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Friday, March 22, 2013

Athos in America. Jason (Writer & Art), Hubert (Colours), Kim Thompson (Tanslation). Fantagraphics Books (2011)

A mixed collection of stories , crime, science fiction, horror and apparent autobiography and drama, some of which work more effectively than others.
The art and layout of the stories is very distinctive, a four panel grid is used for every page and all of the cast are animal  or bird headed humaniods. The effect of the page layouts is to give equal significance to each panel, the normal ways that panels are used to suggest the passage of time or to give a additional dramatic context to the story are missing here, the content of the panel has to carry all the weight of the story and intent. Due to this the more successful stories have very strong plots that give the content the force needed to make the most of the restrictions Jason imposes on himself.
A Cat from Heaven, a story that features the messy  breakdown of a relationship and its aftermath of a comics creator called Jason who is identified in the story as the creator of several of Jason's own books is not served well by the storytelling process. It is too slow and even, it does not give greater emphasis where it is need to give the story a lift or give the conclusion some weight. The flatness imposed is not lifted enough by the content. The same applies to the title story, Athos in America where Athos, from the Three Musketeers has a conversation in a bar. The action has happened off screen and is being reported in the conversation, the layout does not give the room needed to involve the reader very much.
The other stories all have the virtue of clever, frequently very nasty plots, to drive the action and use the layout to lift the story.
The Smiling Horse is a very pared down story of the results of a kidnapping and it uses the enforced pace of the panels to superb effect, the inevitable gains weight and force as it creeps up to the conclusion.  On the other hand The Brain that Wouldn't Virginia Woolf , a horror love story mixes mad science and love with care and melancholy. The structure of the story is superb, nicely teasing the readers expectations.
Tom Waits on the Moon  does not quite work, the idea is clever and the structure is excellent, it just does not quite give the cast enough of a connection to make the finale come off as it should.
So Long, Mary Ann is a gem, hard edged and flinty it works on every level. A criminal escapes from prison and is going to seek out an old confederate to get his share of the loot. The story features a theatrically violent gangster and has a true noir spirit of damaged romance. The heightened content works because of the restraint of the art and layout , it packs a considerable punch.
A striking and enjoyable collection of stories.

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