Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I seem to have wandered down a rabbit hole of esoterica as of late. It feels like the thing that began in high school, of liking things that were "indie" as opposed to "mainstream", when I watched Wes Anderson movies and listened to Pavement records, slowly gave way to more history in college- I think the first record I bought in Olympia was a reissue of Television's Marquee Moon, and one of the first DVDs I borrowed was Taxi Driver. That's just filling in gaps in the canon. And then I started watching movies like Little Murders and liking them a lot more Taxi Driver. You know, it's this thing that develops. It's become a cause for anxiety, because my best friend, who watched these movies with me, is moving out. And today I went to look at an apartment and found a guy who is, in general, similar to me- The same basic type of person, probably, but who I would probably be more psyched on three and a half years ago.

I shouldn't be harsh on this guy. If I moved in, I'm sure we'd get along, and I'm really hoping I can move in, so I won't be homeless.

My former roommate Evan Hashi has probably done the same thing as I have. We have different personalities and temperaments, but- I think he's done the same thing. The only thing is, he's specifically into music. I love music as well, but- It's like his thing particularly- He plays instruments, mixes recordings, has a radio show. For me, I write prose, I don't play music, but I like music a lot more probably because of that failing. I also like comics a lot, and maybe that's because I can't draw? I don't know. Maybe it's not because, so much as in spite of. Anyway. Because Evan specifically likes music, he's further down that particular rabbit hole, but not in a way that I see as my future, although I could certainly be wrong about this. Evan pretty much stopped listening to new music a little over a year ago, and when LCD Soundsystem came on at a party he made kind of disparaging remarks comparing it to Liquid Liquid. This is basically fine, although that new LCD Soundsystem is pretty fucking good, and maybe a party is better for dancing than dictating music criticism to no one. I haven't listened to his radio show, but I've heard him talk about it. And the other night I went to a party at his house, where I got really mad at him playing records- Stupidly mad. The party was kind of lame in general, being 95% dudes, so that contributed. But anyway- Evan's at that point that Quentin Tarantino's at- Not in terms of the quality of the work he makes, but at that level of nerdy specialization. And not the point of Quentin Tarantino's soundtracks, which are great. But the point of Quentin Tarantino's movie screening nights and presentation of DVD releases, where he's putting out really bad grindhouse movies that have one or two appealing shots or character actors or lines of dialogue. So at the party, there was a time when Evan was playing records that were annoying and bad that were either canonized (Bryan Ferry) or just had one or two good things per song, that a well-tuned ear could appreciate. I described it afterwards as novelty records- like Dr. Demento, if he had a show on WFMU. And I think that WFMU is amazing.

I'm kind of hoping that the fact that I don't just like music or movies with an all-consuming enthusiasm will stop me from getting to that point, but if it doesn't, I guess that's fine- I'm sure it will bring me joy to be that nerdy. But right now, I like the things that I stumble across and get obsessed with to be the opposite of the small character role. I like pieces of art that are completely overwhelming, almost monolithic. You might recall me talking about how great Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain was. The newest thing to find my favor is Gary Panter's Jimbo: Adventures In Paradise.

Gary Panter is a cartoonist, whose life story reminds me vaguely of Daniel Johnston's- Love of Jack Kirby, religious upbringing, acid trip- Except that Panter only took acid once, kind of hated it, although attributes importance to it, and followed through with his rejection of his parent's beliefs. Which I guess makes it completely different. Matt Groening likes them both, also. But Panter and Groening actually became friends, and Panter wrote a manifesto, The Rozz-Tox Manifesto, urging artists to infiltrate the mainstream themselves, because if you don't, you'll just be co-opted. This was probably one part influential to Matt Groening to one part articulating things he already knew. At the time of The Simpsons starting up, Panter was designing the sets on Pee-Wee's Playhouse. He also apparently wrote a Pee-Wee movie with Paul Reubens that wasn't made.

Panter also kind of draws like Daniel Johnston, but moreso it's true that he kind of draws like Brian Chippendale. And if you trace one strand of current alternative comics, like Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes, the people who do magazine illustrations, back up to Robert Crumb, or the Hernandez Brothers, it's safe to associate the people who do gallery shows, like the Fort Thunder dudes and Paper Rad, back to Gary Panter. This is kind of a paraphrase from a review I read today of the comic Cold Heat, that I loved, and meant to eulogize, but didn't. This is maybe bullshit because who knows if Panter would've drawn comics without the whole underground thing that Crumb helped to get going, and Charles Burns is but one of many people whose approach is a little of column A and a little of column B. In the awful comics issue of the awful Vice, I think, someone describes Panter as the first non-hippie to drawn an underground comic book. He is kind of a hippie though. But he's also described as the father of punk art. He might be the first not-a-misogynist man to draw an underground comic book.

