Something to Dream About:

Jason’s The Living and the Dead

Somewhere in your comic shop there is a small section left orphaned.  It sits alone, dying like the character Cerebus was fated to: unloved, unmourned and alone.  This is the section that is often scary or just a turn off to most customers.

But the Indie section is the section that often carries to most progressive and entertaining works currently available.  While some of the books are vanity projects and others are just plain weird, there is a decent chuck that is great.

Some may know the usual list: Eric Powell, Mike Mignola, Chris Ware.  But, if you dig just a little below the top layer of indie comics you comic across ones like Swedish creator Jason.

Jason is the nom de plume of John Arne Sæterøy.  An otherwise unassuming middle aged man that pens some of the most heart breaking, haunting works in comics currently.

His stories all revolve around anthropomorphic animals that explore the trials of daily life often during odd and strange backdrops and events.  There are time machines, werewolves, and even worlds where contract killing is legal. The Living and the Dead is not a work that deters from this formula.

The story of an unnamed dishwasher that dreams and plans of hiring a prostitute he is enthralled with.  The only problem is after waiting several weeks, a comet has landed that has spread a plague of some sort causing the town to become zombies.

Unsatisfied with a simple zombie story, Jason crafts a unique, quirky yet real love story. But, like all Jason stories, there is something underneath these deceptively simple drawings.

Even the opening is a bit of deception. The first panel is closed on a couple eating dinner. We watch as their dinner plates are taken away. We walk with the bus boy as he finally delivers the dirty dishes to our unnamed protagonist, the dishwasher.

He completes his usual task by stacking the dishes, then checking the clock. After receiving his pay he walks home only to bump into a call girl. Taken with the prostitute almost immediately walking past her.

It is scenes like this where Jason’s works similar to masters like Raymond Carver. A writer whose use of a more sparse prose deceived most readers in its simplicity. Jason is more than capable of the same feat. For instance, preceding the above scene was this:

The text in panel two is from the woman showing her breasts of to the dishwasher. While obviously the line implies that he will think about her tonight. Actually, cleverly, this panel of speech works to introduce the prostitute he walks past, barely noticing her.

This comical scene reveals more than the obvious. It reveals that he noticed that prostitute more than he let on. As his natural reaction to attraction shows, he is indeed thinking about her that night.

The Living and the Dead is more than any of its parts though. Even just small scenes like the above show that Jason’s strong suit is showcasing the quiet desperation of most people’s lives.

But as myriad as its implications and themes may be, it is strongest when focusing on the daily, stolid routine of life and how that is what in fact changes us into zombies.

What we are really witnessing is similar to Charlie Chaplain’s Modern Times. A narrative that while unique and a bit comical is a master metaphor on our current modern context. He is not just saying that love is prostitution, Jason is showing that everything in our modern era is like prostitution and leads to becoming a land of zombies.

Here we witness the dishwasher getting paid for his namesake. He has performed this routine day in and day out. There is no end. This is something frightening to Jason that he is implying when this scene is juxtaposed next to:

While not a dishwasher, she is still a worker duty bound to someone else to pay here. All part of our modern lives. To further paint the similarities between their lives, Jason then shows the prostitute going home, mirroring scenes quite alike to the dishwashers.Perhaps quite a lot like some of our own lives. Where we could break away, most are instead sinking in a quagmire of routine. A program of living that allows us to become like the zombies that the dishwasher and prostitute try to escape from.

Zombies. This is all of our fates living in these modern times. It is a disease like death that we are just born with. But Jason is not painting a nihilistic scene with this. Instead Jason is saying there are some good parts, there is some hope.

Against a rather despairing backdrop, both post and pre zombie out break, the two main characters find some solace in their burgeoning love.The zombies are trying to break in as the pair nail boards to the windows. As they frantically hammer, the prostitute slips and hammers her thumb. So in love with her he stops reinforcing the windows to blow gentle on her thumb. It is almost comical in its tenderness which only reinforces how real it seems. This is how lovers are with each other.It is not hard to imagine these two characters are happy for the first time in this scene. Which is, perhaps, Jason’s way of showing that happiness is sometimes an insane reaction to an insane world. Otherwise we will be eaten in the rising tide of zombies and left, forever, somewhere between life and death.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin Thurman is a writer based in Chicago. He blogs about comics, life, and music at errantghost.tumblr.com.

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Also by Kevin Thurman:

Warren Ellis: The Captured Ghosts Interviews

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Voyage in Noise: Warren Ellis and the Demise of Western Civilization

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Shot in the Face: A Savage Journey to the Heart of Transmetropolitan

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The Devil is in the Details: Examining Matt Murdock and Daredevil

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a feature-length documentary film on celebrated comics writer Warren Ellis

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2 Comments

  1. ...Kristin Thurman says:

    I really liked this article and I’m glad that you did an article about his work. More people need to be introduced to him. I think the anthropomorphic animals and lack of words might turn people off, but it’s amazing that someone can use such seemingly simple art work and story lines to create something incredibly beautiful.

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