This superbly evocative graphic novella by the award-winning Norwegian cartoonist Jason (his first appearance in the English language) starts off as a melancholy childhood memoir and then, with a shocking twist midway through, becomes the summary of lives lived, wasted, and lost. Like Art Spiegelman did with Maus, Jason utilizes anthropomorphic characters to reach deeper, more general truths, and to create elegantly minimalist panels whose emotional depth-charge comes as an even greater shock.
Jason – just Jason – is the penname of Jason John Arne Sæterøy, one of my favorite graphic novelists/illustrators. Jason’s minimalist art pairs perfectly with his writing: he often completes books with only a handful of sentences, while projecting much more through his characters. Jason’s anthropomorphic characters show little to no emotion through their blank, wide-eyed stares; maybe a furrowed eyebrow here and pursed lip there. The minimalism in his art and writing allows the reader to project their own meaning and understanding onto the characters. Because of this, each novella is quite a personal experience for the reader.
Jason is one of those naturally funny writers. He can make you laugh by not saying anything at all. His deadpan comedy blends flawlessly with his awkward crime and romance infused graphic novellas, but the reader never truly knows whether he intends to be funny or serious. While every graphic novel he has ever written is undeniably amazing, check out these particular selections to get a taste of Jason’s palate.
This George A. Romero-esque zombie comedy is the middle installment of Jason’s “horror trilogy,” begun with the Frankenstein monster love triangle of You Can’t Get There from Here. Jason’s elegant deadpan style somehow manages to make the gruesome gore and splatter effects almost… charming – and yes, it is a sweet love story at heart. If you read only one book in which a zombie devours a baby this year, read this one!
A blank-eyed, silent meditation on young love thwarted and rekindled, Tell Me Something picks up the stylized anthropomorphic characters of Jason’s earlier works, as well as the challenge of all-pantomime to tell the story. Switching smoothly between two time periods, alternating moments of tenderness and sadness with slapstick and irony, Tell Me Something is a virtuoso technical achievement as well as a funny and sad tale of romance and treachery.
Imagine a long-forgotten, never-produced Alfred Hitchcock “wrong man” thriller screenplay discovered, adapted, and filmed by a modern minimalist like Jim Jarmusch, and you’ll have some idea of the unique flavor of this graphic novel.