The Norwegian cartoonist Jason is building up quite a solid and marvellous body of translated work now and it’s never less than a delight to open up one of his books to read. He works in colour and black and white, always fairly short tales and always utilising the same basic device of employing anthropomorphic characters to tell his story. His work is consistently vibrant and always original, with a seemingly endless supply of surprising scenarios to intrigue and delight the reader.
In all of his books the basic device of the anthropomorphic characters is made even more absurd by the situations Jason puts them in. Yet it’s Jason’s refusal to never really explain his basic plot device that lends a sense of pleasurable unreality and off kilter absurdity to the tale.
The first thing you’ll notice about his books is that his characters are always human like animals. Dogs, Cats, Birds and more, all just existing in the story without explanation. And then each story develops around one beautifully simple conceit. In The Living And The Dead it was a Zombie plague, with I Killed Adolf Hitler time travel was a matter of fact reality and with The Left Bank Gang it was a host of famous authors (Hemmingway et al) working as cartoonists and planning a bank heist. All just presented for us on the page, with no explanation, no reason, just a natural part of a great story.
(It’s funny who you meet on a stroll through the park at night sometimes. Art from The Last Musketeer by Jason. Published Fantagraphics.)
This time Jason treats us to a Swashbuckling Sci-Fi Romance featuring Athos (our Last Musketeer) who finds himself traveling to a technicolour Mars to save the Earth. Athos, still alive centuries after his swash-buckling adventures have come to an end, leaps into action to stop the deadly Martian laser blasts raining down on Earth. Athos intercepts the Martian raiders and heads back to the Red Planet. Where, thanks to Jason’s delightfully skewed sense of reality, we seem to be living out a Flash Gordon-esque dream. It’s a 1930s style Mars, all lovely deco touches, antique machinery and a Martian landscape that’s part New York, part Arabian nights. Athos has one final battle to save the Earth, sowing dissent in the Martian people before a final deadly battle with an old foe.
Jason’s delivery of such a simple story is a sheer marvel. His storytelling is deliberately linear and simple, all the better to carry the implicit strangeness of the story. Yet his technique and writing style does everything it can to draw the reader into this make believe world to enjoy the absurdity. His artwork is equally simple, equally straightforward, often static yet consistently beautiful. When he employs colour, as he does here, it adds another layer onto the artwork, with simple flat colour giving the static pages extra life and depth.
Whilst The Last Musketeer is not my favourite Jason tale, that plaudit goes to the zombie love story that is The Living and the Dead (reviewed here), it’s still a great little story and well worth your time and money. Jason is creating beautiful, original work. Ask for it wherever you shop.
Richard Bruton is a lifelong comics fan and former Comic Book Store Guy; you can read more of his thoughts on comics and life on his blog Fictions.