Review by Ian Keogh
Almost Silent combines four Jason stories long out of print as individual publications. Not that Jason’s worth as a creator requires validation, but were it necessary Almost Silent provides it in the confident manner that he switches from genre to genre, with romance and horror films the most prevalent influence on the material collected.
The classic horror film characters from the 1930s Universal films recur, most obviously when Bride of Frankenstein is reworked for You Can’t Get There From Here, but also in the multiple short stories from Meow Baby! occupying half the book. They feature there as the subject matter for multiple short gags, most depending on their weaknesses and foibles. It’s surprising for much of it being weak, lacking the invention usually so endemic to Jason’s work and struggling to raise laughs. It works best right at the end, with a selection of brilliantly concise three panel gag strips of a vampire dressing up, a painting zombie, baby Godzilla or a fishing skeleton. Here Jason’s precision and timing works to perfection, whereas for much of the remainder he’s strangely uninspired, but this is among his earliest work.
Thankfully that’s not the case for the remaining half of this hardcover collection, in which his usual perversity and skill in portraying heartbreak and anguish is fully displayed. The best of the material was previously issued as Tell Me Something. It deals with less familiar circumstances in a story of a forbidden romance, trickery, shame and retribution. It’s all the better for being told in a form mimicking the silent film comedies of the early 20th century, with Jason’s strange anthropomorphic characters rushing from place to place. It stands out from the pack for a succession of clever revelations reconfiguring sequences we’ve already seen, and a solidly unpredictable plot.
The Living and the Dead also has romance elements, beginning with a guy who washes dishes in a restaurant falling for a prostitute, but unable to pay for her services. That, though, is before the zombie outbreak in which everything changes. Anyone familiar with Jason’s work will be able to figure out the tone of the ending, if not the specifics of it, but it’s tragic and its funny.
It’s the narrative of You Can’t Get There From Here that impress, with Jason taking the basic elements of the 1935 horror film to create a different, and more up to date series of events. In this story the lovelorn monster studies the content on the shelves of a sex shop, and is later arrested for stalking. In what’s a thematic exercise, Jason also switches to a different character with every new page, having built six panels up either to a gag punchline or a dramatic moment. The most ambitious use is the continuing conversation between the assistants of two mad scientists commenting on the events that splice it. It’s a whimsical tale, however, rather than one that tugs at the heartstrings, with some well plotted gags.
Jason’s very precise and starkly contrasted art gives a consistency to his stories. All characters are variations of humanised birds, cats or dogs, and coupled with his tendency toward three-quarter or full figure views this makes him one of the world’s most instantly recognisable comic artists. He applies the same structured care to his plots, making them stories that stick in the head and earn a place on your shelf.