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'The New Yorker' Interview with SVA's Gary Panter

From The New Yorker: “Gary Panter, a prolific cartoonist who emerged in the eighties as the leading proponent of punk comics, has long been interested in blending mystical fantasy and literature to create wryly irreverent comics. For over a decade, Panter transmuted each line of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy into two works: the mega-sized 'Jimbo in Purgatory' (2004, embossed cover with gold leaf on blood-red cloth) and 'Jimbo’s Inferno' (2006, embossed cover with gold leaf on baby-blue cloth), bringing his signature punk sensibility to the ancient stories.

Fantagraphics recently released 'Songy of Paradise,' a large hardcover with gold embossing on soft lavender cloth, which focusses on another classic: the Bible, or, more specifically, John Milton’s criticism of one Bible story. Panter tackled Milton’s 'Paradise Regained,' a retelling of Jesus’ forty-day retreat into the desert, reimagined with a dubious hero. In place of Jesus is a hillbilly named Songy, a zany wanderer who leaves his mother and friends at home and treks into the desert on a haphazard quest for nothing in particular. Songy is repeatedly tempted by Satan, who appears in various forms, most often that of a dinosaur. A true radical, Songy doesn’t let himself be swayed from his ideals by material pleasures.

Panter stopped by our offices to chat about the project. 'You think, I’m gonna die before I finish this. It took five years to draw thirty-three pages, its crazy,' he recalled. Our conversation continues below:

I didn’t want to do Dante’s 'Paradise.' There’s a lot of repetition in that work, and I had already integrated a lot of Dante’s “Paradise” into the 'Purgatory' books. It’s like a palimpsest—a manuscript that’s doubled. I was seduced by the architecture of Dante, and after a while, it’s kind of embarrassing. Here I am, yet another person seduced by the architecture of Dante. I had to try to find a way to personalize it—which is what led me to Milton.

So you were inspired by Milton’s 'Paradise Regained,' which is itself an homage to Dante?

Yes, Milton would be aware of Dante, but it’s a totally different thing because “Paradise Regained” is based on only four or five verses in the Bible—Jesus being tempted in the desert. I got rid of Jesus and replaced him with a hillbilly, who starves himself in the desert until he starts hallucinating Satan…” (For the full interview and more images, click here)

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