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GARY PANTER interviewed by The Comics Reporter

Updated June 17, 2008

CR Sunday Interview: Gary Panter
By Tom Spurgeon
June 15, 2008

Gary Panter may be the best and most successful cartoonist working in the medium right now that thinks of himself first as a painter. Panter as Painter is the main organizing principle of PictureBox Inc.'s new, slip-cased, shared-name tribute to one of the comics form's acknowledged masters -- and a first-rate designer and illustrator, besides. It's as beautifully photographed and designed as one might expect given the publisher and subject matter. There are component sections that all by themselves would have made exemplary publications.

The great bonus of Gary Panter is that because, as Panter acknowledges in the following interview, the book is designed to introduce people to his work. A slew of first-rate support material dissects and explains both Panter's work and his attitudes towards it. There's no book out there right now that's more important in terms of a must-add to any serious comics library. I love talking to Gary and this interview was no different. We played phone tag for a while before the following conversation took place. He sounded tired.


TOM SPURGEON: Your publisher, Dan Nadel, suggested to me that you've been really busy promoting the book. What has that been like?

GARY PANTER: It's just been crazy. This book was a wish that I had since I was a little kid, basically, since I started looking at art books. It was beyond my wildest dreams. And now we have to go sell it. We're doing it by any number of ways. Making music, doing lectures, doing signings, throwing parties, opening Dairy Queens...

SPURGEON: [laughs] How was Los Angeles? You just got back.

PANTER: It was really good. In Los Angeles I played a musical performance with my friend Devin Flynn, who does the Y'all So Stupid cartoon on the Superdeluxe web site. We have a CD coming out, Ecstatic Peace. I programmed an evening at the movies, a local movie theater. I programmed Satyricon [chuckles]. And they all had to sit through it. I've watched it a million times. And then I did a lecture and a signing at Starlight Books where Matt Groening introduced me, like having Walt Disney introduce you. Two Walt Disneys. Someone walked off with my glasses, which is where I was earlier this afternoon, getting them replaced. They were expensive glasses.

SPURGEON: Someone just walked off with your glasses?

PANTER: Yeah, I had them next to me on the table where I was signing. After the signing they were gone. They're like $500 glasses.

SPURGEON: Well, that sucks.

PANTER: Then what happened? Then we had a big party. Artforum had a big party for me at the Chateau Marmont, sponsored by Paul Reubens and Matt Groening and Mike Kelley, all like star power names. It was just a big party and a lot of my friends came. I don't know if anyone was there from Artforum or not. It's kind of a mystery. I think we entered into the realm of... once DAP picked up promotion of the book, suddenly I'm meeting art people I've only vaguely heard of. And if I've heard of them they must be giant because I don't know anything.

That's what I've been trying to get going all these years: my painting career. That's the point of this whole book. Painting. Maybe it will work.

SPURGEON: You said an art book is something you always wanted to do. Were you inspired by art books growing up?

PANTER: My father's still a painter, you know. I lived in a tiny town. I was a nerd, so I hung out at the library looking at all the art books. I got into Picasso and all that stuff. My father ran a dime store so I was around comic books like any kid... at the barber shop... but it really wasn't until I saw Zap Comix in '69 that I started thinking about doing comics. I was already painting giant paintings by then. I studied painting in college and I've shown paintings every year, almost, since then. It's just been totally eclipsed by becoming a famous illustrator and cartoonist.

SPURGEON: Reading the book, there's a very comforting and reassuring tone to it. It's presented in a very matter-of-fact way that I imagine would be very appealing to a young artist. Were you cognizant of reaching that kind of audience with this book? Did you want to have a dialog of a certain kind with the potential reader?

PANTER: The book was really the creation of Helene [Silverman, the book's designer] and Dan. I just kind of watched it and moved things around for them. I didn't know how the book was going to turn out. My only wish was that the book really feature my paintings and that it not feature my illustration. To me the book looks really soothing in the front when you see all of those paintings, that's a somehow comprehensible color experience, and in the back it seems kind of like some closet opening and all this stuff falling out. Comics, puppets, light shows... all that kind of stuff. And then it's natural that sketchbooks would be their own thing, just 'cause it's its own activity. I just kind of wished for it and then watched what happened.

SPURGEON: The suite of written material, how did that become a part of the book?

PANTER: The essays I think need to be in an art book because most people, any artist almost, if you see them in an art store you don't know who they are, maybe, and then if these other people you have heard of speak for them... that's definitely the front of the book.

The interview happened because Edwin Pouncey wanted to write a book on me a million years ago. My friend Norman Hathaway was always pushing us to do this book. So when it started, though it changed over time, Dan brought Edwin over for a couple of weeks and he interviewed me, about 20 hours worth. They went back and transcribed that, and then decided there wasn't enough stuff on the painting end because Edwin and I just started talking about stuff we like to talk about. For 20 hours.

Then Dan asked me a whole bunch more questions and it got edited into this monologue at the end, which is kind of foreign and strange to me. That's what they're like. They're normal, I think.

SPURGEON: At one point you suggest there's an imbalance between how you're known and how you'd like to be known. What kind of reaction to the people have that come to your painting through your comics and illustration work? Do they have a different reaction? Do they just not care about that aspect of your work? With a book like this, are you getting reactions from people that came at it expecting something a bit different?

PANTER: There's been a few comic fans that are disappointed there's not more comics in it. My comics have been like a million times more accessible than this other stuff. I'm not worried about that. I think a lot of people do know I paint in the illustration community. It's in the fine art world they don't know I paint because I started a dialog elsewhere.

I have been showing for years and years. I was never affiliated with a giant gallery that could move into really selling paintings for a lot of money, which would be the objective. Gracie Mansion went out of business after I showed with her in the late '80s. That was a big gallery; she was great. This show I just had in New York, Clementine, they've also gone bankrupt just because of the hesitation of the market the last eight months. I have a really neat gallery in Dallas. I dropped out of Billy Shire's gallery in LA, because he wasn't selling my work, and I think he has too many people doing imagery in there. It's like all these weird relationships.

I can't make money from cartoons. Four thousand people read my comic books. I can't make money from comics. I sell my original for a lot of money when I sell my comics, but it's very finite. I think most art is really underpriced. Comic art. So it's good for people like us where if we get money we buy comic art.

SPURGEON: So a book like this, what can that do for you? Does it help you establish relationships with galleries? Is it just bringing that aspect of your work to the attention of people who follow that art form?

PANTER: I think a book like this makes people happy; it's like a chance to go through an artist's drawers. If you care what's in there.

But, yeah: it's supposed to connect me up to people in the world that buy paintings that never heard of me before. If I could sell eight paintings a year at a decent price, I could afford to do comics. I can't afford to do comics. I just do little illustrations one after another, design tennis shoes or whatever, throw the money at the bills. That's why it takes another eight years for Jimbo to come out.

Maybe I'll never make a lot of money. I'm making a lot of money compared to most cartoonists, I think. It's just... New York's expensive. Everyplace else is expensive, I guess. Being adult is expensive. As you know, right?

SPURGEON: If I ever become one, I'll let you know.

