If You Steal, the latest collection of compellingly off-kilter stories from the Norwegian cartoonist Jason, contains two of the finest comics released this year.
The first is "Lorena Velazquez" a wordless tale of a costumed hero sneaking into a castle to rescue a captured woman from an impossible array of villains culled from the history of literature, comics, pulps and B-movies. Jason illustrates in a minimalist style, inhabiting his panels with stoic anthropomorphic animals, all of which pays homage to the history of his art form at the same time that it gets under the form's skin and forces us to look clearly at the deep ironies inherent in its tropes and archetypes. This story brings that dual homage/subversion to its delightful peak at the same time that it gently suggests that everyone needs help sometimes.
The second is "New Face," which rehashes the classic pulp chestnut of the falsely accused man on the run and the woman willing to help him. In this instance, though, Jason subverts both genre and form with a virtuoso twist so powerful, it seems impossible that it has never been done before. Just as the fugitive's situation reaches its climax, the story told by the words diverges from the story told by the art, each branch offering the opposing extremes of how the tale could have ended. In this divergence, Jason demands that you consider which has primacy, the words or the art; a profound questioning of the essential unity at the heart of comics.
You can read an awful lot of comics in a year (in a decade, even) and only seldom will you come by an artist who incorporates an examination of the art itself into the entertainment. That it's done as effectively as Jason does it here is more uncommon still.
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