Werewolves of Montpellier tells the story of Sven, an aimless artist who spends his days playing chess and poker, drinking, sketching and obsessing over his best friend Audrey. By night, he dons a werewolf mask and enjoys breaking into people’s homes. Sven’s theory that his lycanthropic disguise will be enough to startle homeowners and buy him a few minutes of time to get away has proven true thus far, but he never accounted for a society of real Montpellier-based werewolves who don’t take too kindly to this pretender. What ensues falls somewhere between romantic comedy and existential drama with cursed monsters thrown in for good measure.
After hearing his name lauded for many years, Werewolves of Montpellier was my first excursion into the world of Jason, the renowned Norwegian-born artist known for mixing whimsical anthropomorphic characters with introspective and often quite heavy storylines. Now I understand what my friends have been raving about for years.
Jason’s artwork is sparse and the story is a masterpiece in simplicity. At times, reading it almost felt like the author simply observed people at a diner or at a party: nothing feels forced or staged and the sense of realism would almost be dull if it didn’t ring so true. At times heartbreakingly sad and laugh-out-loud funny, this story just feels like real life... but with werewolves.
Jason finds a way to convey mood and feeling through his nearly expressionless characters. A simple glance often says more than a page worth of dialogue. The book moves along at a smooth, effortless pace and is over before you know it. The full impact of the story doesn’t really hit you all at once (or at least, it didn’t really hit me) and required another reading or two, each one revealing another aspect of the story.
As a result, it was something of a challenge to put into words exactly why I enjoyed this book so much. These characters are hopeless, hilarious, tragic and beautiful – probably a lot like you and your friends. The addition of the werewolf storyline, and the fact that the townspeople don’t bat an eye at the fact that werewolves exist, adds another layer to this story and creates a totally unique experience.
No, this isn’t a book for those of you who think comics require flying men and ray guns. If you’re of the mind that animals in comics have to be silly, you might want to avoid Jason’s work altogether. But if you’re looking for a unique experience in sequential art, something that will make you both smile and think, give this one a shot. Jason is a perfect example of an artist who truly understands the medium of comic books and puts it into practice. Werewolves of Montpellier was my first experience into Jason’s world and I can guarantee it will not be my last.