The review I kept alluding to when my other computer wasn't working.

*Come! Stroll through my museum of recent history! My archives of critical potstickers, fresh from being fresh from the skillet! Get me an icebox, Madame, and a militia of wax cylinders - I have ideas to transmute!!!


Street Angel #5

Shining Knight #1 (of 4) (with a special bonus classic of surrealist film)

Mauretania (from 1990, an odd, moody comic of environment by Chris Reynolds, a unique and still little-known talent)

Bigfoot #1-2 (of 4), Wild Girl #5 (of 6)

Shaolin Cowboy Vol. 54 Issue #2 (shaping up to be a very nice little book if I do say so myself)

These are NOT wax cylinders they’re plain over-the-counter candlesticks WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO PULL, MY LEG?!

Jimbo #1-2

Ah, the imprint! Nothing in comics is more pleasurable. Marvel’s Epic. DC’s Vertigo. Dark Horse’s Legend. DC’s Helix. Marvel’s Tsunami. Malibu’s Bravura. Caliber’s Tapestry. Fantagraphics’ Monster. Each and every one of them cherished throughout the generations, their hallowed titles resounding in comics history. Today, we speak of such an imprint, one of the most curious of them all, yet among the most understandable.


An imprint of Bongo.

Bongo, as I trust most of you are aware, is the company that puts out all of those books related to “The Simpsons”. They’re still going strong today, having weathered a decade’s worth of market turbulence. “The Simpsons” as a television program is nothing if not a long-term survivor, and such a jolly attribute seems to be shared by the comics company which bears its license.

But Matt Groening was working long before the show first aired. I’m sure you know that. “Life in Hell”, his magazine/newspaper strip, had been rolling since 1978. He’d known some people in the scene at the time, the independent comics scene, which he still felt a kinship with. And now suddenly, it was 1995, and that TV show was a smash, and now he had a whole line of comics to work with. Why not provide a forum for some prime independent creators? Thus came Zongo in 1995, and among the primary creators recruited to provide material was “Raw” legend Gary Panter (for the record, the other major name was Mary Fleener, who produced two issues of her eponymous book, “Fleener”).

Panter, of course, you’ll recognize as the author of the recent, critically divisive, shoot-for-the-moon oversized hardcover medieval literature cum trash culture mash-up “Jimbo in Purgatory”. But my heart remains with his 1988 collection “Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise”, a dizzying display of shifting styles, ranging from hi-sci-fi Kirby exactitude to “Sin City”-style heavy shadow to scribbly doodling to The Greatest Drug Use Sequence In Comics History I’m Not Kidding to frankly astonishing use of flecks of orange paint (if you’ve read this book, you know exactly what I’m talking about). And all of it in service to Jimbo, Panter’s everypunk hero, wandering a future mutant world in search of whatever. Hear me gush some more right here (and damn if that post title isn‘t one of the best I‘ve ever written).

So hey, new Panter! But “Jimbo”, the pamphlet series released by Zongo, only lasted seven issues. Indeed, according to Panter himself (scroll down a bit), the book was “completely, terribly unpopular,” and by the end, only about 1000 copies of each issue were being printed. And hey, I’ll concede that Panter’s work isn’t the most immediately accessible; it takes time to absorb his mutating aesthetic, to appreciate his sense of story.

But the two issues of “Jimbo” that I managed to score, the earliest and presumably easiest to find issues, probably don’t do Panter any favors in the first impressions department. Everything in these books is rendered in Panter’s loosest, simplest, sketchiest format, although the careful eye can detect the visual style quietly growing more complex on progression through these issues. And one has to imagine that a few new readers were at least somewhat tempted to peep into this new book by this new imprint of this popular company putting out popular books, and what do they find? I can only speculate as to their reactions, but I suspect that a little “THREE BUCKS MY KID CAN DO THIS THE HELL?!” wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility. None of these new readers would have had any exposure to Paner’s wide range of styles. But perhaps even if they had, Panter’s particular feel would still prove to be unpalatable to a wider audience. Perhaps this first impression only hastened the inevitable.

Regardless, we got seven issues of new Gary Panter, and these two are pretty interesting. They’re both set up as a collection of one-page strips, each with their own titles or cast listings atop, and indeed the first few pages of issue #1 do provide some seemingly unconnected gags. But gradually, characters recur. Soon, scenes are continuing from page to page, despite the presence of those individual titles. Subplots form, and cross-cutting begins, with adventures carried over from issue to issue, and it‘s possible that some of them aren‘t being presented to us in proper chronological order. A city boy, Henry Webb, goes to visit his country cousins Songy and Yoyo; this leads to a barnyard chicken genocide, a severed limb, and the eventual rising of a mighty supernatural Rooster. A young boy named Bob War falls in with Fluke, a street-toughened punk, and they try to survive in an abandoned half of a bus with a little help from Senor Groty, a friendly zombie. Meanwhile, Jimbo is captured by a roving Friend Catcher (basically an armored police vehicle) and is sent away to the Time Motel, a prison made up to resemble a suburban bourgeois comfort zone. By the end of issue #2, a genuinely complex series of stories with a large cast has been assembled, and their world has become more and more defined. Notions of security v. individualism have been raised, with social class as a backing theme. It’s involving stuff, but it requires attention, and a certain affinity for rough, squiggly lines, and a determined lack of polish.

I liked these books. I want to see where Panter goes with this material. There’s so much unanswered, so much room for expectation. Do the visuals become more refined or complex, as the strip-by-strip progression suggests? Where will Panter go with his themes? With his characters? I liked the characters a lot; apart from structural concerns, I wanted to know what the axe-wielding Rooster planned to do after finishing his beer, or how Jimbo intended to confront his next-door neighbors. Apart from the simplistic reaction I’ve described above, the reaction of that hypothetical Panter newbie flipping through these pages for the first time, perhaps there’s a different, equally damaging first impression to be given by these books. Perhaps one might stare at these doodles, and instantly deem them impenetrable Art, with that ugly, damned capital ‘A’. A neo-primitive visual exercise, or some ironic statement, or a wank of the form. This is just as wrong a path, as it obscures your view of Panter the storyteller, spinning his yarn. As short-lived as this series was, it has already succeeded in pulling me in with only two issues, and it did it through words and pictures combining to tell me a tale, and this is no unique feat among even the most ephemeral of comics imprints, but a worthy feat nonetheless.

Go hunt for these comics.