Sunday, June 05, 2005


Our local public library has been acquiring a lot of graphic novels recently, which is good. However, they've apparently decided that virtually all graphic novels are for teens and belong on the shelves next to teen fiction (except for Asterix, Tintin, Pokemon and a few others, which go in the children's section). Among the "teen graphic novels" acquired recently was Gary Panter's Jimbo in Purgatory.

My first inclination was to mock the designation of Jimbo in Purgatory as "for teens." But thinking more deeply, this may actually be where it will do the most good. It may be just the thing to blow the mind of an adolescent who stumbles upon it unawares in the midst of the familiar manga and superhero books (with a soupcon of "safe" indies such as Bone). Certainly, considered as an artifact, it's one of the weirdest that the average adolescent is likely to come across here in downstate Illinois.

But I didn't stumble upon JiP unawares. I'd already seen some of Panter's earlier work, as well as other comics and manga that are just as weird as JiP, if not more so. And I'd seen a number of people proclaim JiP a masterpiece. So when I checked it out and examined it ("read" isn't quite the right word in this case, as I'll explain), my mind wasn't blown. In fact, I wasn't particularly impressed.

I said once before that I'm not a particular fan of Panter's art. And I found his art here less interesting, if anything, than in his earlier works. In fact, it seems to me to fail both as art and as "sequential" (i. e. comic-book) art: it's too cluttered and schematic for the latter, too repetitive and dependent upon "appropriated" imagery for the former.

And the words? To be honest, I stopped reading the words about a third of the way through. There's quite a lot of "dialogue," but it consists largely of quotations from Dante's Purgatorio, the Decameron and other classic and non-classic texts, and its relationship to any story is often difficult to discern. I suspect that Panter never intended the text to be read straight through; at any rate, I gained nothing from my attempt, apart from a few unusual quotes.

Perhaps in ten years, when the first collection of critical essays on JiP appears, I'll go back to the book, guidebook in hand.

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