A Wile E. Coyote Moment

By BookNerd July 5, 2009


Jason's stories have been cracking me up ever since I first read The Left Bank Gang a couple of years ago. (I was late to this party, by the way. Seattle's Fantagraphics Books has been publishing Jason's graphic novels and stories since 2001.)

Low Moon, the latest collection from this Norwegian-born graphic novelist, is certainly as funny as his previous books, but the humor is quieter, more mature. It balances the awkward sexuality and cynical humor of a teenage boy with the disillusionment and longing of an old man.

In Low Moon, you get five dark and hilarious stories like "Proto Film Noir" (caveman sleeps with strange woman, kills her husband) next to a SciFi family drama like "You Are Here" (mom is abducted by aliens, sadness and rocket-building ensue) that never veer too far from Jason's trademark genre-mocking silliness, but they are more subtly navigated here than they've been previously.

Basically, it's been a while since I read a book and thought, "This is changing the way I think about short fiction."

So, I've been carrying the book around, like a buddy, trying to understand out what makes Low Moon so perfect. Here's what I can figure:

Sad-funny Dogs

Jason's comics, populated with droll, anthropomorphic dogs, are deceptively simple: A dog walks into a bar and orders whiskey, but they only serve espresso. A dog kills a romantic rival by dropping a hornet's nest on his head. These characters, nonchalant and comic as they are, have a loneliness and longing—usually for revenge or love—that will never be satisfied.

Murderous hilarity

Death and sex are the essentials of great art, and this book has plenty of both. Someone gets killed in every story, often by a sexual rival, some characters again and again and again.

As part of my-personal-Jason-week festivities, I got to interview Fantagraphics' co-publisher Kim Thompson, who said:
I think the funniest moment in the book is in "&," the fat character's decision to kill one of his rivals as signaled by a microscopic, typically deadpan shift in his eyeline toward the roof above them from which he will soon dispatch a lethal projectile. Kind of a Chuck Jones Wile E. Coyote moment.

Short stories as short films

As a graphic novelist, Jason brings a filmic perspective to his stories, which are often directly influenced by, or commenting on, classic film genres. This book shows off his handiness with noir, SciFi, and that most American of genres, the Western. (I swear the title story actually has frames from High Noon.) Some of the best deadpan moments look like film shots of characters in silence, which leads me to...

The Epic deadpan

The deadpan is Jason's absolute strength. He has honed his deadpan over the years, and Low Moon really shows it off. As an example, from "Proto Film Noir":

A wandering caveman shows up at a house. He enters, doggie-style, the woman inside. They smoke. He says, "Who's the guy outside?" "My husband," she says. "We've got to get rid of him." "Why?" "He's in the way." "OK."

If you want to see these deadpan dogs for yourself, Fantagraphics has a slideshow. Or you can flip through the book live at the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery in Georgetown, where the Jason show is still up through Wednesday, July 8.

Thanks to everyone who talked books with me (and endured my Jason raves) at the Publicola party last Wednesday. If you have book thoughts, suggestions, complaints, epiphanies, please email [email protected]
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