Pocket Full of Rain
To have read exclusively Jason’s stateside output up until this moment, one might have likely suspected that the Norwegian artist sprung fully-formed from his art school womb. The cartoonist has one of the most instantly recognizable and artistically infallible styles in contemporary underground comics. His surname-free moniker is irreparably tied to images of gaunt and stoic anthropomorphic dogs and cats and rabbits, oft times immersed in classically fantastic scenarios. Jason’s aesthetic is so iconic in these circles, that a satirist like Johnny Ryan can spoof his work with the same minimal exposition required to present a Peanuts or Little Lulu lampoon.
Pocket Full of Rain, however, offers a happy assurance that Jason, like all artists, spent time tossing ideas against the old drafting table. The 25-story collection should simultaneously serve to answer fans’ burning questions about the artist’s past, whilst instilling a sense of relief in budding artists by showcase the fact that Jason too spent a good deal of time wandering around, in search of his voice. But, despite the fact that the artist on display here is not the Jason we’ve come to know and love, the works included in this volume are still largely entertaining pieces from an extremely skilled cartoonist.
The first few works included herein, when taken together, offer a fairly telling glimpse into Jason’s artistic history. The leadoff story, originally published in 1995, borrows heavily from Love and Rockets, both in terms of its realist visual depiction of its human cast, and its frequent flights into the realms of magical realism (a trait the Hernandez Brothers unquestionably learned from their literary forefathers like Borges and Garcia Marquez). Jason’s appreciation for arthouse flicks and fine artists like Magritte is also readily on display.
The next few pieces, meanwhile, demonstrate various stages in the development of the artist’s familiar animal characters. What Time Is It playfully juxtaposes more cartoony talking animals than we’re used seeing from Jason juxtaposed with a trenchcoated dog with a five o’clock shadow, who immediately brings to mind the more noirish elements of works like The Left Bank Gang.
The subsequent strip, meanwhile, features what appears to be a caricature of Jason himself conversing with a talking cat on the subject of popular culture at coffee shop table, in what otherwise might be ripped directly from any mid-90s indie film. Once again the trenchcoat-wearing dog appears to serve as the comic relief, as he does in its follow-up, which features two human characters who bear the unmistakable influence of Herge and E.C. Seegar. The deviation of character aesthetics between strips, however, seems less symptomatic of a cartoonist showcasing his diversity than it is an artist struggling to settle on a style.
Jason’s animal characters reappear throughout the remainder of the book in various manifestations, from the more familiar presentation of Two Yrs to Spacecat, which is stars the cat-headed muscular hero at the center of a Flash Gordon-esque space epic, complete with the visual style of an Alex Raymond or a Milton Caniff.
Strips like What Shall I do When I Lose My Hair, Film, and Night offer far more concrete looks into the artist’s mind than his sometimes artistically distant later work. Pieces like My Life as a Zombie and the X-Files spoof, X-Pilt, meanwhile, are humorous little self-contained asides. The book also offers multiple pages of a serialized gag strips, which displays Jason’s debt to newspaper pioneers like Schulz and Herriman.
Pocket Full of Rain is an overdue peak into the development of one of alternative comics’ foremost artists. It showcases a talent for drafting a diverse array of styles not often on display in Jason’s current output, and perhaps even more importantly, it demonstrates how the artist honed them into one of the most recognizable visual and narrative aesthetics in modern comics.