It’s difficult for me to gauge whether or not a person is going to be a fan of mononymous Norwegian artist Jason. Over the past 10 years, Jason has become known for his particular brand of droll, short graphic novels starring nearly expressionless anthropomorphic animals. The quality of his work and his skill as an artist can hardly be disputed — he has a beautiful ligne claire style, an impeccable sense of comedic and dramatic timing, and is terrific with characterization (perhaps due to the fact that his characters are such cyphers that it’s easy for readers to project onto them). But acknowledging the quality of his work and actually *liking* it are two very different things, and the key to finding the joy of Jason lies mostly in learning to appreciate his dark sense of humor.
Jason’s best works are wry genre exercises whose humor comes from a detached awareness of conventions, or sly mash-ups wherein cowboys duel at chess, the Musketeer Athos fights Martians, and the Lost Generation are cartoonists who get wrapped up in a bank heist. For Isle of 100,000 Graves Jason is working with writer Fabien Vehlmann, though the book sits comfortably with the rest of his revered genre work. It might even be an ideal introduction to Jason, as the plot is more outwardly goofy and the are jokes a little more obvious here than they usually are.
Isle of 100,000 Graves is a send-up of pirate adventure stories, and as such begins with a young girl finding a treasure map in a bottle that washes up on shore. What’s more, the map appears to have been sent by her father, who disappeared at sea years before. In order to find him she has to make her way to the titular island, so she enlists the aid of a group of cutthroat pirates. When they finally arrive on the island, the reason for its terrifying name and reputation – as well as the abundance of maps-in-bottles which lead to the island – becomes clear. After all, it’d take a lot of bodies – and a lot of people with a reason to be doing a lot of killing – to make all those graves… That the answer to this mystery resembles a head-slapper of a bad punchline shouldn’t come as a surprise to Jason fans.
Throw into the mix a sweet little romance, a pirate with a dark secret, and some life-or-death swordfights and you’ve got a heck of a ride on your hands. The violence is cartoony enough that it shouldn’t upset anyone, but the book’s dry, dark sense of humor and blank existentialism might not fly with many younger readers. Jason might not be to everyone’s taste, but those who have acquired it will find Isle of 100,000 Graves to be a small but satisfying banquet.
Isle of 100,000 Graves
by Fabian Vehlmann
Art by Jason
Fantagraphics Books, 2011