Jason Shiga's been quietly serializing his new series, "Jason Shiga's Demon," on his website for the majority of the year. Hopefully this print edition (the first of 21 issues!) will help it garner even more attention, because this strange series has the potential to be his greatest creation to date.
Shiga's comics often contain some sort of puzzle or problem in them that needs to be sussed out. "Fleep" opens with a man inside a foreign country's phone booth that's encased in concrete, for example, and he needs to use a phonebook in a strange language he can't read, a couple of random coins, and some other odds and ends to figure out his situation and how to escape. Or then there are his comics "Meanwhile..." and "Hello World," which bring in choose-your-own-path and logic gates into comics for an experience that you go through over and over again.
At first, "Jason Shiga's Demon" #1 focuses on a smaller puzzle, but one that's even more head-scratching, as the main character hangs himself on the first page of the comic... and then several pages later, awakens inside a hotel room, unharmed. From there we go through a series of suicides, ones where over and over again the room appears to reset with him back in the room... only with time, the main character begins to notice some slight differences.
It's a puzzle that is solved in future issues (since the web comic is ahead of the print edition for now), but going through the comic, it's nice to see (especially once you know the solution) that Shiga has carefully planted clues within his narrative. I'm not sure anyone would jump right onto the exact explanation as to what's going on, but there is enough there that people paying attention could put most of the pieces together. And that's one of the great things about most of Shiga's comics; he plans things in such a way that you never feel like anything was left to chance. If there isn't a huge, master outline for "Jason Shiga's Demon" out there that was completed well before the first page was drawn, I'll be shocked.
The art here is well-paced, with a great command for how a page is laid out. The first two pages work wonderfully; the nine panel grid starting off simply enough for the first eight panels on page 1, for example, with the protagonist writing a letter and stopping to think. When you hit that ninth and final panel and his legs are suddenly dangling from the top of the panel, that sudden shift is enough to give you pause. Turning to the next page, even though we can only see him from the shins down, the fact that the protagonist has hung himself becomes quite clear as the feet continue to dangle, and the light in the room slowly changes while flies begin to appear. It's showing without telling, and Shiga's great at that. The figures in his comic are good, too; once again, go back to that first page. Shiga draws people in a simple manner, but they're wonderfully expressive. Look how he fidgets in panel 5, chewing on the pen's butt in an unselfconscious manner. You can also track his eyes, watching them move back and forth as he writes, or rolling back just a bit as he thinks. Don't get fooled by the simple nature of his figures; Shiga really knows what he's doing here and he's a genuine talent.
That said, "Jason Shiga's Demon" #1 does have one problem that needs to be addressed; Shiga is clearly looking at the long game here. This first issue moves a little slowly, with the payoff still to come around the corner. Having read much further on the website (it's up to 144 pages there as of today), it comes together beautifully and there's still all sorts of surprises and adventure ahead. The series as a whole (so far) is great, but the first issue is just slightly above average. If there's enough you like here to read further, definitely stick with it; to use an old cliché of a phrase, it just gets better. If you aren't sure, go check out the website for yourself and read ahead. I bet you'll be pleased.