Low Moon
by Jason (Fantagraphics, 2009)

Trying to describe the art of Norwegian artist Jason would require Newtonian skills with language. You'd have to create all new verbiage, just as Newton created a new system of math in order to explain yet another new system of math. There simply isn't anyone out there who can tap into the aesthetic of minimalism in such a unique, seemingly effortless way. Low Moon, Jason's longest offering to date, is loaded with so much story in its well-trimmed, movieboard-like spaces that it's like nothing out there at all.

Five short stories, first serialized in The New York Times, are gathered in this collection. It is highly compressed storytelling but it is an abundant compression. In "Emily's Room," which may be the best detective noir story I have yet read, Jason creates an exquisite tension between what is present in the narrative and what is actually implied through absence. "Low Moon," the title story, has the feel of a silent movie as it mocks the Western movie genre's "duel at high noon" tropes with dry, deadpan wit. "&" is definitely Hitchcockian in its elliptical approach to perspective and morality. "Proto Film Noir" is a playful rendering of the boredom of daily routine set against the background of sociopathic actions, while "You Are Here" is a modestly told, bittersweet tale of lost love and the significance of time's passage. All the stories have their own consistently inconsistent narrative, creating a package that is stylistically full but emotionally satisfying. Everything is always cleared up in the very last panel, no matter how challenging.

Jason's protagonists are nonhuman, anthropomorphic beings who are composed of birds, dogs or rabbits. Using simple black-and-white lines, with very little variation on line weight, he constructs both characters and stories from almost nothing. His eye looks at his characters and his plots in the same sort of straight-on, two-person perspective, calling attention to everything in the room, every word said. Everything has meaning, which is the point of stripping words, actions and images down to the bare essentials: it preserves the richness and significance of each and every component in the stories. There is more color here than in the usual two-toned world of Jason, but it goes over well. Sparse storytelling with great visual and emotional impact is a rare gift and Jason is right up there with Carver, Chekov and Hemingway in terms of his unique ability to capture a whole mood with a single gesture.

Low Moon is definitely something fans should look forward to and beginners will want as an introduction to the incredibly quirky, very wonderful world of Jason.

review by
Mary Harvey

23 October 2010

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