I Killed Adolph Hitler
written by Jason
The books by Norwegian cartoonist Jason, born John Arne Sæterøy, are as difficult to explain as their appeal. Take, for instance, I Killed Adolf Hitler, published in the United States by Fantagraphics in June 2007 and translated by Kim Thompson. This original graphic novel features Jason’s usual anthropomorphic animal characters who visually echo the early, simple style of Walt Disney, but whose faces often lack significant emotional expression. The worlds the cartoonist depicts also tend to mix elements and tropes from different genres of film—in this case, Jason combines time travel, hit men, and alternative history and throws in a melancholy love story just for good measure.
The plot of I Killed Adolf Hitler is almost too simple to describe and, in fact, can probably be mostly gleaned from what I’ve written already. Suffice it to say, our protagonist (none of the characters have their names identified . . . except for the titular führer, of course) is hired to travel back to Nazi Germany to do the deed. And, of course, things go . . . well, not wrong. But strange. Along the way to the book’s end, there’s a lot of standing around, murders, talking in diners, more time travel, and trips to the library.
Did I mention that Jason’s work is difficult to explain?
Nevertheless, there’s something intriguing here. The pages are broken into six-panel grids, giving the story’s flow a cinematic feel. This effect is aided by a lack of caption boxes and scene transitions that almost resemble a movie’s “jump cuts,” where suddenly one scene ends and another has begun without warning. And since Jason creates comic book mash-ups of film genres, the effect hardly seems accidental.
Adding to the mystique are the blank faces of the animal characters who populate the world of the story. On the rare occasion that they actually do emote, they are usually expressing consternation, shock or surprise, or anger, skewing toward the darker end of the emotional spectrum. These are not happy characters, and this is not a happy story. Its ending, however, has a strangely satisfying conclusion that offers a sense of resolution and peace that is both entirely unexpected and entirely welcome.
An important aspect of this and all of Jason’s books is the juxtaposition of these childish-looking cartoon animals and the violent and often sexually explicit lives they lead. While you never see any graphic depictions of sex in I Killed Adolf Hitler, it is discussed at one point—in detail—and there are a lot of bullets going into animal-people’s heads. Think of it as Itchy and Scratchy meets Resevoir Dogs meets Ingmar Bergman.
I have mentioned that Jason’s work is difficult to explain, right?
It seems as though Jason’s work takes the baser aspects of reality—violence, sex, lies, and death—and forces readers to see them through the perspective of a child’s cartoon, thereby making familiar themes and filmic conventions wholly new and often unsettling. By making the familiar strange, I Killed Adolf Hitler will make readers confront their assumptions about what art can and should be.-- Brian P. Rubin