Low Moon

Posted by on December 10th, 2010 at 12:01 AM


All images ©2009 Jason.


Low Moon
Fantagraphics Books
214 pp.; $24.99
Color hardcover
ISBN: 9781606991558

Between 2005 and early 2008, the New York Times Magazine ran a section called The Funny Pages, one part of which was devoted to comics, specifically a page-a-week installment of larger, continuing stories. Tales ranged from 20 to 30 episodes and came from the likes of Ware, Clowes and Kelso.

There are a number of ways to evaluate that campaign’s success (or lack of same, for you Glass-Half-Emptiers). A strict utilitarian might opt for a kind of “Where are they now?” bottom line, focusing on how those comics survive today. Jaime Hernandez, for instance, reprinted his contribution in the final issue of Love and Rockets Volume 2, adding there a strip so fine that it eventually found its way into editor Lynda Barry’s version of The Best American Comics in 2008. Seth’s “George Sprott (1894-1975),” already a satisfying meal, was turned into a lavish banquet with a subsequent expansion in a hardcover of the same name.

Jason’s “Low Moon” has since been reprinted as well, in the collection that takes that title as its own. This hardcover version of the story swaps the three tiers of four panels in the Magazine for a four-paned window that spreads the same material over three pages. It makes the drawings that much bigger and almost by definition better. Otherwise much of the tale remains as before, right down to color tones. The only noticeable change was an alteration of one word balloon, possibly reflecting a refinement in translation.

It’s not that “Low Moon” is perfect comics, incapable of being improved upon. (I’d argue — but not here — that it isn’t even the best story in its own anthology.) But one thing that it does get absolutely perfectly, and which limits the amount of additions or tinkering you’d want to see, is the sublime blend of the heady ingredients that Jason harmonizes so effortlessly.

Front and center is his quirky subversiveness, the beguiling, eccentric perspective on whatever his subject might be. Delivery is an irresistible syncopation of narrative stresses and visual beats further enlivened by the double take: “Wait. Did I really see what I just saw?” Whatever a story’s content, era, tone or genre, the narrative is always built up from observed human nature, pared and mounted for easy identification. Plot may be convoluted or simple but inevitably there’s an exquisite balancing act of those piquant elements — the stultifying commonplace, fantastic hilarity, despicable, if defanged violence, the sudden, kitchen-sink intrusion — set at a provocative angle that fosters the laughter of the innocent and the smile of removed gods. I’m not going to even get into the impact of his using anthropomorphic characters except to say that if everyone orgasmed like them, sex would be less of the freighted issue that it seems to be in some quarters.

As its name implies, “Low Moon” is an appropriation and, more importantly, a selective customization of the Western movie. As in High Noon, the story marches irrevocably toward the fated showdown in the center of the town’s street. But as for that climactic event, listen to how the gauntlet is thrown down by destiny’s players:

Asks the steely-eyed, recent returnee Bill McGill: “You busy on Saturday?”

Sheriff: “Not particularly.”

McGill: “Out front at sunrise. O.K.?”

Sheriff: “Sure.”

Jason toys with a lot of the Western genre’s most iconic moments and touchstones, each and every one of which are better upended in the comic than they’d sound trotted out here… although my fave remains the completely inconsequential narrative sequence that elicits “I’m not sure I like people.” Or maybe it’s the one that precedes “I miss horses.” No, no wait, for sure it’s McGill’s “Hell yeah! Who else!”

That’s the beauty of it. There are any number of lancing bits of humor that might come to be your fave. (Knowing you as I do, I’ll just bet it’ll be the earnest list rattled off in one scene followed immediately by another scene’s septenary list ending “Horst Buchholtz.”)

The book Low Moon contains three more tales, not a clunker in the bunch. They all are ripe with Jason’s sublime nonsense, deadpan hilarity, laconic (if not completely silent) expressiveness and brazen commandeering of genre devices. The real heart of the story “Low Moon” lies in its relationships, shadowed and suggested but never explored in their particulars. “Emily Says Hello” is even more abbreviated. Here, a tough falls in a most ungainly fashion for a frail. He carries out for her a string of ritual, if unusual, murders for unclear reasons resulting in escalating, even more unusual payments.

“&” is the dual-track team-up of strangers wending their respective ways along complicated comical paths to unhappy conclusions for them but to a final satisfaction for us rendered in a minor key. Oh, tragedy and murder surely will out, yet there’s no extinguishing the laughably mordant moment of “Yeah. Sure. Why not?” a remark simultaneously ripe with success for one and resignation for the other in a romantic relationship.

“Proto Film Noir” features more riotous mayhem, involving successive slayings, monumental resolve, repetition and variation, an apt comeuppance and a cast in Cro-Magnon clothes. “You Are Here” features a tri-tracked, intergenerational story with, in all probability, the most intrinsically interesting history going intentionally unseen. Noteworthy from a formal standpoint is how Jason conveys cross words and arguments in uniquely designed word balloons.

Well, this is hardly doing these stories justice in any kind of a critical sense. In truth, I really ought to own up to writing nothing more than teasers for them. Still, if you haven’t read them, and if you were to bite on them on my say so, I’m pretty sure you’d be pleased.


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