Almost Silent

By Jason, translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)

ISBN: 978-1-606-99315-6

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) which won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize).

He followed with the series Mjau Mjau (winning another Sproing in 2001) and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. Now an international star of comics, he has won seven major awards from such disparate regions as France, Slovakia and the USA.

Thankfully the fine folks at Fantagraphics have collected four of his earliest graphic novels in a superb hardback companion to the 2009 classic [Low Moon] which provides more of Jason’s surreal and cinematic, darkly hilarious anthropomorphic ruminations on his favourite themes of relationships and loneliness, viewed as ever through a charmingly macabre cast of silent movie archetypes, cinematic monsters and sad sack chumps.

Told in pantomimic progressions rather than full stories – and often as classical chase scenes reminiscent of Benny Hill – the wonderment begins with breakthrough album ‘Meow, Baby’ wherein a mummy goes walkabout from his museum sarcophagus encountering bums and gamins, vampires, aliens, angels, devils, skeletons and cops – always so many cops – in hot pursuit…

This primarily monochrome collection is called Almost Silent because it mostly is: and what dialogue appears is never informative or instructive, merely colour or window dressing. The artwork is displayed in formalised page layouts rendered in a minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style, solid blacks, thick lines and settings of seductive simplicity unwinding like an unending, infinite zoetrope show. These early works are collections of gags and situations best experienced rather than read.

A second untitled tale follows the perceived social inadequacies of males hungry for love: a werewolf, caveman – complete with courting cudgel, a Martian, Frankenstein’s monster and even Elvis. All try and die in the modern dating whirl.

The next sequence introduces cannibal ghouls and a movie-buff Travis Bickle/Arnold Schwarzenegger wannabe also starving for acceptance, and continues with the bleakly comedic ‘Return of the Mummy’ and a delightfully tongue in cheek pastiche of Tintin and Blake and Mortimer entitled ‘The Mummy’s Secret’, featuring the entire ghastly cast, before ending with a fascinating selection of three panel gag strips.

The next featured volume is ‘Tell Me Something’ a more ambitiously visual outing that acknowledges its antecedents and influences by using silent movie dialogue cards instead of word balloons and follows a plucky heroine as she searches for affection in all the wrong places with her Harold-Lloyd-like would-be beau. Also in attendance are the usual cast of filmic phenomenons…

‘You Can’t Get There from Here’ concentrates mainly on the Frankenstein cast: the monsters, their equally artificial wives, their lovelorn and covetous creators and even the Igors, misshapen wizened assistants also all seeking that one special person – or thing. Here the art is supplanted by the startling and highly effective addition of bronze inks for a compelling duo-tone effect that sits oddly well with the beast’s bittersweet search for his stolen, bespoke bride.

The collection concludes with a rather riotous adventure romp ‘The Living and the Dead’ wherein the perfect first date is interrupted by the rising of the unquiet dead and the end of civilisation in the rotting teeth of carnivorous zombies on their final march – possibly the funniest and most romantic yarn in the whole book

Jason’s work always jumps directly into the reader’s brain and heart, using the beastly and unnatural to ask gentle questions about basic human needs in a wicked 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.

His comic tales are strictly for adults but allow us all to look at the world through wide-open childish eyes. He is a taste instantly acquired and a creator any fan should move to the top of the “Must-Have” list, so consider this superb hardback your guaranteed entry into his fabulous fun world…

© 2009 Jason. All rights reserved.