I meant to start blogging more consistently. It seems a productive way to spend time in front of the computer when my kind can't crank out the fiction as I would like to.
On the same library sojourn that led to me checking out the Millhauser book, the first thing I saw when I walked in the door was a copy of Gary Panter's Jimbo In Purgatory. It's massive, with a bright red cover printed with gold and black ink. It turns out that it actually is bigger than Brian Chippendale's Ninja. It's an inch wider, and just as tall. Both books cover my torso, whereas an average-size comic would only cover my face.
The thing is, there's margins to it, on each page, which Ninja doesn't have- Ninja consumes the paper its printed on, this has more of a frame. Each image has a frame as well, each page consists of a nine or twelve-panel grid, with a drawn frame boxing it in. It looks more like a painting. Or an engraving, actually.
Oh yeah- and it is really is fucking unreadable as a comic. There's an introduction that gives you a conceptual framework, that it's based on Dante's Purgatorio. Each page represents a canto. The poem is followable, narratively, but the comic isn't. The text people speak is just meant to refer to the poem, using references from outside sources- One line is from the Syd Barrett Pink Floyd song "Astronomy Domine," referring to water, because there's a part of the poem where water comes up? It's completely insane. And really hard to follow- The only part you're able to work out from the images is the conclusion- A purifying flame gets passed through, and on the other side is paradise. This is a cool moment, where the images from the panels kind of pass on into the larger frame, which lets the images breathe a bit more. Anyway, ir works more as conceptual art than as a comic, only it's visually stunning, which can't really be said of the sort of conceptual art that would be on a gallery wall?
Conceptually, I suppose, I approve. There's an explication- "purgatory" is a place of higher education. People are going for English degrees, they get this by quoting other people's work. (This is vaguely similar conceptually to John Barth's Giles Goat-Boy.) It's a thing to be passed through, to then be able to do whatever. The thing is, it's really tedious. I'm not planning on going to grad school. In Ninja, there's a panel where a guy on a cloud says "I must shit out all my borrowed ideas" and then proceeds to pop a squat, and that one panel amounts to the same thing, essentially.
What's weird is that- Ninja was drawn over five years, essentially, between 2002 and 2006. Jimbo In Purgatory was printed in 2004, but was completed before then- With the last pages being drawn in 2001. It's described as a work five years in the making, and if this is true, this would take it to 1997. 1997 is when the last issue of Jimbo came out- the one that would be reprinted in 2005 as Jimbo's Inferno. This fall, another Brian Chippendale book is coming out- Maggots, which was apparently drawn in 1996, the year Fort Thunder was founded, and it looks to be a weird and primitive thing. What I'm suggesting in my mind is this kind of weird twin psychic energy pulse that grows in beats back and forth between people who were probably largely unaware of the other, but are nonetheless pursuing the same things forward. Five years of Gary Panter doing this thing called Jimbo In Purgatory that's kind of unsatisfying on its own but leads inadvertently to this thing Brian Chippendale spends five years doing called Ninja. That said, I've previously established that I think that the 1988 book Jimbo: Adventures In Paradise is a masterpiece. The artistic success of that is probably what led to the publication of the Jimbo comic in the mid-nineties, that Matt Groening put out. But, there, the imposition of a schedule, one thirty-two-page comic every three months, led to Panter willfully going back to a more primitive style to start, so he could draw quickly at first and work up to more detailed stuff using the time he gained. Like he hit a reset button on his comics skill-set, going back to the primitive, which is where Brian Chippendale was at at the time, although in a completely different form. Brian Chippendale was drawing all over a Japanese catalog while Gary Panter was reprinting comics he did for a Japanese reggae magazine in the eighties. (That comic, Dal-Tokyo, will be reprinted in finer form later on this year, too, actually) (Now that I think of it, it might be worth noting that Gary Panter, after September 11th, decided to have that comic read right-to-left, in the traditional Japanese comics style. Chippendale, for his part, had been doing comics that went back and forth from left-to-right to right-to-left from tier to tier since he started doing his Maggots minicomics.)
Basically, when Panter finished drawing Jimbo In Purgatory, that was addressing a whole history of narrative, in a manner arrived at following a reset back to a primitive drawing style, Brian Chippendale was then able to return to comics he'd actually drawn as a little kid, and consider the stuff he was doing a continuation, and have that new work have much more narrative thrust than his work had previously.
The two shared an hour of signing at the Picturebox table at MOCCA in New York a few months ago, which in my mind must've been a sight to see. I'm sure they'd met before, but what a weird moment for crossing the streams, Ghostbusters-style.