Dan Delon is a private detective, bored and miserable with his life as he spends his days photographing cheating spouses for bitter divorce cases. On his way home one night he sees a lost cat flyer and moments later sees the cat itself. Taking the cat back to its home, he gets into a conversation with her owner, Charlotte, who runs a bookshop and they make plans to meet for dinner later in the week. He never sees her again. This chance meeting would go on to define the rest of Dan’s life as he continues their conversation in his head through the years.
If you’ve never heard of the Norwegian cartoonist Jason before, congratulations, you’ve just discovered one of the best kept secrets in comics! Jason writes and draws elegantly simple comics where his protagonists are anthropomorphised animals instead of humans, often using genres like classic sci-fi, noir, fantasy, and mystery thrillers to tell stories of the human condition. Lost Cat is indicative of his work, being a Humphrey Bogart-esque story with a sci-fi twist similar to classic sci-fi film The Day The Earth Stood Still – and yet is primarily about loneliness.
The book has a spare, clean appearance, each page divided into four panels drawn with clear lines and barely coloured, the one colour used besides black and white being a copper sepia-like tone adding to the old-style look of the story. Like most of Jason’s stories, Lost Cat has a very sombre tone to it, almost sad at times, accentuated by the blank circles the characters have for eyes, giving them a haunted look.
Lost Cat is a departure from Jason’s usual books as it’s a far longer book at 150 pages than he usually writes, which are usually paperbacks around 48 pages or so. He uses the extra space well, giving the protagonists at the start – Dan and Charlotte – pages and pages of conversation that is easily the best part of the book. Translated by the late Kim Thompson, the dialogue is natural but moving, and is among the best writing I’ve read in comics for a long time. It instantly captures the voices of the characters and feels genuine and real at the same time, which is ironic as they’re animals in appearance saying incredibly human things, and also because Jason made his name initially “writing”/drawing silent comics (ie. wordless comics). Credit must also go to Thompson who lends his unique skills in presenting us English readers with this story and in the hands of a lesser translator would have made the book far less emotionally powerful.
Readers can enjoy this book on face value, purely for the detective story angle as Dan investigates a lost painting on behalf a client and in his spare time looks for clues of his lost love, Charlotte. It’s well written, intriguing, and paced perfectly so you’re never bored. But on a deeper level it’s a study of loneliness and how we cope with it. Because Dan felt a connection with Charlotte and they never met again, he was able to build up an entire image of her that probably wasn’t her real character at all but fit his idealised version of a partner. As he became fixated on this person, he was never able to have a relationship with anyone real, preferring the fantasy over everything else.
Lost Cat is an enthralling work from one of the best comics creators working today and is easily one of the best books of the year. If you want to read an unforgettable, charming, and highly entertaining comic, Lost Cat by Jason should be top of your reading list.
Lost Cat by Jason is out now in hardback from Fantagraphics
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