A Velvet Fist In An Iron Glove
Tripwire’s contributing writer Tim Hayes just cast his critical eye over New York Review Comics’ Jimbo: Adventures In Paradise…
Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise
Writer/ Artist: Gary Panter
New York Review Comics
Gary Panter’s Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise doesn’t have the full-scale shock of the new any more – unless of course it’s your first reading, in which case prepare for impact. The strips in this reprinting from New York Review Comics are from 1978 to 1987 or so, and both Panter and his Jimbo character have been out and about in other strips ever since; but it still has the bracing strangeness and charm of something important happening, of the right cartoonist in the right place carving his own path just to see what would happen. Panter’s style, which is several styles under the one label, looks as aggressive as a fist fight before revealing its tenderness once you’ve acclimatised, and sometimes only at that point can a meaning take shape as well. And especially so in the not-as-first-published order of the strips collected in the book, taking likeable slacker Jimbo from an easygoing life of partying and drugs down into the nuclear fires of an apocalypse. If good art is supposed to be clear about the strength of feeling behind it, then Panter doesn’t leave a reader in much doubt.
The events in the story are inseparable from the art that depicts them, but if you have to tease out something like a synopsis then it’s the episodic wanderings of affable punk Jimbo around Dal Tokyo, which although it’s only hinted at in these pages is in fact on Mars. He wanders around the sewers, he briefly gets access to the posh part of town before getting brusquely kicked out, he goes to a gig and drops acid. He gets involved with Judy, sister of his friend Smoggo (neither of whom are human), but then Judy is kidnapped by some militant cockroaches who threaten to detonate a nuclear bomb. Jimbo, after some dreamy hallucinations of Native American heritage and male insecurity and a few other digressions, tries to disarm the atom bomb; and since the story has by this point taken a turn for the less funny, the bomb goes off. After which more terrible things happen.
Panter’s art is famous for a harsh cubist inking, clothes and contours drawn in jagged hacks of ink; but some stretches of the story involve a change of art style in each panel, and even the lettering needs some deciphering. He and his character were involved in Art Spiegelman’s Raw anthology, and Jimbo is rooted in the evolutionary changes going on in US comics at the time, plus a heavy 1980s anti-nuclear horror. Some of Jimbo‘s modernism predicts cartoonists who were not yet in business too: the later heavy malcontents of Shaky Kane’s Deadline strips are stirring in here somewhere, plus Will Sweeney’s current insectoid crowd scenes. But when the going gets tough and the world burns down, Panter gets more individual, more radical. Colour overlays, collapsing lines, swirling mandalas and a bunch of other tools from the expressionist toolbox are jammed into the outlines of fractured figures and traumatic events. Panter sets about drawing the undrawable, and does.
Jimbo: Adventures In Paradise is out now from NYRC