PANTER: Any trip to the hospital can change everything.

SPURGEON: There were a couple of statements you made in the course of that long essay that I found interesting. One was that you spoke about great art coming out of infantile obsessions.

PANTER: [laughs]

SPURGEON: I'm inclined to agree with you but I wonder about the difference between great art that comes out of infantile obsessions and most art that comes out of infantile obsessions. Bad art. Because certainly the latter is more prevalent.

PANTER: When I said that and when I read it later I thought, "That was a lame thing to try and get away with." [Spurgeon laughs] At the same time, say, like the Lowbrow art movement now. It deals with infantile obsessions. But I'm sorry, guys -- and this really might piss some people off -- there's not a lot of ideas there. You can line up the favorite toys you ever had, and draw pictures of them, and maybe it will be great art and maybe it will just be a picture of some neat-looking toys. I get excited about art that's beautiful and interesting to look at, but also opens up a new part of my head. So a lot of the art I'm interested in is infantile obsessions or basic obsessions; the thing that drives great artists, the ones that I get excited about -- and I get excited about a lot of artists. I just had the pleasure with Dan of going to meet Karl Wirsum and his wife up in Chicago. In some ways he's a guy you might say he's dealing with infantile obsessions. He's certainly almost regressed into almost a psychotic state -- or simulating a psychotic state in order to produce these beautiful statements.

Say Dan Flavin. A guy who lines up light fixtures in interesting ways. Where did that come from? Is it infantile obsessions? Is it an obsession? Is it just a well-composed picture? What? It makes me think a lot more than just one more Tiki and a fez.

SPURGEON: For someone who's not used to thinking about visual art in a sophisticated fashion, is there any way to get at exactly what you mean by there not being a lot of ideas there?

PANTER: It's kind of like if you read a comic book and it's like Carl Barks vs. Underdog. Underdog could be well-written or even well-executed. It's how you judge the art that you see and what gets you personally excited. The same things won't necessarily get us excited. To me, it's more exciting if I see that there's permission or something that reinforces an idea I had that I couldn't articulate. Or it actually takes my blinders off for a minute. That can happen in any medium, from poetry to short story writing to whatever.

Eduardo Paolozzi and Claes Oldenburg I think are examples of guys who took childish activity and then built it into an adult artistic practice. Eduardo Paolozzi, he's kind of the founder of English pop art almost. Along with JG Ballard, the writer, and Richard Hamilton. He was an Italian in England, and his father was interred in World War II when the Italians were arrested in England, and accidentally sunk on a ship. They had an ice cream store. He got interested in everything. He has this omnivorous appetite for all kinds of information. He ended up being a main sculptor in England, but also a collage artist and that's where the term pop came from, from one of his collages. He would cut everything together from National Geographics and comic books.

Anyway, he did these silk screen portfolios in the 1960s and 1970s that were kind of a huge fuel for pop. Warhol's the only one anyone thinks about anymore. He was really... he did beautiful stuff, but he was about branding, mostly. That's what people were trying to do, was just brand.

Gee, I'm just blabbing on and on. [laughter]

SPURGEON: Is there a danger at this point in your career -- you talk about repetition a bit in the written material. Did looking at the work in the course of making a book out of it make you think of it differently? Is there a danger in following specific interests that you have in terms of getting too locked into something rather than seeing the art in a fresh way?

PANTER: I seem to make old guy comics now. I remember working for this animator back in the '70s: Tex Henson, who had been at Disney in the '30s. He was drawing these stupid comics that looked kind of like Spike and Tyke. Bulldogs and cats and stuff. And I thought, "Gee, what an idiot. I'm doing this advanced, Clockwork Orange-y stuff. I'm in the future, and he's back there with his stupid bulldogs." Now I'm drawing bulldogs and cats and squirrels. What is that? I can't be hip and fresh and young. I'm not that anymore. I try to be, so that's sort of what I can do. Making music puts me on an edge. In religion I couldn't do music; it was a stunted thing. A forbidden thing. In the last couple of years I've really tried to do that with my friend Devin. That's totally like skittering on ice. Pushing it. Everybody's not going to like this, but so what? I won't be as angry in the old folks home if I risk more.

SPURGEON: Is that a feeling you can only achieve by moving into a different art form? Is there blowback that has an effect on your painting or on your cartoons?

PANTER: I think it's the same in every area. Each area has different challenges. I'm trying to figure out what the next Jimbo book would be. How long it will take to do, will I live long enough to see it done. That kind of stuff. I can't make a bigger book. It doesn't make sense to me. I can't make Paradise bigger. That's stupid. The way I keep comic books is just in shoe boxes, with little comics in bags in there. Then I think about making genre comics in bags in a shoe box or something? Maybe doing a comic with different characters, different genre comics or something. I'm just trying to think fresh about it.

If I were to follow through, the logical thing to do with Jimbo in Paradise would be to make it a few inches bigger, make it even more mandalic, make it erotic, make it this and that. But I don't know that I want to get on that same treadmill.

SPURGEON: The new book is a real big, fancy slip-cased hardcover production. And yet some of your work has been in ragged formats, mini-comics and comic books distributed or even published by Marvel. You've been all over the place in terms of format. Do you make format choices specific to the project, or is there an overriding element to those choices?

PANTER: It's important to make something that's thrilling. A mini-comic, with the right color of paper, the right staples, the right distance apart, the right way to ink, and a little stack of them on your table, can just be totally thrilling. And so can an embroidered patch, right from a factory. Or a stupid plate like I draw on that's on my site. I'm just trying to stay excited.

I grew up -- not on a farm, but a little suburb in a little town. It was just boring, you know? "God, I'm just stuck here. What's out there?" So when the '60s happened, and it was in magazines, it was very exciting. "Oh my God, it's like, this water's rushing through. We're going to go with and see what happens." I always wanted to be one of those people or identify with that process of finding interesting stuff and passing it along and trying to suggest things to do. That's one thing that's fun to do, is to think of something like puppets. "Oooh, I hate puppets. They suck. They're stupid." [Spurgeon laughs] But you could do something neat with them. Contrary with them. And if you did the right thing, then you could like stimulate interest in that medium in a way.

It's for myself and it's for this audience. I like the idea of affecting others somehow.

SPURGEON: I guess the danger would be doing something that's contrary without anything to it.

PANTER: Yeah, that would be bad. [laughter] I did this mini-comic where this squirrel is obsessing about Henry Webb's balls. [Spurgeon laughs] Chris Ware wrote me and said that his wife, Marnie, had been chuckling about it at night. I felt like a giant success for the rest of my life. Someone really woke up again and had a chuckle. What could be better?

SPURGEON: How do you feel about the attention that's paid to your comics work? Your inclusion in the Masters show, things like that... how do you react to that degree of recognition of something that might not even be what you'd most like to be known for?

