Fans of Norwegian cult comics star Jason are in for something of a treat with Low Moon: whereas in the past single stories were issued by Fantagraphics in (admittedly lovely) slim packages, Low Moon sees Jason enter the realms of the hardback, thanks in no small part to the fact that the title story of this collection appeared – chapter by chapter – in the pages of the New York Times Sunday Magazine. The fact that this is a collection is also of note: rather than parcelling Jason’s work out over the next two or three years, what we have here are five stories, each of which would’ve previously warranted a collection in its own right, delivered together in one delicious hamper of Jason goodness.
The title story is obviously the one currently best known to fans, a retelling of High Noon, in which a fedora wearing slope eyed dog returns to town looking to play chess with the sherriff who beat him once a long time ago. Lolloping along at a mannered pace (imagine the way Robert Mitchum walks in westerns, his cigarette lazily glued to his lip – that’s the pace of ‘Low Moon’), Jason slyly (and wryly) subverts Western expectations (the guys in the bar all drink coffee, the fateful game of chess is played like a gunfight). Certain reviewers have commented that the way in which ‘Low Moon’ was packaged in the New York Times Sunday Magazine (short chapters appearing every week for a good long number of weeks) really allowed the story to breathe and gave the ‘jokes’ an opportunity to shine better than they do here – but, for me, the story works just fine. The singular joy of Jason comics are that they repay repeated readings so anything missed on the first read can always be picked up on the second or third or fourth read (and the real recommendation is that, yes, you do read Jason’s books a number of times).
There are other stories contained within Low Moon, though, each of which taken together serve to present another ‘face’ of Jason: ‘Emily Says Hello, for instance, tells the story of a hitman who carries out jobs for ‘favours’ from the titular Emily (somehow combining that earnest sadness that Jason conveys so well with the wry cheeky comedy we’ve come to expect); ‘&’ – from which the Takeshi Kitano-esque cover shot of the book is taken – follows two men (one of whom is keen to marry a lady and has to assassinate her various suitors in order to be in with a chance of success, one of whom has to commit crimes in order to raise the money for a potentially life or death operation for his mother) both of whom arrive at a singular point (the point illustrated on the cover) having separately arrived at a point best articulated by the Rolling Stones when they said, ‘You can’t always get what you want’. One of the many things to like about ‘&’ is the way in which arguably the key frame is the frame from the cover, the frame from which the story you’ve just read unspools, the frame that could arguably start the story if the story were to run, frame by frame, backwards. ‘Proto Film Noir’ and ‘You Are Here’ (respectively the least successful and the most successful contributions in the book) conclude things – ‘Proto Film Noir’, as the title suggests, a prehistoric version of The Postman Rings Twice by way, oddly, of the Bluebeard story, and ‘You Are Here’ a beautiful father and son UFO abduction story (it has to be read to be felt and believed and appreciated, I don’t want to spoil it here).
There’s never been a better time, then, to jump aboard the Jason train (when an artist has been going a while, it can sometimes be difficult to know where to ‘start’ and there is always the danger of starting in the wrong place, missing the blue touchpaper that’ll get you firmly into some golden great). As a fan of Jason, Low Moon is just terrific, far more new stuff in one place than we’ve ever been treated to before (as long as Fantagraphic know that there’s no going back from this now – we need this much Jason, at least, every time); as a newbie, I can only underline what Carter Beats the Devil author Glen David Gold is quoted as saying on the back of the book: ‘I envy anyone coming freshly to Jason’s work – Low Moon is a terrific place to start. At first you’ll be amused by how deadpan it all seems. But quickly you’ll realize that Jason cuts a broad swath of humour from the achingly melancholy to outright slapstick.’
Any Cop?: There may be people in the world who piss and moan (as the reviewer over at Comics Reporter has) but, for me, those people are just gearing up to adopt the old ‘I like the early/funny stuff’ attitude – and those people are wrong. This is as essential as comics gets.