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Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Left Bank Gang. Jason (Words & Art), Hubert (Colours). Fantagraphics Books (2008)

Jason's mastery of the high concept, allied to his superb technical skills and gifted storytelling abilities mean that The Left Bank Gang is clever, entertaining and ultimately very moving. The high concept is to have Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald all as cartoonists living in Paris in the 1920's. They are all struggling to be artists and creators and finding the going very tough and it takes a toll on their lives. In particular F.Scott Fitzgerald has a troubled relationship with his wife Zelda who is frustrated with him and her constrained life in Paris. Hemingway suggests that they rob the box office at the big upcoming boxing match. The heist is described in a Rashomon like fashion from the viewpoint of each of the participants, so the the unfolding disaster gradually becomes clear.
Jason draws all his cast as anthropomorphic animals, dogs and birds which very quickly ceases to matter, the characters are strongly enough realised to be very distinct individuals regardless of their outward form. The time that Jason takes to explore their lives, in particular Hemingway and Fitzgerald and the artistic circles they move in is thoughtful and expressive. There is a very strong and truthful sense of the relationships within the group of writers and within the marriages of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. The robbery arises naturally, it is not shoehorned into the story and the way it is played out is masterful. It is both an effective crime episode and a strong study of the cast and how they interact. This gives a considerable depth to the outcome of the robbery, the conclusion is grim, satisfying and true to the noir genre and the book as a whole. Jason's technique of using a regular grid for every page allows the story to breathe and emerge very strongly, the reader is not directed overtly by the art, the pacing has to work structurally from the story itself. Jason has fashioned a superb piece of work from an idea that sounds too clever by half and with a crime element to forced to be natural.

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