PANTER: That was just really lucky. That was really... perhaps inappropriate. [laughs] It was fantastic. It was just a dream to be associated with these people that are a million times better than me. I think it's all good, you know? Just as a matter of economics, if I happen to make interesting paintings, and I can find people that will buy them for lots of money, then I can do a lot more crazy projects. I can build more sculptures and do all kinds of things. As it is, I can hit the bills every month, I've been doing that for 35 years, and then stealing time in the middle of the night to do this kind of stuff. Apply for grants, and I haven't got them yet. I have some kind of ambition to... at 57 I realize I'm not going to be around for a while, and what am I waiting for? If I really want to do something, I might as well get on with it.

This book, the fear at the beginning was "Oh my God, I won't have enough stuff to go into this book." One cool thing was finding out, "Oh, I've got too much stuff for this book." The book's just like a slice, and that's kind of exciting.

SPURGEON: Is there any worry that a book like this can be seen as a tombstone? That it's a summing up?

PANTER: You could kill someone with it.

SPURGEON: That's true, and I have. [Panter laughs] Is there anything that's daunting about having this kind of summary statement out there?

PANTER: I could die right now and have a mission accomplished. I'm really a lot more ambitious than that. I'm thinking, "Man, if I can only live 15 more years and be productive, I can do another book's worth." I get encouraged a whole lot. A lot of encouragement. I could do more things.

SPURGEON: Here's kind of a weird question. I was preparing for this interview and someone was sitting over my shoulder and commented on a picture of you on my screen, saying you looked much too skinny and healthy to be a cartoonist.

PANTER: [laughs]

SPURGEON: It's not always a healthy lifestyle, being an artist. Is there anything you do that might help you make those 15 years?

PANTER: I have diverticulitis [laughs]. I can only eat half my food. If I eat all of my food, I have to go to hospital. Or not eat for a week. I've lost about 15 or 20 pounds since I got it a few years ago.

We live in a three-story house, so I go up and down the stairs a hundred times a day. I don't really exercise as such. I play guitar really hard for an hour a day. I masturbate a few times a day. [Spurgeon laughs] But that's not really aerobic.

SPURGEON: I always wonder how artists avoid some of the pitfalls of the lifestyle.

PANTER: Cigarettes are horrible. I smoked cigarettes for years. That was like a vote every day for death. I've continued smoking pot for 35 years. I've got these allergies and things. I don't think pot's killing me. I had my lungs x-rayed. They looked fine. I do have asthma now from the stupid cats.

I think not being too heavy is probably a lot of it. I don't eat great food. I drink a lot of chocolate milk and my wife makes a real meal once a day. But I can't overeat. I used to.

SPURGEON: While I'm asking odd questions, you were really early on in your appreciation of Jack Kirby when he passed away. There's been this huge body of work in a similar vein since. I don't know if you follow that stuff, all the books and magazines, but do you feel there's anything that's under-appreciated or not yet appreciated about him?

PANTER: I think he's really appreciated. The comics world is one world, but I think that Kirby does escape into the wider world pretty often. I see articles about him a lot. He was appreciated in the comics world. Now he's even more directly imitated and stuff. I don't know if his heirs have as much money as they need to have. That would be nice.

I've loved Jack Kirby since my friend David Douglass turned me onto him in the fifth or sixth grade. I didn't get it at first but then -- by the second bologna sandwich [laughs] -- I figured out what was so great. When that '70s stuff happened, the DC stuff, most of me and my friends have all that stuff. It's not worth anything because we all bought it, but it's worth it for those socko covers every month, the spreads.

I accidentally drove to Thousand Oaks when I was in LA. I took a wrong turn. You get out there in Thousand Oaks and it's the landscape from his comics. Blistered, planet-wracked mountains out there. It's really interesting if you go to Thousand Oaks.

SPURGEON: What about the landscapes in your own work?

PANTER: It's really important for a lot of reasons.

SPURGEON: Is it a Texas landscape we're seeing?

PANTER: Texas, Mexico, the southwest... alien planets. Kind of a figure grounding thing. First I paint the background and then I put the figures in front of it. Whatever they are. Even if they're bricks or fragments. Usually they're fragments of characters and objects. Ed Ruscha did some wide, narrow paintings that I love back in the '70s. That kind of got me going in that direction. Painting really wide, narrow paintings. It's like a landscape.

There's something I'm trying to think of that I can't think of. I know this is going to make no sense. Robert Storr, the guy who wrote the interview at the front of the book: he's a powerful art world figure. He's always been really nice to me. His paintings -- I haven't seen them, but I've talked to him about them over the years. They're very formal. He's probably just painting rectangles and squares or something. Probably very beautiful. He saw my work as jumping all over the place and never settling down. He asked me what held it together. I hemmed and hawed, but when he left I thought about it. What I came up with -- this is really stupid -- when I start painting I think of where's the water. You don't necessarily see the water, but that's the first thing I think about. You already have air, or you'd be dead. You have a while to find water. In the paintings, that's what I think about. That's the first moment, anyway.

SPURGEON: I'm near the end of my time with you -- so what's next? You mentioned you were trying to figure out the next Jimbo, which means that's a ways off. What are you working on right now?

PANTER: I've been doing a lot of formal paintings. I think when people have seen my paintings in shows over the years, they've been like, "Oh. Cartoony paintings." People have been encouraging me to do more oddball installations -- the kind of things I do here in my studio. I've done a couple of those now. One's up at the Aldrich Museum, and one was at the Clementine which you can still see on-line. I did weirder installations. People seemed to really respond to them. They're encouraging me to say, "Okay, I'm not going to be totally austere here." Do something a little crazier.

I'm following up a lot of leads now, applying for grants and stuff. I'd like to stage some events, and maybe they would involve publications and chocolate milk dispensers and puppet shows and live bands and light shows. Some kind of happening or something. I don't know. I'll draw a picture first.

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Featured artist

Gary Panter


  LYNDA BARRY and GARY PANTER discussion panels reviewed in Artforum

Updated June 12, 2008

"Comic Relief"
Andrew Hultkrans

Despite lingering cultural prejudices from bluenoses and blue-hairs, comics have periodically "arrived" on the mainstream stage since the late 1960s. Each "moment" generated reams of earnestly legitimizing articles in respectable journals trumpeting the medium's "newfound" sophistication, artistic achievement, and adult relevance, but all failed to reach critical mass. Today, however, with Hollywood working its way through the Marvel pantheon, Adrian Tomine's work frequently gracing the cover of the New Yorker, and museum exhibitions honoring everyone from R. Crumb to Chris Ware, it may be for real. "Post Bang: Comics Ten Minutes After the Big Bang!" nobly sought to map the dimensions of this ostensibly new cosmos. Organized by Art Spiegelman and Kent Worcester and sponsored by the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU in collaboration with the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, the all-day symposium-comprising four panels and two creator interviews-kicked off the weekend-long MoCCA Art Festival. Pacing myself, I attended two of the panel discussions and both interviews.

The first panel paired two comic evangelists with wildly divergent ideas about how to historicize their beloved medium. Moderated by Robert Storr, curator and dean of Yale's School of Art, "Comics and Canon Formation" pitted curator and author John Carlin, who helped mount the 2006 exhibition "Masters of American Comics" at the Hammer Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and coedited its massive catalogue, against Dan Nadel, proprietor of PictureBox, a Brooklyn-based publisher of comics and visual books and the author of Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969. Storr began by saying that, for the high-art world, comics had long been viewed as merely supporting materials to painting, and that the long-overdue elevation of comics to capital-a art has finally arrived.

