Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise by Gary Panter

This book is all about the art rather than the story. As usual with books like that, I'm not going to be a lot of help here: I can look at things like that, but I don't have the art background or vocabulary to describe or explicate it well. So I may be quick and desultory today; I apologize if so.

Also, I should give a consumer warning. Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise has a 2021 copyright date for this New York Review Comics edition, which indeed came out last year. And the 1988 Adventures in Paradise book has been out of print so long that it would be easy to forget about it. But this is that old book: the only new things here are the cover, the foreword by Ed Ruscha, and a potted life story of creator Gary Panter in the afterword by Nicole Rudick. The comics and the art are exactly the same as the 1988 version: if you have or had or read that book, you know exactly what's in here.

So this book collects pages from 1978 through 1988, collected and assembled in 1988 and put into what I will somewhat shakily call a coherent form at that point. From the Rudick afterword, it seems that most of the few story beats that are here were introduced for the 1988 collection; Jimbo was a collection of scattered moments before that. (And mostly still is, even afterward.)

Jimbo is the central character of these pages, a punk in some dystopic future - again, the Rudick afterword explains that "Dal-Tokyo" is a city on Mars a hundred years or more in the future, which Panter has used in multiple stories over the years , but the book doesn't explain or define that. It's just a name, for this place in which random things happen. Jimbo is a big, beefy guy, but he's not a warrior or anything like that - just a regular dude, trying to get by, to get a burger in an automated restaurant or go to a punk show or find a girlfriend. (Or defuse an atom bomb, towards the end, but he's no good at that, anyway.)

As I said, the pages are arranged in a sequence, but they're mostly disjoint. It's easy to tell, especially in the first half, where each installment begins and ends - there are some longer sequences (most of the better work, actually) but there's also a lot of single or two-page ideas. Panter uses wildly different art styles, often on the same page, and the early part of the book has a weird repetitive effect where the first pages of a "story" are the crudest, the most "punk," and he amps up the finish as the story goes on, usually because Jimbo is moving from his natural place into automated and mechanized spaces.

Again: stuff happens. But it doesn't mean much, and it doesn't connect. Eventually, Jimbo gets a friend, and a girlfriend (the friend's sister), and then the latter gets kidnapped, and...then there's an extended sequence of Jimbo pretending to be an "Indian" somewhere out on the Plains until he stops and gets back to what I might as well call the plot. And there's nuclear terrorism, because it was the early '80s, and the threat of nuclear death was what every creator had lurking in the back of his head. Panter ends with a long sequence that could only be described by someone with better art-describing chops than I have; there's a lot of pages with striking pictures overlaid on top of each other, aiming at an apocalyptic effect. I mostly just wanted to get through it.

I don't remember my reaction to Jimbo the first time around; I was a college student, and I don't think I expected to like everything, anyway. I had enough lurking respect or fondness in the back of my head to come back almost thirty-five years later, if that means anything.

I will say the first page of this collection - I include someone else's old scan here - is iconic, and one of the greatest expressions of late 20th century uneasiness that have ever been put to paper. There are other moments here that may strike you as strongly, too. Panter is a deep and thoughtful artist; he's just not making the kind of art that forms "stories" and "sense" and "coherent narrative."

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