Hey, Wait... (2001)
Genre: Graphic Novel (Literary/Loss of Innocence)
Jon and Bjorn are good buddies who spend their after school free time goofing around and daydreaming about what their adult lives will be like. Both know for sure that they want really sweet sport cars and both are certain that they won't work factory jobs. Lazy afternoons are filled with simple games and avoiding encounters with older bullies and street toughs. Both boys are funny-looking adolescent rabbits who are also starting to notice girls, in a tentative nervous and awkward fashion and both are starting to notice their emerging hormones. The boys are close and enjoy each other's copany immensely. They spend nearly every second of the day together. They are almost like brothers. Both boys are also into comics, specifically Batman. In fact, one day Jon gets the great idea to start a Batman Fanclub. The club will be top secret and only those few who are asked to join and who complete an initiation act of jumping and swinging onto a branch of a tree hanging over a cliff, will be allowed to join. A date is set and Bjorn is the first one to jump toward the branch and initiation. SPOILER: As Bjorn jumps toward the branch, Jon says the dreaded words, "Hey, Wait..." and Bjorn loses his attention falls off the cliff and dies (we don't see any of the actual dying, but we see Jon on the day of his funeral.) Of course, Jon was joking and never anted his friend to die, but he places the blame squarely on his shoulders and the second part of the novel reveals the rest of Jon's pathetic adult-existence. He drinks too much, and, ironically, ends up working a hideous factory job, and sleeping with women-rabbits that he has no emotional connection with. However, one day he comes face-to-face with a grim reaper type character and confesses how he feels terrible about what happened and the way his life turned out, but that he is really not a bad person. The grim reaper guy tells him to close his eyes and count to three and after he does this, Jon is returned to his childhood years and he sees himself as a teen playing ball with Bjorn and the tree over the cliff remains undisturbed by the two boys. Whatever this means, the next scene shows Jon getting on a bus driven by the grim reaper,and filled with skeleton-looking people. I think Jon kills himself after having a delusion that reconfigured the past to his liking, but the ending leaves room for interpretation.
Geographical Setting: Norwegian Suburbs
Time Period: Present Day (2001)
The drawing and art in this novel are simple. The characters are drawn as an assortment of different animals like crows, rabbits,and other unidentifiable animals. This choice of character depictions sounds as if the novel would only appeal to young children, but the effect is as serious as the mice in Spiegelman's Maus. The art and images are haunting and unforgettable and definitely an appeal characteristic of the novel. The pacing of the story is rather fast, as the two boys bounce from activity to activity like one of their sports balls. There is not much in the development of characters, but the boys' relationship and their various activities are so engaging that you hardly notice the lack of characterization. The first half is also hilarious. Jon and Bjorna pull off some funny pranks, get into some hilarious situations, and the dialog between the two perfectly echoes conversations you might have had as a teenager with your best friend. In fact, the story does a wonderful job of portraying the easy and natural friendship of two close boys, which is an appeal element for those who enjoy reading about that type of relationship. After the accident, the mood is completely changed. It's as if the author almost can't lift pen to paper due to the depression emanating from his main character. The tragedy ends up dominating the rest of Jon's life and those who are interested in certain tragic events and human reactions to them, have a powerful example in these pages. Also, a reader looking for what life is like in Norway might want to try this novel out, as their is definitely a unique vibe about the place where the story occurs.
Read-alikes: Another work by Jason for those who liked this one would be Why are you doing this?, which is about a guy who struggles with depression after finding his loved one with another rabbit (yes, Jason uses these weird animals to portray his characters in this one, as well.) A Separate Peace is a definite read-alike. Both books are about close adolescent friendships that end in tragedy after one of the friends makes a half-joking prank that kills the other. Both are heartbreaking. Fair Weather by Joe Matts is a richly drawn graphic novel about youthful friendships and definitely has its fair share of humor, as Joe Matts' lead character is a completely selfish boob, but is still very funny. Another read-alike graphic novel would be Blankets by Graig Thompson. Here, again, we have beautiful and unique art, though very different from Jason's simple style.
Thompson's art is more detailed and intricate. The pain and confusion of adolescence is examined here, but a romantic relationship is the vehicle for the story, as opposed to a friendship. Christina Adams' Love and Country explores teenage relationships and the inherent complexities that go along with those relationships. There is also the issue of death and, a more healthy way of dealing with it then what Jon does in Hey, Wait.... Finally,
The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy is a story about a teenage boy and the overcoming loss and the loss of innocence. Political issues and racism are also touched upon in this novel.
Red Flags: Some swearing, nudity, and a little violence, as well. Plus, this is one of the saddest endings I have ever read. Anything this sad deserves a red flag.
Why Are You Doing This? (2005)
Genre: Graphic Novel (Mystery/Romance)
Alex is mourning his breakup with his long-time girlfriend when he finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery. On an errand to water his friend's plant, he sees a man in an adjacent window. Later his friend ends up dead and Alex is accused of the murder. He tries to piece together the clues with the help of a friendly shop clerk named Geraldine and her precocious daughter Sandra. SPOILER: The man in the window was a murdered who thought Alex was a witness. So he broke into the apartment and killed Alex's friend (thinking he was the witness) and then framed Alex for the murder to get rid of him too.
Geographical Setting: Unknown Urban Area
Time Period: Contemporary (2005)
The storyline is straightforward and simple to follow. The mood is almost as important as the action and characters. The characters are anthropomorphic animals portrayed simply (note their lack of pupils). There is a manageable amount of characters and it is easy to understand their emotions even though they aren't described in particular depth. This graphic novel has a dark and fatalistic tone, focusing on the sadness and emptiness in the human condition and the pain of failed romance. This gives the book an existential, bleak tone. The writing style resembles film noir yet is often deadpan and minimalist. The simple line drawings keep the story grounded. The events happen fairly quickly making for an engrossing pace. The setting is an unnamed urban area that feels European but is never explicitly described as such.
Read-alikes: Readers who enjoyed Jason's simple line drawings will also enjoy his book, Hey, Wait … It tells the story of a life that becomes tragically altered after a childhood game goes wrong. Like his other book, this has anthropomorphic characters and a fatalistic tone. Fans of the simple drawing style and bleak tone of Why Are You Doing This? might want to explore Chris Ware'sJimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. This tale of four generations of fathers and sons is heartbreaking, dysfunctional, and familiar. Although Jimmy is more focused on familial relationship while Jason's book is more focused on romance, they share some of the same feelings of sadness and fatalism in an urban setting. John Porcellino's Perfect Example is a coming of age autobiographical novel about the summer before college where he hangs out with friends, pursues girls, and becomes suicidal. Like Why Are You Doing This?, it has a minimalist style, deliberately simple illustrations, and a bleak tone. Walt Holcombe's Things Just Get Away From You would be a good readalike for Jason's book. They share simple drawings and anthropomorphic characters. However, Holcombe's collection tells a series of quirky stories heavily feature symbolism and repression. Charles Burns' graphic novel Black Hole might be enjoyed by fans of Jason's book. While more focused on the teenage years, the book shares the melancholy tone of Why Are You Doing This? and focused on a few important characters. The story of a sexual disease ravaging urban teens displays their disturbing symptoms and the downward spiral of their moods.
Red Flags: Some language and violent situations.