Carlin, who also organized a comics-based exhibition at the Whitney in 1983, when he was a grad student, said that the cartoon-inspired art of Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and Jean-Michel Basquiat resonated with his own aesthetics, but it wasn't until he found his way to Spiegelman's studio that he really learned about comics history. Storr, in introducing Nadel, called his book an "alternative canon." Nadel, who onstage had the mild air of awkwardness so common in comics nerds, deadpanned, "No, it's not. It's a broadening of scope . . . adding more lanes to the highway." He testily objected to the high-versus-low frame, the notion that comics need to have aspirations to literature or fine art, and characterized the problem as a generational split: At thirty-one, he feels that older generations are still fighting a fight that has already been won; comics do not need or want any help from the upper crustaceans of "high" art.

Carlin defended his canonization efforts by citing auteur theory in film, linking Krazy Kat's George Herriman and Little Nemo's Winsor McCay to Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford-creative titans who invented the language of their medium-and said that canons were intended to cause controversy and stimulate debate. Nadel countered that any attempt at devising an auteur theory of comics was premature because so much of comics history is obscured or lost, beyond its most famous practitioners. Carlin compared their impasse to that between those who prefer The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's to Love's Forever Changes or vice versa, with himself tending to side with the more successful cultural products. Nadel refused to be framed this way, saying he was not taking a Nuggets approach to comics history, but that he merely wanted to avoid the mistakes of past canonizations of other art forms. As the panel came to a close, nothing was resolved. No punches, but no hugs either.

The next panel boasted more participants but generated far less wattage. Moderated by Canadian comics scholar Jeet Heer, "Comics and the Literary Establishment" brought together three comics critics and historians to discuss the perils of plying their trade. Wondering aloud whether comics had become "too respectable" in a way that might harm the medium, Heer received a unanimous "No." Hillary Chute, a Harvard research fellow who wrote her doctoral dissertation on, among other things, Spiegelman's Maus; Douglas Wolk, author of Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean; and David Hajdu, author of The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, all replied that while bandwagon jumpers from book publishing and Hollywood were a mild menace, academic or serious writing on comics would not leach the form of its grittiness and essential disrepute. But the most ear-pricking moment was when Hajdu, whom Heer had called "Hoodoo" twice, corrected the moderator by explaining that there was a David Hodo, but he was the construction worker in the Village People, not the bespectacled author in the room that afternoon.

Unsurprisingly, the creator interviews were more entertaining. First, old friends and colleagues Spiegelman and Gary Panter-painter, punk poster artist, and pervy purveyor of Jimbo and other comics-sat for a tandem Q&A with comics critic Bill Kartalopoulos. Describing their drug-addled '60s initiation into "underground" comics, both under the sway of patron saint R. Crumb, the two artists walked us through the history of independent cartooning in magazines like Zap, Arcade, and Funny Animals. The letters l, s, and d rolled off their tongues frequently, to nervous audience laughter every time -one of Panter's drawings, done on acid, was even projected onscreen. They both admitted, however, that they didn't do any good work while on the drug; it was merely a source of inspiration for later projects, including Panter's production design for Pee-wee's Playhouse. Spiegelman did get the seed idea for Maus while on some speed that the Funny Animals editor sent him to hasten his contribution to an issue: Having heard a theory that Mickey Mouse was based on Al Jolson in blackface, Spiegelman envisioned a strip with Ku Klux Kats. Soon realizing he knew next to nothing about African-American culture but plenty about Jewish culture, he transposed the concept, and a classic was born.

Both creators acknowledged their debt to fine art, though Spiegelman confessed he was a latecomer, or "slob snob," until Ken Jacobs helped him see that painters were cartoonists "who just worked with really large panels." Eventually, Spiegelman wanted to apply modernist styles-Cubism and Art Deco-to comics. Panter liked George Grosz and other early-twentieth-century painters, saying, "We could learn from art up to 1920 forever." Both were fond of Philip Guston, particularly when he returned to his cartoonist roots, and wondered "Who got there first, Guston or Crumb?" Panter said that each of these artists underwent a parallel evolution in 1967-Crumb from a bad acid trip; Guston perhaps from seeing Crumb's work in the East Village Other. Both creators agreed that the "underground" comics style could be traced back to Basil Wolverton's '50s grotesqueries for Mad magazine. During the audience Q&A, the artists were asked, "If LSD had never been invented, how different would your comics be?" After a beat, Panter dryly replied, "Well, there still would have been mushrooms."

"Post Bang" culminated in a star turn by Lynda Barry. Novelist, artist, and creator of the long-running, syndicated Ernie Pook's Comeek, Barry was a genuinely funny, inspirational presence as she discussed her writing workshop, "Writing the Unthinkable," and her recent collage-art-book-as-writing-guide, What It Is. While attending Evergreen College as an art student in the '70s, Barry started making pictures with words to impress friends and get "cute boys and girls" to make out with her. Also inspired by Crumb and Zap, she sent her early comics to the college paper, edited by fellow student Matt Groening. Because she'd always wanted an imaginary friend as a kid, she started making comics about kids to have "real imaginary friends." Likening artmaking to "a cross between a 'cereal trance' and listening to a joke," Barry became fixated on trying to recover a childlike mode of creation, leading to, among other methods, pulling words out of a hat for story ideas and writing her novels with a paintbrush. Maintaining that "art has a biological function and should not be an elective" in school, Barry said that "images may not be logical, but they are satisfying," and they stick with you "like the memory of your first phone number." She said that comics "remind her of music," noting that the blending of pictures with words was one of the most ancient artistic forms. The audience, including some very devoted fans, ate all of this up with radiant glee.
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Featured artists

Gary Panter
Lynda Barry


Uninked in Phoenix:

Updated May 6, 2007

UnInked: Paintings, Sculptures and Graphic Works by Five Cartoonists

Five of the finest cartoonists currently working are also, not surprisingly, five of cartooning’s finest artists. While the original ink-on-paper drawings which compose literary graphic novels and comic strips are generally only one step in the arduous process of creating a visual book, they are not necessarily intended to be seen as finished works in and of themselves. This exhibit chooses instead to focus on those artists whose work intentionally already extends beyond the page: rarely-seen drawings, paintings, lithographs, and sculptures which develop the extensive narrative worlds and ideas which every cartoonist has spent years, and in some cases, lifetimes,developing. The prolific artists presented — Kim Deitch, Jerry
Moriarty, Gary Panter, Ron Regé, Jr. and Seth — have all devoted themselves to their imaginative work with an multifarious intensity at a time when a great deal of contemporary art mines its so-called visual “source material” from narrative popular culture but then chooses to blur or disregard its story content before enlarging it onto a gallery wall. By contrast, the work by these five artists — for whom storytelling is second nature — is unusually original,direct and full of life.

The exhibit runs from April 21st through August 19th, 2007 at the Phoenix Art Musuem, 1625 North Central Avenue, Phoenix, Arizona (602 257-1222). A 112 page full-color hardcover catalog edited and designed by the show’s curator,Chris Ware, picturing works from the exhibit as well as selected samples of each artists’ published work,will be available in mid-July from the museum’s store.

