Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Books: The Living and The Dead


The Living and The Dead
By Jason

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Have you ever imagined what an old-fashioned black and white silent movie would be like if it had zombies in? (No? Not even once? Not ever?) Well - ok then: regardless - The Living and The Dead is here for you: to give you the experience that you didn't even know you were looking for

As created by hot stuff Norwegian cartoonist - Jason (yep - just "Jason" not even a surname or anything [1]) his real name is : John Arne Sæterøy - which I think sounds pretty cool - but hey - what do I know?) - The Living and The Dead is the latest in a long line of comics [2] that has been heaped with so much adoration (and awards) that I'm sure his head must have trouble trying to support the weight of it all (not to mention - you know - all the swelling). I would copy out all the nice little things that all the critical people have said about him - but I don't have the book in front of me at the moment and - well - if you ever get a copy you can look for yourself and see what I mean.

Because (yeah) just between you and me I've gotta confess that I have trouble seeing exactly what all the fuss is about... Ok - the book didn't really offend me in any way - it wasn't nauseating and didn't make me want to poke out my eyes with hot knitting needles or anything like that... I picked it up: read it all in about (what?) 10 minutes and then that was it. But also - it was very far from being anything special. Most of the time I expect the stuff I read (or watch or listen to) to leave some sort of trace: if it helps then think of it as like eating a meal - the type of stuff I like is something that's substantial - something with a lot of meat on it [3] with bits that get stuck in my teeth that's hard to digest all in one go - so you need to come back to it a few times - and something that makes you feel full afterwards: satisfied and content (I may have said something like this before in a different post - but what the hey). Extending the metaphor - The Living and The Dead is a bit like being served up an air-burger: ok - it's inoffensive and there's nothing to actively dislike - but all the same: it's not really what I'm looking for come mealtime.

I could just leave things there - it's a nice book: it's slightly funny in places (not so much that you'd laugh out loud - but you might smile just a little) but there's not much more to it than that - but I kinda wanna go further and write (just a little) about what I like to term "hipster comics" (seeing how one of the rules of hipsters is that they never think that they are hipsters - hopefully no one is going to find this offensive? [4]). I've kind of had this post on the back-burner for a while now (in both senses: The Living and The Dead has been a book I've been meaning to write about for a very long time - and I've kinda had the draft of this post just kinda sitting there: looking at me blankly while I spend my time writing about Batman and stuff like that...) but it seems like now is a good moment to talk about hipster culture. This morning just before I came to work I read an article on Grantland [5] that kinda went into this sort of stuff (sample quote: "If there are still people left on planet Earth who believe in the sanctity of a thriving underground subculture populated by young, principled artistic types living bohemian lives free of the conventions propagated by lamestream plebs, here is a not-quite comprehensive rundown of pop culture items from 2012 that (intentionally or not) seemed directed at disabusing this idea: Lana Del Rey's Born to Die, the HBO show Girls, the LCD Soundsystem concert film Shut Up and Play the Hits, Bon Iver singer-songwriter Justin Vernon's Grammys acceptance speech, Justin Timberlake's Justin Vernon impersonation on Saturday Night Live, fun.'s Some Nights, the New York Magazine cover story on Grizzly Bear and the untenable economic realities faced by high-level indie-rock bands, Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," the white-people-giggling-over-R&B-covers-on-YouTube novelty act Karmin appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone, that good but sort of unlovable Animal Collective album, Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You in the End" appearing in an Axe body spray commercial, this weekend's New York Times piece on "hipster irony." I could go on but, in the interest of space, I won't." [6])

Of course The Living and The Dead came out all the way back in 2007 [7] - so it's not eligible for the list (and also - it's not really disabusing the idea of the underground: so (but anyway...)) but it is a solid gold example of (like I said) "hipster comics" which is the name I like to give to comics that have just enough of an adult sensibility so that you know that they're not supposed to be for kids (so in the Living and the Dead there's a pimp and at another point a character gets a boner - whoop-de-woo) but there's not enough nutritional content to make it something that's really worthwhile for any respectable adult: the only way I can figure that anyone can get anything out of this type of book is if they're a filthy hipster (this is where I might start to get a little bit more harsh - so hang on) - that is: someone more concerned with looking like someone who reads comics than someone who actually gets anything out of them... And maybe it looks snazzy on their shelves or something and then when someone asks "oh - what's that?" then you can go: "oh - this? It's by this Norwegian comic guy called Jason? And it's like a silent movie - only it's got zombies in it. I can't believe you've never heard of it..." And (for me anyway) it's hard to imagine how anyone could seriously say that they were in love with this book unless they were being ironic.

And I say: nuts to that.

[1] I guess Justin Timberlake must have got to him.

[2] Actually maybe I shouldn't have said that seeing how this is the only Jason book that Islington currently have in stock.... So maybe just wipe that from your memory and pretend that this is the only Jason book around (altho if you're really starved for an extra hit of Jason-goodness we do have a copy of Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums which has some Jason art on the cover ( you can see it here if you'd like)). 

[3] In real life I'm a veggie (that eats fish - don't get me started) but - hey - it's just a metaphor - right? So i guess we're ok...

[4] Oops - except maybe John Arne Sæterøy? (Sorry - I meant Jason). And man - if you wanted to write a list of examples of hipster behaviour - then deciding to give yourself a one name alias has got to be up there with the best of them...

[5] Loving the Most Unlikable Movie of the Year Lena Dunham, Lana Del Rey, LCD Soundsystem, and the end of indie exceptionalism in The Comedy.

[6] And if you want all the links to all that - then just click the link above.

[7] In fact - speaking of: anyone else remember back when Nathan Barley (aka The Hipster Jesus - and if you've never found yourself uttering any of the thousand of choice lines it spawned in everyday conversation then (well) you're a better man than me) came out in 2005 there was loads of people deriding it as being hopelessly out of date? (I googled "Nathan Barley not relevant" and found this almost straight away: Yes, the “Hoxton Trendies” probably do have a mild stranglehold over the media. You can see the tired and tedious hallmarks of their creative preferences slapped all over newsagents’ racks and the average night’s television schedules. It’s nothing new, though – The Housemartins were lampooning the same type of people, only with slightly different “hip” obsessions, in Five Get Overexcited in 1987." and (trust me) there's lots more where that came from...) Which I guess sadly proves that hipsters aren't going to go away anytime soon... (They're like the common cold: I mean - yeah - sure - it would be cool if someone managed to find a cure for them - but at this point it doesn't seem very likely).


Further reading: It's a Good Life, If You Don't WeakenHilda and the Midnight Giant, GoliathI'm Never Coming BackThe Perry Bible FellowshipThe Dilbert PrincipleSatchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow.

All comments welcome.

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