Pocket Full of Rain and Other Stories
Surely one of the great miracles of living in this, the New Golden Age of Comics, is that one can own in the neighborhood of a dozen different Jason books, in English. Perhaps the single strongest page in this entire collection is the final one, where the covers of nine of the great Scandinavian cartoonist’s other available works are arranged in a Watchmen-style grid. It makes you want to declare victory on behalf of comics and go home. Mission accomplished!
In the early days of Jason’s translation and introduction into the English-speaking altcomix world, I remember hearing complaints about how Fantagraphics was presenting only one side of a very multifaceted artist–the grim, silent side. Perhaps that was true at the time, but in setting up such an austere (and, lest we forget, extraordinarily impressive) foundation, Fanta only served to heighten the impact of each new release as it strayed into the unexplored territory of genre–comedy, horror, thrillers, science fiction, and more, each with Jason’s trademark ruminative, fatalistic edge.
Pocket Full of Rain represents the apotheosis of this trend, dipping into the artist’s rich back catalog to dredge up works that expand the boundaries of what constitutes a “Jason comic” not only narratively but artistically. Showcasing a variety of early art styles–realism, funnypages cartooniness, altcomix weirdness–outside of his usual anthropomorphism, it’s dazzling in how conclusive an argument it makes that Jason could have gone in any of those directions and been nearly as successful as he is today. The title story, an existential thriller in the mode of Why Are You Doing This? only with humans (and the occasional alien) in lieu of funny animals, sort of makes me wish I could dip into an alternate universe where Jason’s career doing Gilbert Hernandez-style magic-realist crime stories using Adrian Tomine-like figurework continues unabated. (The way he plays with the passage of time, metonymizing scenes into single panels, is particularly reminiscent of Los Bros’ skills in that area.) A handful of surreal stories about death toward the end of the collection reveal an artist who’s equally at home actually doing horror as he is riffing on it in books like The Living and the Dead. A sampling of gag strips involving a prisoner, a cactus, a ghost and other seemingly randomly selected images plucked from Jason’s subconscious might have blossomed into a hit webcomic in a different era. Yet despite dating back as long as 15 years ago, it’s all of a piece with Jason’s familiar and haunting obsession with the capricious nature of life, as represented by sudden violence, the non sequitur intrusion of pop culture icons and tropes, the random collection of moments that taken together constitute love or its loss. Either as an introduction to Jason’s work or a reward for those who’ve followed it all along, this book’s a gem.