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Featured artists

Gary Panter
Ron Regé, Jr.

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  Gary Panter in St Louis!

Updated October 3, 2006

Gary Panter lecture at Washington University in St. Louis
Rebstock Hall, Room #215
St. Louis, MO
October 12, 7pm
link: www.wustl.edu

Gary Panter painting exhibition "Swamp Weeds"
Philip Slein Gallery
St. Louis, MO
Opening reception: October 13, 6-9 pm
Exhibition runs from October 13 through November 11, 2006
link: http://www.philipsleingallery.com/index.php

Gary Panter and Todd Hignite signing for "In the Studio: Visits with
Contemporary Cartoonists"
Star Clipper
St. Louis, MO
October 14, 2-4pm
http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book asp?isbn=0300110162

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Gary Panter

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GARY PANTER art show in NYC!

Updated May 29, 2006

New Paintings and Drawings
May 25 - June 30, 2006
Sandra Gering Gallery
534 West 22nd Street
New York City

opening Thursday May 25, 6-8PM
click here to download the PDF (990.96 KB)

Featured artist

Gary Panter


  GARY PANTER in the Patriot-News

Updated March 1, 2006


Christopher Mautner
Of the Patriot-News

19 February 2006
Patriot-News J03

"Satiroplastic" by Gary Panter, Drawn and Quarterly, 104 pages, $19.95.

This is a handsome, pocket-sized collection of Panter's sketches and drawings completed from 1999 to 2001. While it boasts an impressive design,
the book will most likely be enjoyed by serious Panter ("Jimbo in Purgatory") fans, who can then wave the book under the nose of naysayers as proof that yes, the man can draw.

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Gary Panter

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"SPEAK" exhibition-featuring D&Q artists-reviewed in the NY TIMES

Updated February 13, 2006

Art Review | 'Speak'
Expansive Worlds Seen in Small Pictures

Published: February 10, 2006

The comic book never had it so good. In this age of wondrous electronic entertainment, it remains as popular as ever, and now it is being taken seriously by the sorts of people who were once concerned exclusively with the higher reaches of artistic culture. Witness R. Crumb's inclusion in last year's Carnegie International.

New Yorkers interested in comics will be looking forward to "Masters of American Comics," a major exhibition now occupying galleries in two museums in Los Angeles — the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Armand Hammer — and traveling next fall to the Jewish Museum in New York and the Newark Museum. But you don't have to wait for a taste of what contemporary comic artists have been up to, as the Pratt Manhattan Gallery is offering an excellent sampler of works by nine of the best in the business, including Mr. Crumb, Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes and Gary Panter.

Devotees of the genre will find nothing new in "Speak: Nine Cartoonists," but they should appreciate the chance to view original pages, as well as drawings and preparatory studies, rather than the usual mechanically reproduced materials. If you are less familiar with comic book art, you are in for a treat. Organized by Todd Hignite, editor of Comic Art magazine, the show requires close looking and fine-print reading, but its size is manageable, and your concentration will be well rewarded rather than exhausted.

The beauty of the comic strip is partly formal — the way it sucks you through small, boxed-in pictures into worlds that range from thrillingly expansive to poignantly intimate. Add judiciously chosen words and frame-to-frame narrative pull, and you have the ingredients of an immersive, part-cinematic, part-novelistic experience that many of us learned to love — and to which some became addicted — as children.

Contemporary comic artists, like jazz musicians, play with traditional forms, but they also explore varieties of subject matter that were unknown in comic books before the rise of the willfully indecorous underground comics in the late 1960's. Mr. Crumb, the best of the underground comic artists and a narrator whose frankness about sex rivals that of the novelist Philip Roth, is here represented, refreshingly, by something sweetly nontransgressive: the story of a little boy and his annoying younger brother spending the afternoon at home with their exhausted mom. At one point the boy becomes sexually aroused by a female visitor's cowboy boots, but nothing really outrageous happens, and what impresses most is the wonderfully earthy and supple draftsmanship and the delightful vernacular dialogue.

Stylistically, the show ranges from the faux primitivism of Mr. Panter's hilarious story about a sexy, fashion-obsessed cave girl in a futuristic city to the Precisionism of Mr. Ware's slow-moving, bittersweet tales of lonely people drawn within complex configurations of variously sized boxes. (Mr. Ware's serial strip "Building Stories" is currently running in The New York Times Magazine.)

A noirish, mournful mood hovers over the show. Art Spiegelman, creator of the great "Maus" books, is represented by an early, Expressionist-style narrative in which a young man recounts the story of his mother's suicide. The artist who goes by the single name Seth tracks with almost no words the wanderings of an electric-fan salesman through a depressed town to its eerie outskirts.

In his sensuously drawn, starkly black-and-white strip, Charles Burns leads us through a teenager's abysmally gloomy and hair-raisingly surrealistic nightmare, while in a comparatively conventional style, Jaime Hernandez tells the story of a man recently released from prison and looking for a way out of the semicriminal sexual demimonde to which he has returned.

Conceptual complexity can be mind-boggling. Mr. Clowes, creator of "Ghost World," weaves into an affectionate parody of the "Peanuts" comic strip themes of anxiety, sexual desire, murder and psychotherapy — to dizzying effect. And in his very funny, deceptively rudimentary-looking strips, Ivan Brunetti offers concise, tragicomic biographies of the French novelist Joris Karl Huysmans and the Hollywood B-movie producer Val Newton.

Despite its enduring popularity and its astonishing fertility of formal and conceptual imagination, the ambitious comic book still remains a marginal commodity compared with movies and novels. Perhaps artists possessing the right combination of talents are just too rare to generate a bigger audience. (That this show's artists are all men is an aspect that Mr. Hignite might usefully have explained, by the way.)

Yet the relative neglect may be a blessing: when expectations are low, there is little to lose, leaving the artist free to embark on amazing aesthetic and psychological adventures, like the ones on display here.

"Speak: Nine Cartoonists" remains through Feb. 25 at Pratt Manhattan Gallery, 144 West 14th Street, Greenwich Village; (212) 647-7778.

[Ivan Brunetti, Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Robert Crumb, Jaime Hernandez, Gary Panter, Seth, Art Spiegelman, and Chris Ware.]

Featured artists

Chris Ware
Gary Panter



Updated December 6, 2005

San Diego Union Tribune

'Masters': Gleeful crash course in comics
By Neil Kendricks

December 4, 2005

Too often, comics are dismissed as the illegitimate offspring of serious art and literature. The exhibition "Masters of American Comics," however, reflects the art world's efforts to catch up with the foregone conclusion that any of the medium's devotees can tell you: "Comics rule!"

Walking through "Masters of American Comics" at UCLA's Hammer Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, provides plenty of evidence to back up the argument that comics play an important role in America's cultural life, alongside music, film and the other arts. And anyone in the know about comics will agree that it's high time that the medium got the respect it so richly deserves.

