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Jasons previous publication with
Fantagraphics Books was the black and white comic book story Hey, Wait
a very sad story about a childhood friendship and its effect on later
life. It was very distinctive in using
animals as its characters and using no dialog whatsoever, which made the work
resemble childrens picture books, except that the story took an particularly
bleak turn. SSHHHH! is in very
much the same vein. The main character,
who of course is never given a name, is bird who lives a very adult life. The book is a collection of ten stories or
episodes, nearly every one a depressing commentary on the banality and
absurdity of life. The first story is a
good example. Our hero, the lanky bird
wearing a jacket and pork pie hat, is a street musician playing a penny whistle
who lives in a large nest in a tree. He
is terribly lonely, but he meets an attractive female bird one day, and they
get married. They move into an apartment,
and he gets a job sorting mail in an office, while she stays at home and looks
after the house. They live a normal
life, watching TV in the evenings together.
But she becomes ill, and he sits by her hospital bedside, worried. He passes the hours by drawing a cartoon
story of him bravely rescuing her from a castle prison. She recovers from her illness, and they set
off home. Unfortunately, on their
journey home, she is run over by a car, and dies. He returns to his life in his old nest, but he gives away his
penny whistle. He is terribly lonely.
These vignettes of existentialist
angst at the repetitiousness and pointlessness of bourgeois life are
occasionally relieved by the appearance of surprising figures space aliens
make a brief appearance in one story or surprising plot twists. There are many places where the narrative is
confusing, even surreal. This lends the
book more entertainment value, but at the same time confirms that sense that it
is based on a rather limited idea that has been implemented without thinking it
through. As an unusual illustration of
core existentialist themes hell is other people, we live and die alone, the
contemplation of suicide SSHHHH! works remarkably well. But for readers who have come to terms with
the world and the contingency of their lives, Jasons work confirms the
association of such miserable worries with adolescent self-obsession.
Link: Fantagraphics Books web site
© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
Christian Perring, Ph.D.,
is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is
editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring
how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help
foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the
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