More and more in my reviews of comics, I find that I often talk about how many cartoonists use their medium to explore themes of loneliness, isolation, and our inability to connect with others. It's as if artists seem to be especially drawn to these themes, perhaps because the creative process tends to be one that occurs in isolation, or perhaps it's because the creators themselves are outsiders, observers, the kind of people who don't easily “fit in”.
Write what you know, and all that.
Interestingly enough, though, art itself crosses the barriers between the isolation and the individual. A creator who examines their own inability to connect with others ends up connecting, in a sense, to similarly minded people who encounter the creator's work. By putting form to loneliness, it becomes a shared experience. The act of creation creates community; were it not for the impulse spawned in isolation, the singular insights would never be heard.
Thus is the power of art. Only the creative individual can present their own loneliness, isolation, and inability to connect with others in a way that brings us together.
Norwegian comic creator Jason does just this in his latest graphic novel, Lost Cat. In 150 four-panel pages, Jason uses his sparse, clean, black-and-white art (with the help of the late Kim Thompson's excellent translation) to tell the story of Dan Delon, a detective in the classic Raymond Chandler/Dashiell Hammett/Jim Thompson vein. In Lost Cat, Delon is vastly and stupefyingly alone and his loneliness is palpable thanks to Jason's pacing, clean lines, and use of negative space. When characters actually come together and physically touch in this book, it is either to inflict damage or perpetuate isolation. When physical contact works in this book, it is only in the daydreams of Dan Delon.
The central story of Lost Cat revolves around this private eye who mainly works divorce cases. One day he finds a lost cat and returns it to its rightful owner, a woman with whom he finds much in common. This chance meeting imprints itself on the detective, but when he tries to meet with her again, she has disappeared. The memory of their meeting haunts Delon and he goes to great lengths to try to find her again, all the while creating a fantasy life in which the two of them have established a quiet and loving relationship. As this is a Jason book, though, there is an absurd and unexpected twist at the end which calls into question the whole nature of what it means to connect with others in the first place. In a way it asks us to consider what is more meaningful, actually connecting or the longing to connect in the first place.
“What is … the most important thing in your life right now?”
“Whatever is missing, I guess.”
This is a quiet book. Pages and pages go by with little or no dialogue. Jason trusts his audience to put pieces together and he plays with our expectations. There are as many red herrings as there are moments of profundity in Lost Cat, and it is a book best read when you can devote yourself to it, away from the myriad distractions of the life you lead among other people.
Jason pointedly examines how easy it is to get stuck in a routine. Alone, we repeat patterns – getting up, showering, cooking eggs, reading the news, jerking off – until it is all we know. We get comfortable in our dissatisfaction and loneliness, wearing it as an armor of excuses as to why we don't seek to change.
“Change is tough. Who knows what's around the corner? Better to stick with what you know…”
To break free of this requires desire and effort. More importantly, though, it requires hope, “the constant encourager, the enemy / of the stationary, the promiser of better moments” as the poet Stephen Dobyns describes it in his poem “The Body's Hope”. Without hope, why bother? And in Lost Cat, Jason seems to infuse his character with this. Dan Delon is the embodiment of hope as much as he is of isolation.
Then again, in the same poem Dobyns calls hope “our dearest enemy, slick-talking advance man for death itself”. Jason understands this as well in Lost Cat. As much as it is that without hope we would probably never leave the house, so too is it that without hope there can be no disappointment. You would be hard pressed to read Lost Cat without acknowledging this as well.
But that's okay. Balance is important.
Jason is an artist of a high caliber and reading Lost Cat confirms this. He creates in isolation, ruminates about our inability to connect, and, by doing so, brings us together. It is so easy for us to settle into the running of our lives that we often find we can no longer enumerate all that makes us miserable or askew. Sometimes we need to encounter the discord of others to harmonize a new song.
“You don't have an accent.”
“Oh, it went away. It went away while I waited.”
“Waited for what?”
“Oh, I don't know.”
Lost Cat is available from Fantagraphics Books.
Daniel Elkin understands isolation, but he only talks about it in a public forum over sandwiches. He can be found doing just that on Twitter (@DanielElkin). He is also Your Chicken Enemy.