God, this is all so much preamble. Before drawing these comics, he made comics in the early seventies that he threw at Marc Bolan at a T. Rex show. I imagine the people reading this blog will be coming at it with a music context.

Anyway. A lot of the contents of Jimbo: Adventures In Paradise are taken from the pages of Art Spiegelman's 1980 anthology RAW. Maus ran it that same anthology, as an insert, because it's smaller. This book is big, which showcases the art really well. I imagine it's the size of the actual magazine RAW, but I've never seen those. It's the size of the Charles Burns' El Borbah/Big Baby/Skin Deep reprints, or issue 23 of Eightball, or the Krazy Kat Fantagraphics softcovers- It's a really good size for presenting art at just the right size where it starts to bowl you over, you could hide your whole face behind one, which I don't think you can do with a normal size comic. Well, you kind of can- but after a lifetime, I'm really acclimated to that size. Art tends to look better bigger. Anyway, Art, as an editor, really encouraged Gary to go crazy with the art, drawing different styles with every panel, which is pretty much what happens in this book. There's also one-page comics from this late seventies punk magazine, Slash, that is rougher in its drawing style. This isn't to say it's bad, just that it's not as impressive. But it all coheres together as a book.

Anyway, it's all pretty much the opposite of Robert Crumb. There are no painstaking drawn images of women's asses here- For one thing, the artist has admitted he doesn't know how to draw attractive women. But more importantly, the art is drawn furiously, energetically. For another thing- I don't sense satire here, or irony, or the neuroticism that's in Crumb. There's anxiety, and it's palpable, but it's about the state of the world, the fear of a nuclear apocalypse. Note: These were comics drawn during the 1980s. There's a sense of humor to it, but- Okay, how can I best express the point of view in this comic, in words? One one-page strip drawn in 1978 contains a caption that reads "Can't stand a little emotion? Go read Nancy!" This is kind of a joke, but it's followed up a month later, a page later, in 1979, by Nancy appearing in the comic to reprimand the title character, Jimbo- "OK MAN! What's this I hear... about your calling my strip devoid of sentiment? I mean right on the surface it functions as a nostalgic buffer against future shock for a tired and technology-torn species." Hopefully you can read in the prose, there's a certain velocity there, even when it becomes more poetic, as well as my description of the drawing as, this work is kind of the screaming in terror as it runs towards the future, fleeing from nostalgia, which is maybe a good way to establish it as having the same point of view as punk. Only it remains really empathetic. The final sequence in the book is about a fear of nuclear bombs, as Jimbo tries to stop a bomb from going off, but can't- It ravages everything. The last bit is a sequence about a horse on fire, and Jimbo trying to kill it to end it's suffering, but unaware of whether or not what he does actually creates more suffering? It's kind of an amazing summary of what it feels like to be human, especially coming at the end of a collection, rather than as a piece in an anthology. It's also the moment that's more sustained in its drawing style than anything else in the book. Oh wait, looking at it again, that's not really true, it switches up a lot still.

Anyway, I think it's amazing. It's also out of print. There are other Gary Panter books in print, but they're not as good- one's a sketchbook, one's a reprint of a comic that he drew that Matt Groening published in the nineties and sold for three-dollars blown up and packaged as a hardcover- That's a version of Dante's Inferno with each canto done as a six-panel comics page, loosely translated, with burning hell replaced with a shopping mall. You might be able to read that for free in a good bookstore, but it's not anywhere as mindblowing as this thing. It's sad that a lot of his stuff is either out of print, and scattered to the winds, and that he's not really that prolific as a comics artist. He does some short work, that'll show up in an anthology or somewhere, like he was in McSweeney's 13, but those tend to not be so good. He's also a painter, but you know- those aren't reproduced so much. He does prints, and they go for fine-art prices. Picturebox is doing a monograph of his work next year, which will be good, but- I think he's really great at comics, and only so-so at painting. It's possible that book will prove me wrong. But this book that I have is a masterpiece. I would offer you come by my house and read it if you're in town, but I'm moving soon, and need to pack it up.

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