To enjoy the work of the marvelous Norwegian cartoonist who goes by the single name Jason, you have to take a few things as given. One is that understatement is his game of choice: His characters, drawn with a few simple lines, spend page after page of identically sized panels standing or sitting around, silently waiting for something to happen (and when things do happen, they happen very quickly). Another is that Jason constantly messes with genre conventions. See, for instance, his 2007 graphic novel “I Killed Adolf Hitler,” which starts as a story about a time-traveling hit man and gradually morphs into a delicate love story. A third is that he draws all his characters with nearly expressionless animal heads. It’s just what he does.
The genre he’s messing with in “Lost Cat” (one of the final books translated by Fantagraphics’s late co-publisher, Kim Thompson) is the noir detective tale. Its protagonist is a lonely, middle-aged P.I. (with a dog head) named Dan Delon, who begins the book by returning a cat to its owner, a woman named Charlotte. When he asks her out on a date, though, she never shows up. In fact, Charlotte seems to have disappeared altogether. Even after he moves on to other cases, he’s haunted by visions of the life he might have had with her.
“Lost Cat” is, in part, a riff on “The Big Sleep”: There’s a bookstore clerk, a significant nude picture, a P.I. getting roughed up at every turn. On the other hand, what it very cleverly builds toward isn’t exactly the resolution of a Raymond Chandler mystery. Its most “hard-boiled” moment is literal: Delon, alone in his kitchen, cooks some eggs, and when we look away from the stove again, years have passed. That’s followed by a third-act twist that has almost certainly never before happened in a noir story. Once again, Jason lets us know that what we’ve been reading is much stranger and sweeter — and darker — than we thought it was.
Wolk is the author of “Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean.”
Translated from the French by Kim Thompson
Fantagraphics. 160 pp. $24.99