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If You Steal by Jason Review

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<i>If You Steal</i> by Jason Review

Writer/Artist: Jason
Publisher: Fantagraphics
Release Date: September 6, 2015

Spoiler Alert

If you’re used to reading Jason’s work (and he has produced a lot of it), you won’t find anything radically new in If You Steal. That’s not to say this collection of 11 short stories is bad, but it might not be the first thing you hand a potential newcomer to the author. The Norwegian cartoonist, real name John Arne Sæterøy, has devoted himself to rendering fantastical events with a straight face. Even as his animal-headed characters tussle, rob banks and fight supernatural creatures, they do so with a minimum facial expression in economically-rendered, droopy poses. They often lie prone in bed and smoke cigarettes with a blank stare. If You Steal employs a combination of amusement and ennui that’s textbook Jason, and seems to come straight from French New Wave films.

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This book features plenty of that decompressed cool, but if it reads as more ambitious than a random assortment of recent tales, it’s because of the artist’s slow drift away from more obvious narrative. He’s always been interested in genre, but now he seems most committed to shaping a story by withholding almost all clues as to who the characters are and where they’re going. “The Thrill Is Gone,” for example, outlines the biography of the jazz trumpeter Chet Baker in a mere six pages, yet doesn’t show the musician pick up his legendary instrument until the last one.

Despite the title’s hint (it’s one of Baker’s most famous songs), it would be easy to miss what’s going on if you didn’t know the story already. With such pop culture esoterica on display with little hand-holding, the book holds an interesting proposition. If the reader shares Jason’s extreme range of cultural references and pays attention, there are moments of wonderful illumination and connection, as well as frustration when you acknowledge a secret to unlock but can’t quite find the key.

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If You Steal Interior Art by Jason

The jokes sometimes hold up, even if they’re indecipherable to the layman. Take “Lorena Velazquez,” a comic seemingly devoted after the Mexican film actress that features an interminable fight scene and stars Santo, luchador and actor. You need know nothing of Santo’s film career to appreciate the increasing ridiculousness of the supernatural villains (vampire, mummies, werewolf, etc.) and perceive the hero’s increasing exhaustion.

The final story in the book, “Nothing,” provokes the same desire to solve the mystery but tips toward genuine pathos. A woman sits, eating her dinner. A black-clad man arrives, menacing her; she looks up at him. He plucks the fork from her hand and leaves. She raises a finger to call him back and says, “Wait.” This tense exposition transforms into a brief and clear-eyed—but rather moving—account of what many of us fear will come with age, as time and genetics deplete our vocabularies and cloud our memories. The device (personifying a disease as frightening characters who create the same effects as Alzheimer’s) is ingenious, but the effect is more than just clever—it’s evocative. In fact, the placement of the story at the end of a volume that constantly leaves you, the reader, trying to attain solid mental footing is particularly wise.

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If You Steal Interior Art by Jason

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If You Steal Interior Art by Jason

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