"Sshhhh!" (Fantagraphics Books; 128pp.; $14.95) consists of ten short vignettes that occasionally relate to each other. The only words that appear are a few onomatopoeia such as "ring," "poff" and "boom." All of them feature a bird-man character with webbed feet and a crow's beak wearing a jacket and hat from the 1950s. The stories mix reality with nonsense, and humor with sadness. One episode has the bird-man followed around by a skeleton no one else can see. Unable to ditch the specter of death, bird-man accepts him as a houseguest, sharing his snacks and bathroom. When bird-man suddenly dies, killed by a meteorite falling on top of him, death seeks out a new friend who will undoubtedly die soon. The sad and lonely life of Death's Specter typifies the dark humor and vague allegory of these stories. Another episode has bird-man suddenly and inexplicably turn invisible. He reads a book, makes soup and waits for the crosswalk as a wraith. Haven't you ever felt like that? Becoming a political assassin puts an instant end to his invisibility, unluckily for him.
Jason's bird-man meets his doppelganger in "Sshhhh!"
Words would, if anything, seem like an intrusion on Jason's pared-down style. Backgrounds include only enough to set the location. Shading, chiaroscuro, and other details have been eliminated with that Scandinavian eye for simplicity. The result feels like a kind of pure comics just pictures that tell a story. But they also go beyond mere stories. Like the best of silent films, the lack of words turns Jason's book into a universally accessible meditation on the human condition. Likewise the use of animals as human stand-ins turns the tales into Aesop-like fables with a modern, existential twist. Imagine Buster Keaton in Henrik Ibsen's version of "The Mouse and the Lion." These "fables" all have the same lesson: Life is absurd.
The quiet pleasures of Jason's "Sshhhh!" way outclass the usual clanging, banging noise of ordinary comic books. Close the door, turn off the music, and enjoy a funny, touching world.
"Sshhhh!" can be found at superior comic shops and the publisher's website.