Jimbo in Purgatory
by Gary Panter
BW, 40 pgs
$29.95 US / Higher in Canada
Using Dante’s myriad of “shout-outs” to antiquity as inspiration, Gary Panter has created a beautiful and complex interpretation of the middle poem of The Divine Comedy: Purgatory.
Replacing Dante and Virgil is Jimbo. A punk/skater Everyman wearing nothing but a loincloth, Jimbo explores the stations of Purgatory, guided by Valise, his “parole robot.” As conveyed in Panter’s black and white “ratty line” style, Purgatory is a mammoth “infotainment testing center,” where participants seek, not cleansing, but a degree in Literature. To move up to Paradise, one must recite a passage that relates to the theme of a canto from Dante’s trilogy, along with a nod to Boccacio’s Decameron (which was written as a bawdy response to The Divine Comedy). These characters are detached and robotic, more interested in showing off knowledge than sharing any concrete wisdom. As Panter observes (quoting Ben Jonson): wisdom without honesty is meere craftâ€¦ and therefore the reputation of honesty must first be gotten; which cannot be, but by living well. A good life is a maine argument.” In short, don’t talk the talk unless ya walk the walk.
Each page, which corresponds to the thirty-three cantos of Dante’s Purgatory, is divided into nine panels, which in turn represent the seven terraces and two ledges of purgatory. The panels begin with a line from the respective Dante canto and are followed by an assortment of related quotes taken from numerous cultural sources (from Chaucer to Zappa).
In Dante’s original, the author often refers to aspects of his own life. In Panter’s version, we encounter an array of people and moments (dinosaurs, 60s rock stars, sci-fi movies) that have influenced his life and work.
Gary Panter’s output has included wild, deceptively crude, punk-tinged comic books (Jimbo); the set design for the TV show Pee-Wee’s Playhouse; Internet animation (Pink Donkey); interior design (the playroom in New York’s Paramount Hotel); and light shows. Graphically, the fusion of his raw, punk drawing style with assorted pop culture caricatures and more detailed, elaborate illustrations, captures the rebellious mix of the profound and profane in Dante’s original. Dante caused a bit of a stir when he wrote The Divine Comedy in conversational, everyday Italian instead of Latin, which was considered the only appropriate language for serious literature. Similarly, by using his natural idiom to interpret Dante’s “serious literature,” Panter rejects the notion that the comic book is a second-rate art form best suited for giggling teens.
Some five years in the making, Jimbo in Purgatory reveals the massive influence of Dante’s Divine Comedy while reminding us that while “there are no new things, under the sun,” “a kiss’d mouth doesn’t lose its freshness. Like the moon, it turns up new again.”
For Panter, a life without wisdom is a life stuck in a constant state of purgatory: neither one thing nor the other. (Chris Robinson)