The flight from Seattle to London is almost 10 hours long, and I packed a variety of comics to keep me awake, entertained, and removed from potential seatmates. Sorry, 24-D! I caught up with quite a few comics that had stockpiled by my bedside, but one original graphic novel stuck with me so fervently that I read it twice while mid-air.
In If You Steal by Jason (Fantagraphics), the Norwegian artist returns with 11 new stories told over 200 pages. In classic Jason form, his anthropomorphic characters rarely break from deadpan expressions--see the “Karma Chameleon” story, where a scientist is presented with a “print” of a giant chameleon. “But why have you enlarged it,” asks the scientist, when confronted with the enormous mold. The sheriff explains that the print is exactly as they found it. “Ah,” says the scientist in one panel, as if this makes perfect sense. "Well, that means we have a 50-meter long chameleon out there somewhere." [Click the below image to enlarge.] Such a “long game” approach to storytelling may prove at first bewildering for newcomers looking for an easy gag, but his longtime fans will recognize continued book-over-book improvement. See also the understated cover. You'd never guess its contents were filled with vampires, assassins, and that 50-meter long chameleon.
Upon my initial read of If You Steal, I gravitated toward the more “straight forward” stories, if such a term can be used to describe a Luchador battling a nightmarish stream of supernatural characters, or Frida Kahlo as a hired killer. Feeling like I missed the greater reward, I re-read the collection to discover the final story, “Nothing,” to be devastating in its layered reveal, while (after a bit of research) “The Thrill is Gone” to be actually the life story of Chet Baker. Jason’s use of decompressed storytelling while adhering to four-panel grids lulls the reader with repetition, allowing keys and sly references to escape at first blush. Meanwhile, titles like “Night of the Vampire Hunter” give a reprieve from potential over-thinking; the JFK conspiracy theories are bizarre enough to warrant their own collection; and “Ask Not” features a prediction by Nostradamus. Still with me?
The breadth of topics showcases Jason’s wide range of storytelling prowess. If read all at once, If You Steal can be a blur of cartoon animals engaged in strange adventures with hushed outcomes. When savored, If You Steal is Jason’s quiet triumph.