Low Moon byÂ Jason,Â Fantagraphics Books,Â 214 pp., $24.99,Â Color, HardcoverÂ ISBN: 9781606991558
Although Low Moon is technically the 13th book published in English by the prolific Norwegian cartoonist, Jason, the publication in many ways feels like his first. A large part of the reason is that the bookâs design, credited to Jason and Fantagraphics in-house designer, Jacob Covey, is a significant departure from the consistent, softcover format of the previous 12 volumes, which more resembled European albums than American graphic novels. Unlike its predecessors, Low Moon has been given the full upscale treatment, complete with a clothbound hardcover and high-end paper stock. While this change in format may not seem like a big deal (after all, itâs the content that matters, not the design, right?), in an age where comic geeks frequently post and compare pictures of âshelf pornâ on the internet, this bookâs divergence from past standards makes it something of an anomaly.
But branding Low Moon apart from Jasonâs other books was no doubt Fantagraphicsâ intention. These design decisions indicate that the publisher hopes that the book will be Jasonâs mainstream breakthrough, the book that pushes him beyond simply a sensation among alternative comics fans and into the lofty sphere of contemporary cartoonists whose work is part of the cultural consciousness, an exclusive club which consists of Spiegelman, Crumb, Los Bros Hernandez, Seth, Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, and, depending on who you ask, very few others.
These format changes were also no doubt influenced by the bookâs title story. In 2007, the New York Timesâ Sunday Magazine began a section called the Funny Pages, in which a featured cartoonist was given a single, full-color page each week where they could serialize a story of their choosing, with the promise of being viewed by an audience of potentially millions (no doubt a staggering prospect for an alternative cartoonist used to selling books in the tens of thousands). Being selected to showcase work in the Funny Pages became almost an award unto itself, like being selected for a special museum exhibit, and this honor was only bestowed upon presumably the best contemporary cartoonists working today, including the aforementioned Seth, Dan Clowes and Jaime Hernandez, as well as rising stars Rutu Modan (Exit Wounds, Jamilti and Other Stories), Gene Yang (American Born Chinese) and Megan Kelso (Squirrel Mother and Other Stories). Â Jasonâs story, âLow Moon,â which is the second of the five stories in this collection, was serialized over 17 weeks in early 2008.
âLow Moon,â the story, is set in the American Old West and centers on a grudge between the townâs Sheriff and the notorious outlaw Bill McGill. In his Comics Journal interview with Matthias Wivel (TCJ #294, December 2008), Jason, who admits to being a huge fan of old noir and silent films, described the story as âHigh Noon, but with a game of chess instead of a duel at the end.â This genre-tweaking, from duel to chess match, is a great example of a technique that Jason has used liberally in his last several books, mixing and matching pop-cultural elements no matter how oddly out of synch they may seem. In The Last Musketeer, for example, Alexander Dumasâ classic characters found themselves swashbuckling their way around Mars. In The Left Bank Gang, several of the early 20th centuryâs most prominent literary figures were cast as actors in a rather bizarre murder mystery. In I Killed Adolf Hitler, Jason mixed a World War II period study with a time-travel science-fiction adventure. âLow Moon,â which is fairly straight forward by comparison, also features several of these types of anachronisms that function both as social commentary and visual comedy. For example, a character walks into a saloon and orders a whiskey, only to be told that they only serve cappuccinos. In another scene, two deputies are sitting outside the jailhouse watching a man chattering away mindlessly on a cell phone. These contemporary elements in the Old West setting create a temporal disconnect which Jason uses to poke fun at certain aspects of modern society.
But âLow Moon,â like the other four stories in this collection, is not a particularly deep story, nor is it intended to be. Although there are several poignant character moments focusing on aging and missed opportunities, or the increasing materialism and anti-intellectualism pervading our culture, the artistâs real intent is merely to entertain. Jasonâs work, unlike the other cartoonists featured in the Funny Pages, does not aspire to create overly literary comics. As the artist himself described, it is âmixing different genres, moving things around, trying to create something newâ that interests him. âWhen comics get too arty, I lose interest; when the drawings become more important than the storyâ¦the more arty elements just get in the wayâ¦My heroes in cartooning today are people like HergÃ©, Schulz, Franquin or Harold Gray. These cartoonists didnât try to make art, they just told stories.â
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