The well-publicized "Masters of American Comics" won't go for want of media exposure since the show has already been covered in such high-art publications as Artforum and Modern Painters as well as notable mentions in Vanity Fair, among others. And for good reason, as anyone who experiences this exhaustive yet highly selective, historical overview can attest.

By focusing on 15 key figures in comics' still evolving history, the show examines how comics first emerged in newspapers, and gradually morphed into comic books and graphic novels expressing a dynamic range of aesthetic approaches and subject matter.

The Hammer's selection is divided among early trailblazers like Winsor McCay ("Little Nemo in Slumberland"), Lyonel Feininger ("The Kin-der-Kids"), George Herriman ("Krazy Kat"), E.C. Segar ("Thimble Theatre Starring Popeye"), Frank King ("Gasoline Alley"), Chester Gould ("Dick Tracy"), Milton Caniff ("Terry and the Pirates") and the one and only Charles M. Schultz, who needs no introduction for "Peanuts" fans.

"Masters of American Comics"

UCLA's Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 443-7000; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 250 Grand Ave., (213) 626-6222; Through March 12

The show's second half at MOCA picks up the medium's postwar trajectory to the present-day with such contemporary innovators as Will Eisner ("The Spirit"), Jack Kirby ("The Fantastic Four"), Harvey Kurtzman (Mad magazine), Robert Crumb ("Zap!" comix), Art Spiegelman ("Maus"), Gary Panter ("Jimbo") and Chris Ware ("The Acme Novelty Library").

"Masters of American Comics," with its handsome, comprehensive catalog, offers a crash course on comics' ongoing evolution and their impact on popular culture. Even novices will be able to see how McCay and Feininger's experiments with dream-like comics laid the groundwork for the medium's future. Their elegant compositions and creative page layouts in newspapers explored the medium itself as a fresh artist's palette perfect for the industrial age.

In one of McCay's self-reflexive "Dream of the Rarebit Fiend," from 1907, the cartoonist invents a character whose running commentary questions the artist's motivations for leaving ink smears on his well-tailored, albeit drawn, suit. The short narrative climaxes with the solitary figure swallowed up in a riot of black-ink marks.

McCay and Feininger weren't alone when it came to embracing the medium's ability to bend reality. Herriman joins the party with his great "Krazy Kat," where the artist radically arranged his comic strips' panels, sometimes diagonally across the page, to echo a story's anything-goes action.

Comics' narrative possibilities go through further metamorphosis with King's real-time chronicle of life in "Gasoline Alley" and Segar's introduction of his spinach-lovin' sailor Popeye in the "Thimble Theatre" stories. The exhibition demonstrates how artists like Caniff and Gould fuse cinematic influences into their art to suggest a range of expressive angles in the noirish scenarios of "Terry and the Pirates" and "Dick Tracy," respectively.

Of course, the enormous popularity and impact of Schultz's much-beloved "Peanuts" could be the subject of an exhibition onto itself. The creator of the eternally downtrodden Charlie Brown, the philosophical Linus and everyone's favorite beagle, Snoopy, remains the most important postwar American cartoonist, and his influence continues five years after his death.

At MOCA, the comics grow darker, showing the collective grip of malaise, dread and changing social mores in postwar American life as reflected in the art of Eisner, Kirby, and Kurtzman, among others.

The femme fatale in Eisner's 1947 "The Spirit" strip, "Il Dulce's Locket," could have wandered off the set of a film noir directed by Samuel Fuller, who was a skilled cartoonist himself. With her world-weary facial expression juxtaposed with her sensual curves, the woman wonders (in a dialogue balloon), "Really what is there about me that simply invites trouble?"

There is no shortage of trouble for the characters populating the Marvel Comics universe that Kirby helped to create with his bold, stylized drawings. Nothing is extraneous in his wonderfully kinetic drawings. They dazzle the eye while pushing the story forward with an undeniable, streamlined force.

In light of recent ecological disasters, Kirby's art for "Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth" – showing waves battering a half-submerged Statute of Liberty in a postapocalyptic future – has a far darker resonance today than when the artist first created the 1972 piece. This end-time paranoid vibe is pushed even further in Panter's nightmarish, 1980s punk-driven "Jimbo" comics with their chaotic compositions gorged with writhing, ragged figures that delight in the jaded pleasures of riot surfing.

Where Kirby's art belongs very much to the mainstream comics tradition, the show makes an excellent transition with Kurtzman and Crumb as guiding lights veering away from the superhero realm, eager to explore riskier territory. One of Kurtzman's drawings from a 1954 issue of Mad sums up his penchant for satire with the pseudo-headline "Humor in a Jugular Vein."

"Masters of American Comics" shows Kurtzman's lesser-known war comics like "Two-Fisted Tales" and "Frontline Comics" with stark depictions of war's violence reminiscent of the soul-ravaged imagery found in German expressionist George Grosz's World War I-inspired art.

It's not hard to see Kurtzman's influence evoked in Spiegelman's critically acclaimed works, 1986's "Maus: A Survivor's Tale" and 1991's "Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began," which won the Pulitizer Prize in 1992. Only, Spiegelman's autobiographical comics up the ante by reimagining his father's Holocaust experiences through the anthropomorphic lens of Jews as mice being tormented by Nazis depicted as cats. The story's variation on "Animal Farm" gives way to a larger allegory about the human condition.

Autobiographical comics are also ripe for probing their creators' personal idiosyncrasies and no one does that better than Crumb. By examining on his own neuroses with complete abandon, Crumb's first-person comics define the 1960s underground "comix" movement where no taboo was left untouched. The show displays a selection of his original comics art where the artist's sexually ravenous id runs amok in one drawing after another.

But the exhibition also shows a less anarchic side to comics' enfant terrible by including Crumb's music-inspired piece, 1984's "Patton," chronicling the life of Mississippi Delta bluesman Charley Patton.

From the medium's humble yet innovative origins to the cool elegance of Ware's melancholic "Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid in the World" and beyond, "Masters of American Comics" does a fine job of charting the wildly eccentriccourse that comics have taken since their inception a century ago.

Although the show's lineup of artists leaves out such luminaries as Frank Miller and Dan Clowes, along with their many female contemporaries, it succeeds in throwing a revealing light on the history of comics as a vital and distinctly American artform. Perhaps a sequel could fill in the gaps to the medium's epic story, which is still unfolding with the unspoken promise often found in the best sequential art: "to be continued."

Neil Kendricks, a San Diego artist and writer, is the film curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.
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Featured artists

Chris Ware
Frank King
Gary Panter


Gary Panter in the National Post!

Updated May 25, 2005

Inside Gary Panter's daily creative spasms
Vanessa Farquharson
National Post

May 25, 2005

Gary Panter had some pretty cool friends growing up. Before he started winning Emmys and receiving critical acclaim for his scratchy, punk comics in the early '80s, he was hanging out with Simpsons creator Matt Groening, Maus author/artist Art Spiegelman and graffiti artist George DiCaprio (father of Leonardo).

But it was another friend, Paul Reubens, who brought Panter fame. In an ironic twist, it was the neon-saturated, Prozac-happy aesthetic he designed for Reubens's television show, Pee-wee's Playhouse, that would eventually score the comic artist three Emmy Awards and the limelight required to push his dystopic sci-fi Jimbo comics into the mainstream.

