pose eternal questions about basic human needs in a soft but relentless quest for answers. That you don’t ever notice the deep stuff because of the clever gags and safe, familiar “funny-animal” characters should indicate just how good a cartoonist he is…

‘Sshhhh!’ is a delightfully evocative romantic melodrama created without words: a bittersweet tale of boy-bird meeting girl-bird in a world overly populated with spooks and ghouls and skeletons but afflicted far more harshly by loneliness and regret.

These comic tales are strictly for adults but allow us all to look at the world through wide-open young eyes. This is especially true of the final tale in this collection – a sly and beguiling adaptation of a classic detective story from 1909, but enhanced to a macabre degree by the easy cartooning and skilled use of silence and moment.

‘The Iron Wagon’ is a clever, enthralling and deeply dark mystery yarn originally written by Stein Riverton, and has the same quality of cold yet harnessed stillness which makes the Swedish television adaptations of Henning Mankell’s Wallander so superior to the English-language interpretations.

Jason’s stylised artwork is delivered in formalised page layouts rendered in a minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style, solid blacks, thick lines and settings of seductive simplicity augmented here by stunning Deep Red overlays to enhance the Hard Black and Genteel White he usually prefers.

In the coastal retreat of Hvalen a desperate author is haunted by ghosts and nightmares but the townsfolk are all too engrossed with the death of the game warden on the Gjaernes Estate to notice or care. The family seems cursed with troubles. First the old man was lost at sea, now the murder of Warden Blinde just as he was betrothed to Hilde Gjaernes blights the farm. People are talking, saying it’s all the fault of the long dead grandfather who lost his fortune and life dabbling with weird inventions…

Even now sensitive souls still hear his accursed Iron Wagon roaring through the night, presaging another death in the village…

Luckily there are more sensible folk abroad to summon a detective from Kristiania (Oslo), but Asbjǿrn Krag is not the kind of policeman anybody was expecting and as the young writer becomes enmired in the horrific unfolding events he realises that not only over-imaginative fools hear things.

In the depths of the night’s stillness he too shudders at the roaring din of the Iron Wagon…

Moody, suspenseful and utterly engrossing this would be a terrific yarn even without Jason’s superbly understated art, but in combination the result is dynamite.

This collection, despite being early works resonates with the artist’s preferred themes and shines with his visual dexterity. It’s one of Jason’s very best and will warm the cockles of any fan’s heart.

© 2010 Jason. All rights reserved.