Saturday, October 14, 2006


I'm not a fan of the single-named Norwegian cartoonist Jason, and when I saw his most recent work The Left Bank Gang in bookstores a few months ago, it didn't look at all interesting. The other day, though, my local public library got in a copy, and since the book had gotten such critical acclaim, I figured I'd give it a try. But if you're expecting me to declare that I've now seen the light about Jason, you haven't been reading this blog very long.

The Left Bank Gang is set in 1920s Paris, among the circle of expatriate writers that included Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and others. The book's high concept is that instead of being writers, they're all comic book creators. But the only difference this turns out to make is that instead of Man Ray giving Hemingway advice on writing, he gives him advice on making comics. Halfway through the book, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Pound, and James Joyce decide to rob the cash office at a prize fight. From here the story turns into a straight heist drama, like Kubrick's The Killing or Reservoir Dogs (but without any cut-off ears). As far as I can see, the fact that the crooks are famous writers makes no difference to this half of the book: they might as well be called A, B, C and D. Perhaps someone who knows the biographies of Hemingway et al. during this period in detail would find the book hilarious, but I don't and I didn't.

And then there's the art. I've griped about Jason's art before. This time my first impulse was to say that his inexpressive style is totally unsuited for this story. But in fact, it's unsuited for almost any story. The only exceptions are stories in which the characters have no emotions, or have totally suppressed their emotions. This applies to Hey...Wait, the work that first brought him attention over here, but not to any of his other works that I've seen, iirc. To make things worse, his figures are stiff and undynamic, even in action scenes. Reading The Left Bank Gang is like listening to someone tell a long story in a dull monotone.

On the plus side, Jason's page composition and use of colors are good. Perhaps the best way to approach this book is to ignore the dialogue and story, and just "read" the pages as abstract compositions.

Seriously, I'm puzzled. Why would anyone choose a totally inexpressive style as their regular style? Why did Jason think that this story was worth writing at all? And why do so many people seem to love it?

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