Page 45 Review by Stephen
In life, there are Moments that Matter.
In life, there are Moments that Matter the Most, but so many of these crossroads can only be perceived while staring back down the road with the benefit of hindsight.
I pray you find most of them joyous because, if they are otherwise, the terrible truth is that retrospect can prove a very cruel mistress, in that although you can finally see what was once at stake, you are powerless to change your choice.
This collection reprints 'Hey Wait...', 'Sshhhh!' and 'The Iron Wagon', which were my own first encounters with Jason, the now-legendary creator of a unique brand of anthropomorphic, deadpan comicbook comedy responsible for the subsequent IF YOU STEAL, LOW MOON, I KILLED ADOLF HITLER, ALMOST SILENT and most recently the autobiographical ON THE CAMINO.
He is so funny!
There aren't many laughs in 'Hey Wait...', however. Instead, it is the single most affecting thing that I have ever read in comics.
I used to believe that to speak about it at all would ruin any reading of it for others, but it's such an important, landmark work that I'm going to attempt it now, for the very first time, without reference to the exact moment or nature of the crossroads. And I'm going to do it with a little help from my dear friend Mark who, nearly two decades ago, succinctly wrote:
"The first half tells of a pair of friends during their childhood without any of the sub-Spielberg mawkishness that's been endemic over the past couple of years. The second instalment is the aftermath of an occurrence and the distance between your initial belief in the world and the outcome."
Young Bjorn and Jon stroll up to a front door with all the nonchalance they can muster. Bjorn looks back to make sure that they haven't been spotted, and Jon rings the doorbell. Both their mouths crack to great big grins of childish glee as they scarper away in the full knowledge of how naughty they've been!
The door is answered by a baffled Creature From The Lost Lagoon.
What follows in Part One is a series of joyful, single-page vignettes, immaculately portraying exactly what life was like for me as a relatively care-free six-year-old with my best mate, although I think these two are slightly older.
Firstly, "Can Bjorn come out to play?"
Then buying sweets from the corner shop with what little pocket money you have; maybe sharing or swapping some. Ludicrously unsubstantiated gossip spread in the playground ("How do you know?" "Heard it from someone."). Territorial teenagers forbidding you passage down an alley, then telling you a sex-joke you don't understand: of course they look like impossibly old, wizened men to you! Fumbling the ball in gym class, the ball being passed by a girl you maybe fancied; spying her in the park later on, then hiding, embarrassed. Asking your friend if they think she is pretty - he's not sure, either; he has no terms of reference - agreeing instead on who was the best-ever artist on Batman! Now that's Terra Firma!
Perhaps you created a secret society with a dedicated den? We did! You'd have to pass some sort of initiation test to join in. Then members would have to learn code words etcetera in order to gain access to the shack! It was idyllic: just the two of you, always together, even whenever apart!
Part Two is otherwise.
The second offering is 'Sshhhh!', a completely different beast but one that more recent Jason fans will find far more familiar: surreal, absurd, funny and ridiculous, but equally imaginative in different ways. Nothing is predictable, anything can happen.
For a start there are nine silent chapters of varying length, during each of which the same man leads his parallel love lives in differing directions, is the object of affection / rejection or, in at least one instance, has multiple walk-on parts in another woman's love life. Sometimes with a gun; or a fist; or simply as a desperate daydream at the very last minute - basically, she wishes she'd gone with him, not the hunk. They aren't contiguous chapters, is what I'm trying to say: the story reboots after each, but it will end, more or less, where it began.
In the first, a man plays a flute, busking for money. He earns a single coin, tossing it from thumb to palm: life is a game of chance? He spends it on a hot dog which he eats on a park bench before retiring alone to his nest. (Note: this is the only instance that I can recall in which any of Jason's anthropomorphic birds spend any time in a nest - they live in houses. I don't think this implies homelessness. Given how the whole of 'Sshhhh!' ends, I reckon it represents freedom from the daily grind and romantic rat race. But I am obtuse, so do please forgive if I'm wrong. All interpretations are surely valid.)
Anyway, he sure is lonely and after a snooze he spies several other occupants of the park being romantically involved. He retires mournfully to the park bridge, alone, and drops a stone idly into the water. SPLASH! And a woman appears right beside him. They look meaningfully into each others' eyes as a vulture looks down on them through a telescope from an old castle turret...
Their romance blossoms, but a nest seems not enough, so they rent a flat. He attends a job interview to pay for the flat and their groceries. He begins sorting mail, she begins buying groceries. Nice little visual reflection of each others' cubby holes, there.
I'd remind you that all this is silent: Jason is extraordinarily communicative as well as economical in his storytelling.
Anyway, shit happens (thanks, vulture) and you fear for their future, but both you and they are given a most unexpected reprieve. After which, obviously, shit happens.
The man stands mournfully at the park bridge, alone, and drops a stone into the water - this time hopefully, in remembrance of what happened before. SPLASH!
Nothing happens, except that the autumnal leaves are blown from the trees.
So that's chapter one.
In chapter two the same bloke is pursued by a skeleton. You immediately jump to the conclusion that it's the impassive shadow of death, stalking him at the bus stop, following him onto the bus, thence relentlessly home. He tries to outrun it on several occasions, but surely you can't escape death? Haha! Actually, this too is a courtship. They end up in bed together. Death brings him breakfast in bed. Together they do the dishes, watch TV and they take turns in the toilet.
I'm not going to spoil it for you, for the climax is almost as laugh-out-loud funny as the aftermath. But pity poor Death! Hey, you have to move on...
There are seven more chapters.
So to 'The Iron Wagon', this time an adaptation of a 1909 Norwegian prose murder mystery unless Jason is having us on. One never quite knows.
It's ever so clever, but I've lost my notes and am well past my deadline tonight.
Particularly sly is the sound-effect lettering when you first hear The Iron Wagon pass by. You don't see The Iron Wagon: it's a superstitious local legend, intimating that something awful is about to occur.
Something awful occurs.
But the second time you read this through after the final reveal, and look at the lettering again, you will smack your forehead in hindsight.
Please drink a bottle of Bourbon and so forget that you ever read this.
I certainly won't remember writing it.