Jason is the Breaking Bad of comic writers (or should that be comix writers); or rather Jason is the Season 3 of Breaking Bad of comix writers. What do we mean? Let us explain. Once upon a time, there was a show called Breaking Bad that started to be shown in 2007. For those of us who watched it from the start, episode by episode, season by season, it was always good (I think Netflix recently conducted a poll of some kind that demonstrated it took about two episodes of Breaking Bad for all right thinking people to realise: here is an awesome show that I must consume or die). Later, towards the end of Season 4, the world discovered Breaking Bad and suddenly, for a little while, everyone was talking Breaking Bad and you would think that the world could be divided into those people who were frothing about Breaking Bad and those people who were yet to be frothing about Breaking Bad but for whom Breaking Bad was high on a list, probably entitled ‘Things I intend to froth about soon’. What does this have to do with Jason? Well, like Breaking Bad, Jason is also awesome and has always been awesome. If you travel far into the past and check out the likes of Hey, Now, you’ll see here is a talent that came fully formed, an artist exploring his own particular worldview, doing his own thing, in a way that you can’t help but dig. Also like Breaking Bad, which never found a home on a regular UK TV channel, over the past few years, as other graphic novelists have been picked up by big UK publishers like Faber or Jonathan Cape, so Jason has been left to plough his own line. Hence his latest book, If You Steal, is like Season 3 of Breaking Bad: because, right now, it is awesome and Jason remains something of a secret. Which is both confounding (because here is someone doing great work) and awesome (because hey, we all like a secret, right?). At some point The Guardian or [insert other self-appointed gate keepers here] will decided that Jason warrants a massive boost, and there will be a lot of clucking along the lines of ‘how did we ever / why hasn’t everyone / can you believe’ etc and an article (no doubt written by Mark Lawson) trying to understand how the self-appointed gate keepers could ever have missed / and what does it say about the self-appointed gate keepers etc etc etc. Then Jason will have his Season 4 / Season 5 moment. Until then, however (and figuring that my blathering has driven away all of the people who need the Guardian or [insert self-appointed etc here] to point them in the direction of acceptable cultural mulch], let’s talk If You Steal.
Like Low Moon and Athos in America before it, If You Steal is portmanteau Jason; by which we mean to say that here is a book with 11 new Jason stories in it. If you have been following Jason since way back when (and if you have, our bulbous salutations to you, as Morrissey might put it), when each new Jason book clocked in at between 30-50 pages, you’ll no doubt be pleased to learn that three of the stories clock in at the length of one of those older Jason books and the vast majority of the others are just shy of the line. You’ll also, no doubt, be interested to see that some of the games he employed in both Low Moon and Athos in America (playing with linearity, riffing on pop culture of all kinds in what is becoming a Pynchonesque way, experimenting with the form of comics themselves despite abiding by a neat template) are all present and correct alongside a small grabgrab of things he hasn’t done before (see ‘Moondance’ in which we are treated to Van Morrison songs reimagined as the covers to EC horror comics). So, with the title story, we get a standard heist drama (or as standard a heist drama as you can get with dog-headed men) refracted through the most non-linear story Jason has ever told and some strange feverish Magritte-ness. Whilst we’ll admit we didn’t follow every twist and turn (that’s what re-reading is for), it’s a pretty nightmare all the same.
‘Karma Chameleon’ (Jason titles are always wonderful, whether they are directly purloined or just out and out bizarre) is his take on those 50s B-movie tropes of gigantic whatever in the desert fighting off troops etc – here we have a gigantic chameleon (the title gave it away a bit eh?), a sweet romance (of the sort familiar to readers of The Living and the Dead) and a genuinely hilarious professor keen on talking masturbation with whoever he sits alongside. Later in the book, in ‘Lorena Velazquez’, Jason ups his love of monster movies to the nth degree as a dog man dine up like a Mexican wrestler attempts to free the eponymous heroine and does battle with, variously, hooded henchmen, Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, several mummies, the wolfman, aliens, cavemen, a Mignola-ish skull-headed gorilla and, of course, Death in the form of a dog-headed Grim Reaper (of course!). But the road to ‘Lorena Velazquez’ also passes ‘Waiting for Bardot’, Jason’s take on Waiting for Godot. Which is (OF COURSE) to paraphrase the wisdom of a popular credit card ad, priceless.
What else? There’s the noirish ‘New Face’ in which a killer uses plastic surgery to elude the law – only for the op to (possibly?) go wrong. Jason here has his pictures and his words travel in opposite directions, adapting the technique that Kurosawa applied in movies like Stray Dog where music and images were at odds to one another, to dazzling effect. ‘Night of the Vampire Hunter’ turns the Charles Laughton classic, Night of the Preacher, on its head (Jason likes turning things on their head), with the Robert Mitchum villain now a hero vampire hunter whose skills are tested to the limit by two very evil children. ‘Polly Wants a Cracker’ (the stand-out tale in the book if we felt inclined to search for stand-outs in a book filled with exceptional material) posits Frida Kahlo as a hit lady – again, worth reading for all of the Beat Takeshi-esque moments of stasis (Frida in the bath with a book, browsing the record store for jazz, lying back on her bed with a cigarette, all Bout De Souffe). The jazz riff continues in ‘The Thrill is Gone’ which could be a play on the story of Chet Baker (but if that is the case, the climax of the story, which hints at a light calm in the eye of the storm, is merely one frame away from death).
‘Ask Not’, another contender for best story here, seems to combine all Jason tricks, old and new, to follow (or, well, not quite follow exactly) the path of some ancient elders (first glimpsed at Stonehenge in 2583 BC) as they play merry havoc at a whole bunch of major historical events (see Nostradamus’ visions, Lincoln’s murder, Kennedy’s murder, the moon landings, 9/11 etc). And ‘Nothing’, which closes out the book, replaces the need for you to read any of the many Alzheimer’s / dementia fiction of the last year or two with a beautiful and bittersweet twenty page comic that ends with a glaring white frame.
So. If You Steal is another great Jason book. As ever (strange to say this but it’s true) he continues to raise his game and get better and better and as ever (crazy to say this) he seems to continue to operate in a sort of comics ghetto without the acclaim that he warrants. This is a writer you should have every book by on your shelves. Eventually you will. Eventually it will be compulsory. Leastways when we are in charge (Stasi-style) it will be compulsory. In point of fact, the presence of Jason books on your shelves will determine whether you are allowed jobs in the new republic or whether you are shipped off to some terrible never to be mentioned workfarm. Think about your future. Think about the future of your children. Do you want them on some terrible never to be mentioned workfarm? Of course you don’t. Of course. So get buying all of Jason’s stuff. You can start with this one. Just don’t steal it. Jason needs the money.
Any Cop?: Don’t make us say it twice.