In this second part of our interview with the visionary—if not especially verbose—author of Low Moon, we discuss the case for autobiography comics, Jason’s pre-comics work in a Norwegian furniture factory, and the influence of American underground cartooning on its European counterparts.
Was your early work a little more autobiographical than more recent books?
No, autobiography is not really something I’m comfortable with. I did some during a period when it seemed like everyone did it. I just wanted to try it out in a couple of shorter stories. I’ve done very little of it.
People tend to do it a lot early on.
Yes, it’s just the obvious choice to tell your own story–David B with Epileptic and Satrapi told her story. You have very good comics made out of that. But if you draw a comic about a guy drawing a comic—it can cross the line.
With Satrapi, she’s obviously led a very fascinating life. Do you feel as if your own experiences wouldn’t make for as interesting a comic?
Well I don’t think that you necessarily have to experience an interesting or life, or something truly remarkable. One of my favorite autobiographical comics is I Never Liked You, by Chester Brown, which is—
It’s a pretty traditional suburban coming of age.
Yeah, yeah, I think so. And still it’s very interesting, because you can relate to that period of childhood and adolescence. Everyone went through that period.
So there’s something to be said for the universal nature of autobiography.
You said earlier that you had worked in a factory.
Yeah. After high school I did my service in the military—one year. And then I was looking around for a job. I worked in a furniture factory for nine months, which was the one thing that finally made me decide to continue my education.
You hated it?
Yeah, yeah. I really hated it. So I went to art school instead. Turned out to be not that much of a difference, of course.
In the States—until fairly recently—there’s been a big stigma about making comics in art school. It’s not thought to be very academic, it’s for kids. Does that exist too in Europe?
Oh yeah, it’s the same thing in Norway. Comics were looked upon a medium for kids. It’s mostly in the last 15 years that that’s changed. The main thing is that it’s very difficult to make a living doing comics in Norway. There are only four million inhabitants, so the market is very small. I think that was the reason that in art school you didn’t have much of a possibility to learn comics. There was a three weeks class that taught them.
Is there a fairly tight comics community in Norway?
Yeah. There’s a couple of communities. My first publisher was Jippi. There were a group of us that sometimes met to draw and talk about comics. And I shared a studio with some of them while I lived in Oslo, but since moving abroad in France where I live now, I’ve kind of lost touch with what’s going on. And now there’s also a new generation of Norwegian cartoonists. Some of them you can meet here at MoCCA, like the Dongery guys.
Why did you move to France?
I just got a bit tired with Oslo. I’d live there for fourteen years. I wanted to be closer to the French comic book industry. I wanted to make comics for a living, and it’s really hard to do in Norway. That’s the main reason I moved to France.
Is the community that much larger? Obviously there’s a great tradition out of France.
Yeah, there’s a great tradition. The market is much bigger. In Norway, there’s maybe nine or 10 people who make a living doing comics, whereas in France, it’s hundreds.
Were you making a living at it at all while you were still in Norway?
Sort of. I had to do some illustration work and other stuff, just to pay rent. After art school, there was a period of seven or eight years, maybe, of struggling.
Paying your dues.
Yeah, exactly. Finally, the last five or six years, I’ve made an okay income from comics.
When you went down a list of comics influences, you mentioned several American artists. Has the comic scene here made a large impact in Europe?
Yeah, I think that alternative comics from the 80s and 90s like Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, the Hernandez Brothers—I think they’ve been an influence for Europeans. French comics have traditionally been more adventure comics—secret agents and stuff like that. Then you have comics from L’Association, like David B., Lewis Trondheim, which I think have been influenced by a lot of the American alternative comics, and who I think do a lot more interesting work than the old French adventure comics.