Tuesday 16 December 2008

From The Backlist: Hey Wait...!

Before launching into a look at Hey Wait…! it’s worth referring to a couple of points from the recent edition of the Comics Journal that features a lengthy interview with Jason: firstly, he’s pretty detached to it. The book is slightly different to his other work and to Jason the book seems to represent no more than a curiosity to him. He finds it too stylised and too morose and admits that he doesn't reread it. Secondly he is surprisingly honest about his creative process which involves him making choices on instinct rather than plotting ahead. This allows us to delve into an analysis of the book in the same way that psychiatrists probably rub their hands when a patient recounts a dream.

The first half of Hey Wait…! shows us moments in the life of a young boy mostly hanging out with his best friend. The storytelling is simple and unfussy and pleasantly tugs at the strings of nostalgia. We are also shown the first notes of surrealism: a Pterodactyl flies overhead, the adults walk to work on stilts and (in a Jason trademark) everyone has the face of an animal. Stylistically, they are important as, near the end of the first part of the book, the lead character is accidentally responsible for the death of his friend. As the boy's life is changed, so too does the storytelling.

Sequential art offers a unique chance to play with our notions of linear time in a way that no other medium can. Each panel captures a moment and that moment is the only truth. It’s not compulsory to read the panels in an order, we merely do so out of habit and a mutual understanding of the storytelling practices. But this can be quite a fragile practice. Alan Moore questioned this in Watchmen with Dr Manhattan, of course. The Manga genre demands a different way of reading. When a reader turns the page of a comic or graphic novel, I doubt that many people would claim that their eyes do not flick across the page to quickly scan the two new pages before returning their attention to the first panel. Past, present and future are instantly accessible.

This appears to be a major theme in Hey Wait…! Jason plays with the notion of what may be linear though he draws on more abstract ways of expressing it. At his friend's funeral, he sneezes and in the next panel has transformed into an adult - the innocence of youth is lost in a second. When we see him again in part two of the story we are only shown the tedious repetition in his days - he is aging but not progressing in his life. When he meets a woman and takes her home, she finds pictures of him as an older man drinking himself into oblivion and asks when the pictures will be taken. It's as if the single tragic moment in his life has sealed his fate. His ending has become a foregone conclusion. We even get a scene of him sitting on the sofa watching a television game show where the contestants are given the answer and then have to provide the question.

One of these questions refers to the philosopher Jean-Paul Satre who warned against oppressive and spiritually-destructive conformity, suggesting we should be seeking what he referred to as the authentic life. This appears to be another of Jason's themes. As an adult, the protagonist accepts a life doing a repetitious job, ignoring the advice of his friend to change his job. Depression has chained him to the spot. He appears to have forgotten the dreams he described to us as a child.

I found Hey Wait…! to be an exceptional book. It is a bleak story, but it is not a hopeless one. The deadpan expressions of his characters avoid melodrama and allow the reader to infuse the tale with their own interpretation. I came away from the book feeling moved but strangely positive. SLS

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