on 15 June 2014
Only Norwegian artist Jason could tell a turbulent love story and somehow work in a plot to travel back in time and kill Hitler.
Set in a world where assassinations are a legit business, a hitman is given the biggest job of his career: kill Adolf Hitler! But the job goes wrong and Hitler makes it to the future, stranding the hitman in the past. What becomes of them both, and what of the love of his life that the hitman leaves in the future?
Like all of Jason’s books, I Killed Adolf Hitler is wonderful but, re-reading it years later, one detail stuck out to me that hadn’t before: why did the hitman travel to a time when Hitler was in power rather than his starving artist years when no-one knew who he was? Or even better, when he was a baby? Killing him then would be simple as there’d be no lackeys around to stop him completing the hit!
Other than that, it’s your usual Jason book which is to say, profound and moving but totally deadpan and funny. The real focus of the book is the relationship between the hitman and his girlfriend though, as he was stuck in the past and had to wait 50 years to pick up where they left off, he’s now old enough to be her grandfather. Jason explores their strangely altered relationship as realistically as the situation allows and the romance feels real and never melodramatic or underplayed.
There’s something very zen and pleasantly surreal about Jason’s comics. This book is laid out in 8-panel grids and tells its story in under 50 pages. The panels feature animal-headed characters eating lunch or taking a walk or just standing there, and the story never hurries along or takes longer than it does to tell a scene, but is never boring. The art is very crisp, clean, spare and, to me anyway, absolutely perfect, especially with Hubert’s lovely colours. There’s never too much in a panel or too little - it’s always measured just right. And I loved the time travel machine design which is basically a metal orb with a chair in it and a panel with a button - it felt very classic B-movie-ish in a good way and plays into Jason’s spare drawing style.
Jason’s comics are among the best the medium has to offer, all of which I highly recommend reading if you can find them - he really hasn’t made a bad comic yet. I Killed Adolf Hitler brilliantly subverts the time travel/Hitler question into a surprisingly moving romance and a delightful read.
This is the first graphic novel (though I often feel that most graphic novels are more like graphic short stories) by Jason I've read, and I think I'll be reading more.
All of the characters are funny animals, though I think this is a stylistic decision of the kind that Spiegelman took with Maus, living in a bizarrely nihilistic world where the main (unnamed) character is hired by people to kill other people. It might be for money or love, but the cat-faced assassin is never short of work. What he is short of is love. His relationship with his girlfriend breaks down in the face of his occupation, and he takes a job to kill Adolf Hitler that involves a trip in a time machine. Only he fails and Hitler escapes into the future in the time machine... To go on any further will spoil the story, which uses the time travel element to talk about human emotions. And that is pretty much what grounds the entire enterprise. The story is played calmly, like a Wes Anderson film, where all the humour is deadpan, and the nub of the matter is the emotions of the characters involved.
The art is very simple but somehow manages to convey Jason's intentions perfectly, despite the fact that he doesn't use any artistic tricks to convey his intention. Perhaps it's the integrity of not trying to manipulate his readers that sells the work to me?
At any rate, despite having a slim page count, the story lingers on afterwards in your head, and I think there's no better recommendation than that, really.
on 14 August 2010
I've read several of Jason's graphic novels and this is the best I've come across. He takes a standard sci-fi idea and twists it into a simple but clever and satisfying plot which ultimately becomes a poignant love story, and the artwork is lovely too. Jason is the best European cartoonist around.