Now, the Brooklyn artist, who lives with his wife, teenage daughter and a handful of cats, has mellowed out and his latest work, to be released by Drawn and Quarterly next month, reflects this. Satiroplastic is the first in a series of three unedited reproductions of Panter's sketchbooks, plucked from a mountainous pile that dates back to '69. In the publisher's words, it's "a visual diary that shows [his] everyday creative spasms." The book's title comes from a 17th-century Ben Jonson play, Satiromastix.

"I thought that was an interesting word," says Panter, "and I figure we live in a time of plastic. Plus I'm an old Frank Zappa fan."

Although there are no words in his book, Panter plans to speak about the illustrations -- including everything from a family holiday in Mexico to the 9/11 attacks -- at Toronto's Harbourfront tonight, as part of the regular reading series. While Satiroplastic appears to be lighter fare than most of his readers will expect, Panter believes they won't be let down.

"The fans I have are really interested in the variety of what I do," he says. "When I was young I was trying to do something really futuristic and it came out of my shaky, nervous hand. The older I've gotten, the more calm I've become ... Now I'm actually drawing old-timey, old-man comics."

After tonight's reading, Panter will stick around for the weekend-long Toronto Comic Arts Festival, transpiring in an array of tents behind Honest Ed's department store.

"You meet wonderful people at these things," he says. "I'm really excited to meet Chester Brown, who I've hardly ever spoken to, and Seth. The Drawn and Quarterly guys are a generation apart from the scary, underground hippie comics to the refined type of New Yorker-reading, novel-reading crowd ... I think it'll be very interesting."

When he gets back to Brooklyn, Panter will, of course, continue sketching and also keep working on other things such as his Custom Drawing Project -- for $150, three words with which to free-associate and the time it takes to visit his Web site and fire off an e-mail, anyone can commission Panter to create an original work of art.

"It's been this amazing thing," he says of his recent collaborations and success online. "Often, people will just write me and say, 'You rock!' and it makes my day."

© National Post 2005

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  Gary Panter on cover of Toronto's NOW Magazine

Updated May 19, 2005

Gary Panter
Sketchbook diary Satiro-Plastics gets us inside the mind of the original comic book punk

GARY PANTER with Genevieve Castree and Tony Millionaire reading at the Harbourfont Centre Theatre (235 Queens Quay West), Wednesday (May 25), 7:30 pm. $8. 416-973-4000, 416-533-9168.

GARY PANTER at The Beguiling (601 Markham) as part of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, Saturday (May 28), noon to 2 pm. Free. 416-533-9168

New York City – deep in south Brooklyn, amidst oak trees and old houses, the king of punk comic books, Gary Panter, greets me at his front door in his slippers. The soft-spoken artist lives here with his wife, teenage daughter and some cats. He's not sure how many cats.

"There're four cats inside and maybe about five regulars in the backyard."

It's all pleasant, nothing manic.

Not that I expected to find a burned-out block of condemned buildings squatted by unpredictable Tourettes-afflicted anarchists, but this is, after all, the creator of the dystopian nightmare Jimbo comics. A little chaos wouldn't be out of order.

Relaxed on a sunny Friday afternoon, Panter sports a grey T-shirt and soul patch and has a slight Texas drawl. He laughs when I inquire about his former punk aesthetic.

"I never had a great punk haircut. The best punk haircut I ever had was in 1973 after my bad acid trip when a friend chopped all my hair off."

Credited with creating the scrappy graphic style associated with the L.A. punk scene in the 1970s and early 80s, Panter first made a name for himself with his Jimbo strip, which ran in the legendary music rag Slash before being picked up by Art Spiegelman for RAW magazine and critical acclaim.

Those early L.A. days, documented in the film The Decline Of Western Civilization, proved staggeringly influential for a lot of people. Panter remembers sharing hamburgers and listening to the Beastie Boys' Cookie Puss EP with Matt Groening when they were both broke, having Darby Crash and Pat Smear from the Germs over (Smear would go on to play guitar for Nirvana) and doing graffiti by the river with fellow punk artist George DiCaprio, father of Leonardo.

It was also then that Panter met Paul Reubens, who later fought for him to be the lead designer on the cult favourite kids' show Pee-wee's Playhouse. Panter's designs won three Emmy Awards and have been copied to death by every sugar-shilling kids' commercial.

Not bad for a kid from the Bible-believing farmlands of Silver Springs, Texas.

While Pee-wee fans know him for his colour-soaked Playhouse, rife with objects that refuse to be inanimate, Panter's most diehard fans praise him first for his Jimbo strip. Last year saw the release of his book Jimbo In Purgatory, an ambitious graphic reinterpretation of Dante's classic. Panter is in T.O. Wednesday (May 25) to promote his latest book, Satiro-Plastic, at the Harbourfront Reading Series, along with fellow cartoonist Tony Millionaire.

The reading series' unusual focus on comic book artists coincides with the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (see sidebar, this page). First mounted in 2003, this year's TCAF runs May 27 to 29 in large pavilions behind Honest Ed's, and Panter is scheduled to stick around for most of it.

Upstairs in his third-floor studio, we're surrounded by art supplies and works-in-progress. Panter kindly offers me his work chair and goes to get us something to drink.

I look around. There's an illustrated edition of Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland, a shiny black sculpture that hovers between abstract and monstrous and an unfinished instalment of Dal Tokyo, a regular strip he draws for an underground Japanese reggae magazine.

He returns with a glass of Coke (for the caffeine – he doesn't drink coffee) and shows me a small blue sketchbook, similar to the one that Satiro-Plastic was copied from.

A rare glimpse of Panter drawing what he sees as opposed to what he imagines, Satiro-Plastic is a 1:1-scale facsimile of one of the small sketchbooks he invariably has on the go. The first in a series of sketchbooks drawn between 1999 and 2001, this one messily captures a holiday in Mexico, visits with friends and the events of September 11, 2001. They collect his thoughts as a kind of visual diary in no particular order.

Unconsciously playing with a piece of clay, Panter explains, "I write in various little journals, but mostly I'm thinking my thoughts while drawing pictures. If you look through the books, you'll see the same obsessions come up over and over."

The experience of sketching 9/11 as it happened, from the roof of his old Williamsburg studio, became a particular obsession that understandably carried on through a number of sketchbooks.

He moulds the clay inside his fist. "I felt like my brain was being reformed, and I was actually crying and screaming and falling down while I was drawing those drawings. So it's not like it was just some interesting scene. As a paranoid, imaginative person, I could pretty much imagine what was happening in the buildings, and that was pretty awful, and then just the horrible feeling of 'How could they let this happen?'"

While his sketchbooks are being released, Panter continues to pursue other creative endeavours, including The Custom Drawing Project. For $150, anyone can commission him to do an original work of art. Fans send in one to three choice words and Panter free associates those into a drawing, which he sends back.

Beyond drawing, Panter collaborates with Joshua White on live light shows. Running around refracting powerful lights onto a screen, the duo often perform with live bands like Plate Tektonics and Yo La Tengo, and easily sell out shows.

