Sunday, 12 February 2017

You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks: An Analysis of Jason's 'Lost Cat' (2013 comic)

Contains Spoilers for the Entirety of Jason’s Lost Cat

You wouldn’t think a detective tale of a dead-eyed, anthropomorphised dog suffering mid-life crisis could be a tender examination of resignation. Jason tells a Chandler-esque crime story, which isn’t really a crime story. He tells a love story which isn’t really a love story. He tells an alien invasion story, that only becomes so by the end. Jason tells the story of Dan Dellon, a man who can’t change, but almost knows he should.

PI Dan Dellon finds a lost cat on leaving his office. When he returns it, he strikes up a conversation with its owner, Charlotte. He asks her on a date, which she accepts. Charlotte doesn’t show. Two men claiming to be Charlotte’s brothers come snooping. Dan smells a fish. But that’s a red herring. An old man, Dumont, hires Dan to find a nude painting of his former sweetheart. But that’s a red herring. When Dan closes Dumont’s case, and surrenders to the dead ends of Charlotte’s case, Dan lets years pass. He lives alone, accompanied only by a fantasy of him and Charlotte growing old together. During an alien invasion, Charlotte returns to Dan. She was a scout, and is just now coming to say goodbye. After Dan waves a gun at her, calling her a liar, Dan embraces his fantasy of Charlotte, the real Charlotte having left him.

Lost Cat is about unnecessary resignation, where you know you don’t have to resign yourself to anything. Dan Dellon clings to his present circumstances, and past obsessions, not because he finds it comfortable, but because change seems so very uncomfortable. Dan, at least, has no delusions. In Dan’s conversation with Charlotte, she asks Dan, ‘Why don’t you change jobs if you don’t like it [being a PI]?’ Dan replies, ‘… Finding a new one … It means change, and change is tough. Who knows what’s around the corner? Better to stick with what you know.’

The narrative reveals this rationale as ironic. Continuing as a PI might lead to something ‘around the corner’, he says. But meeting Charlotte, whose image lives with him for years, happens outside his detective work. He finds her cat when he is literally walking away from his detective office. His detective skills don’t even help him find her after she goes missing. The only real lead he finds is her cat, which just showed up in his home – no detective work needed. After a few dead ends, he can search no more. He been a banker, an artist, or an athlete and still have met Charlotte, still have lost Charlotte, still have obsessed over her for years.

The only narrative thread which requires him to be a PI, fittingly, has nothing to do with Charlotte. At first, Dumont’s case seems to intersect with the Charlotte’s missing person’s case. By the conventions of detective narratives, the weirdness in both cases, the abductions, faked deaths, mental scarring, should tie together into a single case. They do not. When Dumont’s case closes, Dan returns to his routine, a routine augmented only by entrenched fantasies of growing old with Charlotte. 

Jason’s mixing of genres highlights how un-nourishing Dan’s PI work is, and would always have been. Dan is not merely a PI, he is a man playing a PI. Dan, Charlotte, and a girl he meets in a bar comment on his resemblance to Humphrey Bogart, the archetypal image of a PI. This is an image he puts on. One day a case will come, befitting Humphrey Bogart. A case does come, but it doesn’t fulfil him. No, the irony is: Dan plays a PI in an alien invasion story. The role he plays does not fit the genre, the world, he inhabits. Nothing would ever have come ‘around the corner’.

Although narratively Dumont’s case has nothing to do with Charlotte’s, thematically, it has everything to do with it. Dumont tells Dan his parents forbade him from marrying Ingrid, the woman in the nude painting he wants. Ingrid married the artist who painted her. Dumont wants to be buried with the painting. This is a lie. The artist, Pierre, who married Ingrid reveals Dumont was a jealous lover, whose covetousness of Ingrid pushed her to run away from him.  

For decades, Dumont nursed a delusion, salivating for a love he never really had. Just like Dan. Dan had only one conversation with Charlotte. From that, he fantasised an entire life together. Dumont would rather have this nude image of Ingrid, rather than recall his actual relationship with Ingrid. Dan prefers his fantasy of Charlotte, rather than the literal alien who returns to him. When the real Charlotte returns, Dan wants to kill her, calling her a liar. By being something other than his fantasy, she threatens to destroy his fantasy of her. As the world falls to aliens, he embraces his delusional Charlotte, even though he cannot ignore it is a delusion.

Dan’s choice to remain in fantasy was not inevitable. Although the most impactful moment in his life happens outside his detective work, his detective work pushes him to a cross-road. Pierre, Ingrid’s painter and widow, faked his death after Ingrid died. For years, he lived alone with his paintings of Ingrid. When Dan tells him Dumont wants the paintings, Pierre burns his house down, with the paintings inside. Dan finds him sat on a pier, staring into the distance, away from his burning house.

Did Pierre see a bit of himself in Dumont? Dumont may obsess over his far from perfect relationship with Ingrid, but Pierre literally lives among idealised images of Ingrid, his paintings. By burning down his house, he burns away his stultifying obsession. With no way back into his comfortable stasis, he forces himself to change.

Pierre came to his cross-road off-panel, the moment he considered whether or not to burn his down. Dan stands at his cross-road when he meets Pierre on the pier. Dan sits down beside him and shares a cigarette. Perhaps Dan will follow Pierre’s example.

But Dan looks back. Anyone with a passing interest in mythology knows nothing good comes of looking back. He looks back at the burning house, and the thinks of the burning paintings, of the job Dumont hired him for. He falls back into the role of PI. Unlike Pierre, who forces himself to change, Dan resumes his old life.     

Although Dan found little fulfilment in the life he chose, he would do it all again. Even at the end of the world, he refuses to change. He literally embraces his fantasy. He would do it all again, not because his chosen life made the melancholy and regret all worth it. He would do it again because ‘change is tough’. Faced with a raging flame, a man must move, as Pierre did. Faced with the day by day dripping away of life, a man feels no spur to action. Dan’s fantasy of the Charlotte who never existed, or the Humphrey Bogart he never was, comforted him enough that he felt no spur to change.

Edition used was the 2013 Fantagraphics publication, translated by Kim Thompson 

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