Posts Tagged ‘Jason’

The Left Bank Gang

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

The hardest part when talking about Jason is knowing where to start. He’s prolific, and his books are all great, so when I recommend him to someone and they ask what to read first, it’s tempting to say “All of them. Read them all first.” But in lieu of the temporally impossible, you might as well start with The Left Bank Gang.

The premise of the book is so high-concept and ludicrous that it sounds like a shaggy dog story. What if all those famous novelists of the Jazz Age lived in close proximity on the Parisian Left Bank, except they were all animals, and they were cartoonists instead of writers, and they fell on hard times and tried to pull off a bank heist?

It’s as dryly nonsensical as it sounds, but it works because of Jason’s art style. His depiction of the story could hardly be called realistic; the best word to describe it might be “fair.” Not fair as in a qualitative judgement of his skill on a scale from “excellent” to “poor,” but “fair” as in a style that makes no qualitative judgements. His hard-luck cartoonists don’t make grand or exaggerated movements, they just do what they do, never betraying any artist’s knowledge that they’re in a story.

The page composition complements this style well. I had initially thought that one of the reasons Jason’s style worked was because he didn’t vary his camera distance or placement much from panel to panel, and on most pages that’s true. But there are plenty of pages where it isn’t, enough so that you can’t discount his range as a cartoonist. What is true is that he rarely deviates from the simple-to-understand nine-panel grid.

When used like this, page after page, nine-panel grid does two things. It sets up a steady rhythm for the reader so that even when things start to go seriously awry in the story, it feels as natural and everyday within the grid as that casual dinner conversation ten pages back.

More than that, though, it prevents any panel from ever growing too big to let a character breathe. This is mostly a story about people feeling trapped, whether it’s in a country, a career, a marriage, or a life, and the tight space of every panel gets that feeling across well. Big, open vistas of breathtaking scenery are pulled out when an artist wants to impress the reader, but Jason’s restraint and insistence on the nine-panel grid goes all the further toward emphasizing the smallness of these people and their concerns.

Even if “these people” do happen to be the most celebrated writers of the early 20th century.

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