Tag Archive for 'Dante'

On The Mount — An interview with Gary Panter

Jimbo in Purgatory

This interview with Gary Panter was conducted over a crackling phone line in New York in the spring of 2004. Panter had recently released his magnum opus Jimbo in Purgatory, a reading via comics of the middle part of Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Purgatorio , via Boccaccio and a host of other classics of European literature — particularly of the medieval and renaissance eras — dressed in pop culture drag.

Surely one of the most unusual works of comics of the past couple of decades, it is an incredibly dense and (let’s face it) difficult work. layered as it is in intertextual reference. But it rewards the committed reader, providing an oblique viewpoint upon the classical tradition, and not the least its humanist iteration as born in the late middle ages and developed through the renaissance to shape Western culture as we know it. Although its particulars may largely be forgotten today, Panter insists upon its currency and situates it at the heart of contemporary culture in what is merely the most hubristic manifestation of his ongoing efforts to break down the barriers between so-called high and low culture. By demonstrating that the two were always of a piece, fruitfully synthesized in multifarious ways through the early modern period, and alive and kicking today.

The interview was originally published in Danish at Rackham back in 2004, and was followed by my review of the book, which we also reprinted here recently. We named Jimbo in Purgatory Book of the Year back then, and the interview and review were at least in part an effort to get behind the scenes a little bit in order to unpack the work for the first-time reader, as well as to provide a little extra for Panter connoisseurs. I hope we succeeded, even if Panter’s subsequent edits never made it to my inbox, leaving a few lacunae in my transcript exposed and unelucidated. A pity, but in a way not inappropriate.

I’d like to start out by asking you about how the project came about. What prompted you to embark upon Jimbo in Purgatory? Which thoughts and ideas did you bring to it initially?

Two things happened. The first was that I started reading Finnegans Wake along with the footnotes to it. Secondly, I started thinking about why I had named my first Jimbo collection, the Pantheon book, Jimbo in Paradise. It clearly had to do with Dante, but I’d never actually read Paradise, I hadn’t read the Comedy. The reading of Joyce and the footnotes to it lead me to all this medieval stuff, all this satirical stuff, which really appealed to me, while Dante lead me to Boccaccio… Continue reading ‘On The Mount — An interview with Gary Panter’

Comics of the Decade: Gary Panter’s Jimbo in Purgatory

This is part of a Metabunker series celebrating a great decade in comics with Rackham by reprinting select reviews of the decades’ best comics from the Rackham archive, along with a number of new pieces.

Thus the unfacts, did we posses them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.

– James Joyce

In the twelfth canto of Purgatorio, the last step on the way before Dante can put behind him the burden of pride and rise up to the second terrace of Mount Purgatory, he stumbles — stooped and strained by sin — on an enormous comic, cut into the rocky pavement.

The comic tells the story of vanity and presumption from the dawn of time to the Biblical era. He is thus given the opportunity to reacquaint himself with the story of Niobe, Queen of Thebes, whose aggrandizement of her seven children over the goddess Leto’s two, lost them to the arrows of the gods and was transformed into a statue. Or the tale of the weaver Arachne who was punished for besting Pallas Athena with her art had to spend the rest of her life spinning webs as a spider. Or the tale of the Syrian warlord Holophernes who gave himself over to the murderous hands of the avenging Israelite Judith, or – not the least – the story of King Nimrod of Babel left broken on the plain of Shinar, his aspirations struck down in bitter confusion of language.

Gary Panter’s commentary track in comics, Jimbo in Purgatory, substitutes a diagonally placed tapestry of fifties B-movie posters for Dante’s comic. Standing in for the poet is his recurrent, Candide-like muscle man Jimbo, whose origins trace back to the early seventies, while Dante’s guide on the mountain, the Roman poet Virgil, is replaced by Jimbo’s parole officer, the box-shaped robot Valise. The angel who descends on them from the mountain and tells them about the transience of all life appears here in the form of the robot woman from Fritz Lang’s SF parable Metropolis (1927).

Panter’s version of the conversation is a fragmented jumble to Dante’s moving reflection on human worth. An exchange of classic nonsense and raunchy limericks stitched to samples from Boccaccio, Chaucer and Milton. The result is a poetic confusion of meaning in which twentieth-century pop artifacts are tried in the court of the classics, read in eclectic zigzag to engage only halfway tongue-in-cheek the questions raised by the source material. Continue reading ‘Comics of the Decade: Gary Panter’s Jimbo in Purgatory’