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posted May 19, 2009
Fantagraphics, hardcover, 224 pages, 2009, $24.99
There are two noticeable strikes going against Jason's new Fantagraphics book Low Moon
. The first is that this will collect the western of the same name that appeared in the New York Times
, and memory tells us the serialized Low Moon
worked as much for its ridiculously laconic pacing as much as for the content of its gags. Reading it as it appeared was like listening to one of those wonderful storytelling comedians who knows just how to dissemble and distract from the story itself so you fume and smile at the same time. The second detriment is that this book departs from the stand-alone Jason books that have been one of the happy marriages between form and content this decade. This is a hardcover, with five stories. Although handsome, I wouldn't blame anyone from missing, if just slightly, the more tried and true presentation.
It's the first point that becomes more nettlesome, both in terms of the "Low Moon" story itself and the other works in the collection. While Jason's gag work remains sublime, the loss of week-long interludes between installments robs the comedic western of its humorously portentous air, the way the very simple plot keeps getting pulled down into nonsense. A less fragile narrative now, the reader can keep plunging forward and may even rip past the gags to get at the chess match at the work's core. It's not a very strong core, however, and the work peters out so quickly it's only a few minutes after reading the last page one realizes that slowing down and savoring more of the inspired time-wasters might have generated a higher state of regard.
It could be that the stories were published together because none of them stand on their own. Even asking any of these stories to share a two-for-one status in a stand-alone publication might have been a bit much. "Emily Says Hello" seems obvious and overplayed, a student film in comics form, although the furtive griminess that Jason wrings from his stock character designs is impressive to behold. "&" is nearly as long as "Low Moon" and feels like the most complex story in the book, but it's fairly minor in terms of the pleasures it provides, and lacks the instances of insight and clarity that Jason tends to bring to moment to moment work in his better comics. It's kind of a mess, frankly. "You Are Here" seems closest to being able to hold its own as a single feature, although even its monsters and aliens saga could have used a bit more narrative complexity. To its credit, "You Are Here" offers up the only rumination on actual issues in this volume -- regret as it passes from parents to children, the extent to which we serve a family member's wishes over our own-- but I'm not sure we get a full answer to the questions it raises.
In the end, Low Moon
is an off-key work given special treatment. The re-formatting may have been necessary, but that doesn't mean the resulting presentation flatters the content. If you see it as simply getting more Jason, you'll get enjoy any number of his typical moments of storytelling grace and a couple of fair stories, besides. If you see getting more Jason as an indication that a certain standard will be established across the board, rigorously and without spare, you may not get there from here.