He's also revived his roots as a trained painter. His cartoon-like paintings hang in a Dallas gallery, revealing the ease with which he swings between the poles of high and low culture.

"I think people confuse highbrow and lowbrow, and I think they commingle in some ways. But messages that are interesting to me are interesting whether they come from Art Forum or the toilet."

The notion is consonant with the newfound respect for comics and their re-branding as graphic novels.

Arguably his greatest feat to date, however, is the dauntingly good Jimbo In Purgatory, which mashes together high literature and pulp schlock. Inside the big red book, over 900 panels are bordered by designs of finger-numbing detail. More than a narrative collection of frames, every page can be seen as a stand-alone work of art.

Using Dante's tale as a guide, Panter incorporates the work of another Italian poet, Boccaccio's saucy Decameron, as commentary, along with that of Chaucer, Shakespeare and many others. Mount Purgatory morphs into a world of "infotainment" from which pop icons like Alice Cooper and the floating head of Yul Brynner must escape by quoting from literature to earn a degree in English, the equivalent of admittance to paradise.

"My premise is that Boccaccio was reinterpreting Dante. Any Boccaccio or Dante scholar will say that's ridiculous, and maybe it is, but it was great premise for me to work with."

The interest in classics stems in part from Panter's ongoing project of "getting over religion" and his fundamentalist Christian Texas childhood.

"Dante's a really great metaphor maker, and you really feel like it's about ideas. The religion I was raised in was all about literalness – the world really was made in seven days and stuff. But if it's about ideas, then it's a lot more interesting and helpful, personally."

Under the wild imagery, he lets his ideas drive his work, exploring themes like "the individual versus the state, or organizations that are trying to protect the individual from himself."

Here his punk roots really show and still seem fresh.

"I'm interested in the power that the individual can have in relation to the world. We talk about the individual all the time, but the world really does try to shut you down and stop you and make you into a sheep. But when someone makes a good sprawl on a wall, I'm fascinated by that."  
NOW | MAY 19 - 25, 2005 | VOL. 24 NO. 38

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Gary Panter

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Updated April 11, 2005

Satiroplastic: The Sketchbook of Gary Panter
Panter, Gary (Author)
ISBN: 1896597866
Drawn & Quarterly
Published 2005-06
Hardcover, $19.95 (232p)
Graphic Novels - General
Reviewed 2005-04-11

Panter is famed in underground comics circles for his voluminous sketchbooks. This facsimile of a 1999-2001 sketchbook is a departure from his usual stream-of-consciousness psychedelia. As he writes in his introduction, this work was more of a travel companion than a playground--it chronicles his trips to Texas; Oaxaca, Mexico; and a variety of Brooklyn neighborhoods as well as his views of the World Trade Center towers as they collapsed. Panter did not fill the book chronologically, but instead drew on whatever blank page he found, and the result is uniquely immersive. Readers move from Brooklyn to Texas and back again within the space of a few pages, guided only by the virtuoso draftsmanship. Panter writes that "drawing from the natural world can be daunting. One can't capture all the details and richness of the world, the density, spaciality [sic] and color of reality, but only offer a codified version of those vistas and moments. Luckily our minds are fiendishly clever at inference and interpreting visual codes." And, also luckily, Panter's trademark distressed line is sensitive to all his surroundings, bringing a city street to life as easily as a country vista. Panter is an engaging, funny and insightful visual companion, and this work offers an illuminating look into the mind of a creative visionary. (June 15)


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Gary Panter

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  Daily Texan Spotlights Panter, Tomine & Seth

Updated November 12, 2004

Entertainment | 11/12/2004

New Yorker brings graphic art to Austin
By John St. Denis

Article Tools: Page 1 of 1
Over the past decade, the comic market has cooled, but interest has grown in long-form comics called graphic novels - beautiful, thoughtful work from Chris Ware ("Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth"), Daniel Clowes ("Ghost World,") and others.
Juan Segarra at Funny Papers in the Dobie Mall has seen a 40-percent increase in sales.
"People are coming in who refer to them as graphic novels," Segarra says. "They're more accepted ... as actual literature."
Widely available in independent and chain bookstores, the UT-Austin libraries also has a solid collection of work.
"Any time there's a new genre that enters the field of publication ... we're interested in looking to see if that's something that the library should acquire," explains Lindsey Schell, bibliographer for English literature.
There's no single reason why graphic novels have gained in popularity. Increased media attention, high-quality work and better availability have all contributed.
"I think, culturally, there's been a buildup of things that have let it into the eyes of people in the media," observes artist Seth ("Palookaville"). "The Crumb documentary, 'Ghost World,' 'American Splendor' - there's a cultural awareness ... that there's something hot going on."
Comic artists have worked for years illustrating outside their own publications. Now, their working worlds are merging.
"The people I worked for weren't really aware of my comics work," says Seth, "They just knew me as an illustrator. In the last couple years, more and more I'm getting hired because of the comics work. People are aware of the work and so they're hiring me for jobs that are more appropriate for what I do."
Chief among those is The New Yorker magazine. It's a natural match for a magazine that's held cartoonists in high regard for at least half a century.
"We're always looking for new artists," explains illustration editor Owen Phillips. "Comic book artists [are people] who can imagine their way around a space in a room. I know that they can build on the reference and make it their own while adding atmosphere to it."
Tonight, The New Yorker is highlighting the work of graphic novelists through "Ray Guns and Moping," a panel featuring Seth, Adrian Tomine ("Optic Nerve") and Gary Panter ("Jimbo").
Working for The New Yorker carries a certain prestige.
"The New Yorker has a lot of cache to it," Seth observes, "You can be working for years, and if [you] do the cover of The New Yorker, it makes a big difference on the way people perceive your work after that. It does have a stamp of approval to it."
Phillips is glad to help.
"If we're helping them pay their bills a little bit and their true love is their comic books, then they go hand and hand."
The New Yorker College Tour: "Ray Guns and Moping," with Gary Panter, Seth, and Adrian Tomine, hosted by New Yorker illustration editor Owen Phillips. La Zona Rosa, $10/$5 student discount
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Adrian Tomine
Gary Panter

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Clyde Fans; Book One

Adrian Tomine, Gary Panter & Seth in Austin, TX 11/12

Updated November 3, 2004

D+Q cartoonists Adrian Tomine (OPTIC NERVE, SCRAPBOOK & SUMMER BLONDE), Seth (PALOOKAVILLE, IT'S A GOOD LIFE, CLYDE FANS) and Gary Panter (Fantagraphics JIMBO IN PURGATORY) will be in Austin, Texas on Friday, November 12 for the New Yorker College Tour.

8 P.M.

“Ray Guns and Moping,” an evening with graphic novelists GARY PANTER, SETH, and ADRIAN TOMINE, hosted by New Yorker illustration editor OWEN PHILLIPS.

La Zona Rosa
612 West 4th Street
$10/$5 student discount


In addition, Adrian Tomine has the cover to this week's New Yorker.


Peggy Burns
Drawn & Quarterly
Marketing & Publicity Director
PO Box 48056
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