Jun 1, 2016

The 40 Years of Comics Project - The Weekly Graphic Novel: Week 9 - Hey, Wait..., 2001

http://www.comics.org/issue/812263/cover/4/

I'll fully admit that it takes a bit of effort on my part to push myself out of the superheroic and into the realm of pretty much anything else when it comes to my comics-reading proclivities. But, for the most part, it's a rewarding experience, and I ought to do it more often.

My familiarity with Jason's work comes primarily from his time travel story I Killed Adolf Hitler, which I'm sure I'll get to eventually in the graphic novel portion of my project. But a few weekends ago I was lucky enough to find a couple of his very early English-translation works at a thrift shop, so I made that push and was gratifyingly rewarded.

Having said that, this story lives up to the back cover quotation from Dylan Horrocks - it is very beautiful, but also heartbreaking. Jason's tale speaks to the events one has in one's life that become definitional, that resonate throughout a lifetime, and not always in the most positive ways.

I noted a few weeks ago my distaste for the popularity of Batman and Wolverine in superhero circles, but their popularity coincides with a trend in the more literary side of graphic novels that builds an important bridge that many academics of the form would scoff at. Hey, Wait... depicts a life inflected by trauma, by the often-inescapable shadow it can cast over a life. Jason does a lovely job of showing us how the traumatic event of his main character's early life overshadows every aspect of his life, right up to the point of his death. And, in some ways, even afterward. Childhood is a strange time of life. Events are amplified in childhood, such that the smallest things can seem huge and overwhelming. So when something that is actually huge and overwhelming happens, it becomes unmanageable. The title of this work sums that up: these two small words, once we've read the work, become gigantic and somehow monstrous.

The other thing that this graphic novel achieves is a meditation on our relationship with mortality, something I find myself meditating on as I get older (and unhealthier!). It's unsurprising that we develop faiths and personifications in the wake of such meditations. What is Death? It's the end, and we just can't conceive of this. Anyone who says otherwise is deluding themselves.

I highly recommend Jason's work, but it's not light reading by any stretch. He offers us small, quiet slices of small, quiet lives, even in the case of time travel adventures, and he reminds us that the small and the quiet can be every bit as affecting as the large and the loud.

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