Low Moon


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Low Moon


  • Words: Jason
  • Art: Jason
  • Story Title: Low Moon, Emily Says Hello, Proto FIlm Noir, et al.
  • Publisher: Fantagraphics
  • Price: $24.99
  • Release Date: Jun 20, 2009

Low Moon is a collection of new stories that follows up Pocket Full of Rain, an anthology of Jason’s early work. In many ways, it shows the same flaws as that early work. Again, Jason seems to be searching for a voice. This time it is as an established great looking for something new.

Being a cartoonist has to be a tough gig. There are only so many that become household names. Think about it for a minute... sure, everyone knows Charles Shultz, but I bet you would be hard pressed to find many that know Bill Watterson is the creator of Calvin and Hobbes.

The best cartoonists touch us in ways we could never imagine. The loneliness of Snoopy or the imagination of Calvin speak to us in ways that normal literature does not. The emotional depth of a work by Seth is as rich as Tomine or as gripping as Steinbeck.

To strike this same accord with anthropomorphic dogs is quite an undertaking. Yet, Jason continues to do just that. He manages to plunge into the deepest pits of the human condition with characters that remind the reader of some weird Charlie Chaplin mash up with Disney’s talking animals. All the while, the Norwegian’s wit and impeccable timing make the reader laugh.

As a whole, Low Moon is not Jason’s finest hour. It is possible that it suffers from too much of a good thing, but taken apart there is noting as astonishing as I Killed Hitler or as heart wrenching as Hey, Wait...

The book starts off with "Emily Says Hello." This story stinks of creative literature class. While its murder by hire trappings could make it an easy prelude to I Killed Hitler, its sexual theme is a bit overwrought. In the end it is ultimately unsatisfying and just a bit muddled in its execution.

The eponymous story is the most entertaining piece of the book. It is a send up of the Western movie, its name a play on the seminal High Noon. While not a straight up adaptation like the artist’s impressive The Iron Wagon, "Low Moon" plays on the tropes of the revenge tale. It daftly replaces showdowns and guns with intense rounds of chess. All the while, Jason shows his knowledge and love for the genre. It is in its simplest form a story worthy of John Ford, while its satire stops short of Blazing Saddles.

"&" is the most accomplished work. It follows the parallel stories of two men. One is desperate to fund a needed surgery for his mother. The other kills the various suitors who steal the affections of his desired girl. It is a comedy of errors that is masterful in its execution. Sparse dialogue lets the story unfold in an almost pantomime while the story becomes a loop of more absurd failures for our protagonists.

The final two stories, "Proto Film Noir" and "You Are here" are a little more difficult to discuss. The first provides the biggest laughs of the book, but fails as a satire of the genre. The latter elicits the emotional response the author wanted, but is short of the goal as a complete and lucid narrative.

Jason is a skilled artisan of his craft. He has proved this over time and with an impressive body of work. This has afforded him the luxury of being a bit daring. He is not one to rest on his laurels, but continually strives to expand not only his own vocabulary as a storyteller, but that of the medium as a whole. "Low Moon" was serialized in New York Times Sunday Magazine and as such seems episodic in its structure. The four panel grid is utilized through the book giving it a taut feel that moves it along. This kind of experimentation while working in a common style is indicative of many a great auteur. While Hitchcock may have become overbearingly indulgent by the time he made Frenzy, he was still a master of suspense and the movie brought that to bear. Here, an artist, hopefully many years away from his acme, is bringing that same kind of excitement. He may stumble here or there, but it is important that he decided to walk the line in the first place, instead of relaxing in familiar territory.

Low Moon is ultimately an uneven work, not because Jason is any less capable than he was when he wrote Left Bank Gang, but as a result of his courage to try different ways of expressing his views on humanity. As these experiments are being honed into rewarding experiences in future works, it is easy to see that he is, as always, an untouchable talent.

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