As with any art form, comics fans oft find themselves serving as ambassadors for the medium for friends, family, classmates, coworkers—even the odd friendly stranger on a subway platform or park bench. In such a scenario, one question is seemingly inevitable: “where to begin?”
There are the classics, of course—Krazy Kat, Peanuts, Winsor McCay. There’s a sense of universality to each, to be sure, but unless one is planning a leisure chronological stroll through comics history, none serve as an especially good primer for contemporary graphic novels.
Then there are the modern masters—Crumb, Clowes, Ware, the Hernandez brothers. All have certainly played a key role in shaping the form as we know it today, but all possess sometimes unwieldy catalogs and varying levels of idiosyncroncy that may well prove alienating to a sequential newbie.
For some time now, Norwegian cartoonist Jason has been on my shortlist of recommended artists for the uninitiated. The artist’s work certainly offers its own internal logic—but it’s a fairly easy one to grasp. Perhaps it’s the clean, sparse artwork or the minimal linguistic interference. Maybe it’s the universe themes or the spins on overly familiar genres. Whatever, the case may be, over the years, Jason has crafted a signature style that incredibly easy to slip into and enjoy—even for the most fresh faced of comics fans.
The next question, naturally, is: which Jason book to start with? One of the primary reasons the artist made his way onto my aforementioned list is, frankly, nearly all of his recent works serve as a fairly good starting point. Until now, however, there has been no clearly delineated starting point for Jason’s oeuvre. At first glance, last year’s Pocket Full of Rain seemed as though it might fit the bill. Instead, the book worked more as a b-sides compilation—an odds and ends collection of Jason’s early work, aimed more at existing fans aching for a glimpse at the artist in an embryonic state.
Almost Silent, however, fits the bill perfectly. The book spans the last decade of work, collecting Meow Baby, Tell Me Something, You Can’t Get There From Here, and The Living and the Dead. This is the output of an artist with a clear vision who is truly at the top of his game.
As a career retrospective, Almost Silent is decidedly incomplete, of course, missing, most notably, Jason’s most recent works, which almost certainly rank amongst his best, something, which, perhaps, doesn’t really apply to, say, Meow, Baby, a collection of short gag strips, which, while sometimes brilliant, hardly carry the weight of Jason’s longer works.
Originally published in French in 2003, Tell Me Something has much more in common with Jason’s current long form storytelling, though the story falls a bit short compared to the final two stories, You Can’t get there From Here and The Living and the Dead. One involves Frankenstein’s monsters, the other is set during a zombie apocalypse. Both are love stories.
Beautifully bound and reasonably price ($24.99), you’re not going to find a much better entry point into the world of contemporary graphic novels than Almost Silent.