Page 45 Review by Stephen
Ooh, but the colours are lovely! They're classy and quiet - the sort of palette Chris Ware employs.
From the king - nay, knave - of anthropomorphic absurdity come eleven new short stories to give you much pause for thought.
Indeed the finale, 'Nothing' will stop you dead in your tracks. Nothing will prepare you for 'Nothing', especially not Jason's customarily clever nonsense. In it an old lady in a retirement home sees wizened vultures steal a fork from her hand, her bed from her bedroom and a painting of a tree which you will by then be familiar with from the wall... just as Alzheimer's Disease has stolen all the labels for these objects from her brain. That one cut me to pieces and the final panel is [redacted]. Redacted says it all, I'm afraid.
The storytelling throughout is as deadpan and laconic as ever (this is the man responsible for ALMOST SILENT, after all) which works equal wonders whether the scenes are wistful, leaving you to think, or ludicrous, leading you to laugh.
There's plenty that's ludicrous here, like 'Karma Chameleon' in which a 50-foot-long incarnation of the googly-eyed lizard manages so improbably to escape being spotted in a small dessert town with very few features, picking off punters one by one with its giant, whiplash tongue (acceleration 500 metres per second), bobbing up and down behind those sent to investigate in scenes reminiscent of a pantomime when your instinct is to scream It's behind you! There's such a lot going on with its punchline focussed on the onanism-obsessed professor that it may initially baffle but that's the thing to beware of with Jason: there's no hand-holding attendant and you will need to think. Much is implied but still more is left for you to infer. Or in some instances there may not even be concrete answers. Rationalism is overrated, I say, and when I wrote 'absurdist' I meant it in its theatrical sense.
On the subject of absurdism there's 'Waiting For Bardot', a riff on Samuel Beckett's 'Waiting For Godot' in which the traditional two men meet up in the middle of nowhere and wonder where on earth the woman they're waiting for has got to. Shopping for shoes or painting her nails? Women are an enigma to them. They're as baffled as Laurel and Hardy. They're dressed like Laurel and Hardy. Women are almost entirely absent from the script of 'Waiting For Godot'.
At a particular juncture in one story I will not name it gradually becomes clear that the visual narrative has bifurcated from the literary language - that was is being said is not what's being drawn. Haha! It happened waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay before then.
Two more of the eleven and then I leave it to you.
'Ask Not' begins in Stonehenge Britain in 2583 BC where a druid experiences an epiphany. Fast-forward to Salon De Provence, 1554 AD, and Nostradamus has a more specific vision of the same shooting in Dallas during 1963. He writes it all down only for the scripture to be stolen. That which follows throughout time will lead you right up the wrong garden paths, I promise you. What's key and clever is this: most of the increasingly brief bursts of history begin on the final panel of a page and end on the first of a new one and often the next one. What does this do? It undercuts your oh-so-encouraged expectations, answering them with a rebuff or rejoinder, my favourite being September 11 in 2001. Easter Island was downright hilarious. Marilyn Monroe did not die in 1975.
Lastly, 'If You Steal' manages to be both absurdist and surrealist at the same time. The clues are in the cues which are all René Magritte, Jason doing riffs on 'Empire of Light', 'Golconda', 'La Grande Famille' and I think the tree which you'll see not just in front of the safe may be a reference to 'The Human Condition'. Magritte was an iconoclast, provoking people into rethinking what they are witnessing when viewing an image, his most famous painting perhaps being 'The Treachery Of Images' (Ceci n'est pas une pipe). Jason doesn't go in for a great deal of this but there is the scale of the gun being carried.
Told in four-panel, single-page bursts which go backwards and forwards in time, you're left to join the dots and fill in the blanks for yourself. Again, it's all implication with more room than ever for inference but one of those bursts goes much further back than the others when the protagonist as a child visits an art gallery with his dad, and I'm sure you can guess whose work he becomes fixated upon.
Unlike 'Ask Not' the episodes aren't dated so you can decide for yourself if you want a happy ending, but I'd suggest that if you steal you won't have one.
So I guess it's existentialist as well.