I try not to let myself become overly attached to material things, but this Jimbo book by Gary Panter is something I’ve treasured for 30 years. I bought it in 1982 from a headshop in Boulder, Colorado, called the Pipefitter. I hadn’t heard of Gary Panter before seeing the book. I was attracted to its large-format (14.5 inches x 11 inches) and especially the cardboard outer cover with the small black and red label glued onto it. (See more photos of the book here on my Flickr set).
Jimbo was published by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly’s (who also published RAW, a seminal underground comics anthology that showcased the early work of a great many talented artists, including Panter). At the time I thought $3 was a lot of money for a comic book! (Amazon has some used copies of Jimbo available. The cheapest is $30, which is well worth the price.)
When I brought it home and read it, I was blown away. The stories in the book originally appeared between 1978 and 1980 in the Los Angeles punk zine, Slash, and its titular hero was a hapless, giant, pink man-boy whose adventures vacillate between the mundane and the surreal, the comedic and the tragic. The artwork was deceptively crude — even then Panter had a fine understanding of composition, anatomy, form, cross-hatching, etc., and he was pushing the boundaries of comic book art. I’ve been an ardent fan of Panter’s ever since — from his comics, to his fine-art, to his Emmy-award winning set designs for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
Panter’s latest published work is Dal Tokyo, which has an even more interesting format than the Jimbo Raw One-Shot. It’s 16.25 inches wide by 6.5 inches tall.
It’s published by Fantagraphics, and it compiles every episode of Panter’s long-running strip (which ran in the alternative newspaper, The LA Reader, and later in the Japanese reggae magazine Riddim) about a Martian settlement established by Japanese and Texans. Why this particular combination? Panter, a Texan, says, “Because they are trapped in Texas, Texans are self-mythologizing. Because I was trapped in Texas at the time, I needed to believe that the broken tractor out back was a car of the future. Japanese, I’ll say, because of the exotic far-awayness of Japan from Texas, and because of the Japanese monster movies and woodblock prints that reached out to me in Texas. Japanese monster movies are part of the fabric of Texas.”
I didn’t know much about Panter’s background until recently, when I listened to Benjamen Walker’s interview with Panter on Too Much Information, a fantastic radio program on WFMU. Benjamen visited Panter’s studio in Brooklyn and had a revealing and fascinating conversation with Panter about his born-again Christian upbringing in Texas, his influential, long-lasting, and scary LSD experiences, and his interest in Japanese culture. Here’s the interview: