Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
The Norwegian cartoonist Jason has a unique, fascinating style, using simplistic animal figures for his characters and deceptively sparse details in his backgrounds. While some of his books (like this one) have dialogue, many of them are wordless (or nearly so), using pantomime to convey the deadpan humor of his stories. I'm especially impressed with his character work; the faces are nearly expressionless, with large, pupil-less eyes and mouths that are either a simple line or an open gap. But even with this minimalist style, he conveys expression and emotion wonderfully, using furrowed brows, sweat drops, and body language in a very effective manner. It makes for a fascinating read, since it's hard to tell why these simple-looking stories are so compelling.
The loopy, fantastical plots probably help. In this book, the story takes place in a world where contract killing is apparently legal. The unnamed main character is one of these hitmen, and after an opening in which he goes about his job without any emotion, as if he's working in a cubicle, he gets hired to go back in time and kill Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, the plan goes wrong: Hitler survives, steals the time machine, and returns to the present, and the killer is left in the past to live out his life and come after Hitler again as an old man. It's a funny twist and a fun idea on which to hang a story, but the real heart of the book comes in the scenes of the aged killer reconnecting with his old girlfriend, with whom he broke up just before he went to the past and has spent the last 60-or-so years thinking about. There are a series of beautiful scenes in which the two of them awkwardly talk about his life and their memories of their time together (it was a lot longer ago for him than for her), with simple gestures conveying the deep emotion. It's very resonant, with another good twist at the end that ties the story up in a nice bow.
It's really a beautiful little book, if a bit short for the price ($12.95 for 48 pages). But Jason's work deserves to be pored over, studied, and pondered. The beautifully simple art and wonderful storytelling are well worth any cost.
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