Getting Sketchy with Gary Panter


The opening pages of Gary Panter’s Satiroplastic (Drawn & Quarterly, 2005) include sketches made while Panter was in Oaxaca, Mexico. In the introduction to the book Panter explains how the sketches are not chronologically ordered. Each time he did a drawing, he opened the book up haphazardly to a page and began drawing; further evidence of Panter’s random-abstract brilliance.

The sketches in Satiroplastic are in many ways more accessible than Panter’s most popularized classic comics, Jimbo in Purgatory and Jimbo’s Inferno. In fact, his loose line and highly impressionistic responses to his surroundings are an inspiration—they “give permission” to stop worrying and just draw. Compared with other cartoonist-artists who have published work from their sketchbooks (in no particular order, Adrian Tomine, Peter Kuper, Seth, R. Crumb, Chris Ware, Hernandez Brothers), Panter’s sketches are on the whole far less refined—in the best sense of the expression. But then, Panter is…different. And the raw reflections of Panter’s inner world are a welcome change from the more stiff and fastidious approaches of other artists.

The jacket cover of Satiroplastic suggests, “SATIROPLASTIC is the first of a three-volume sketchbook series by the legendary artist Gary Panter. Each volume will be an exact, unedited reproduction of Panter’s own sketchbook, allowing the reader a stunning, inside look of a visual genius.” The second and third volumes are slow to arrive, if they will be published by Drawn & Quarterly at all.

Gary Panter (Monograph)

 Volume two of the opus magnum Gary Panter (PictureBox, 2008) is a collection of Panter’s work in monograph form, edited by Dan Nadel. Volume 2 of this exquisite two-volume boxed set includes 323 pages of drawings taken from Panter’s sketchbooks. Many of the sketches span a two-page spread, and every even footer of the spread includes the title of the sketchbook from which the drawing has been reproduced, as well as the date it was drawn.

The opening pages of Gary Panter Volume 2 display a stack of eighteen sketchbooks. The end section entitled “Some Sketchbook Covers 1973-2006” includes photos of 67 different books, and “Some Sketchbook Title Pages 1973-2006” shows six pages of title pages from 43 different sketchbooks demonstrating Panter’s voluminous output.

Of particular note in Volume 1 is an extended meditation found on the sketches Panter drew (included in Satiroplastic) during the bombing of the twin towers on September 11, 2001, and worthy of quoting in full:

 Excerpt from “Gary Panter: Taking Inventory”

Perhaps the most significant observational drawings done by the artist are contained in the sketchbook entitled Satiroplastic, which was completed between December 1999 and November 2001. This sketchbook stands alone in the sense that of its 102 drawings, all but a handful are done from life. Toward the end of the book the flow of landscapes, city scenes, and interior views is interrupted by five drawings: Where Was the Air Force, The Tower Left, Empires, The Second Tower, and The Impossible; all first-hand depictions of the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11. In my opinion, these stand among the handful of most important works made by any artist with reference to the events surrounding September 11, owing their power to a humble lack of hyperbole.

While on that day many citizens of New York—artists and non-artists alike—reached for a camera or just turned on the TV, Panter reached for his sketchbook. This simple act reveals not only how drawing is an essential and natural activity for the artist, but more importantly, it shows his true colors as a humanist of the first order. If one believes that art, and drawing in particular, is a means for thinking, feeling, and understanding the world, then drawing the Trade Center towers as they collapses is perhaps the most rational thing one could do when faced with the incomprehensible. On the page in Satiroplastic that follows The Impossible is First Day of Soccer, a simple drawing showing a schoolyard scene later that September when Olive, Panter’s daughter, began a new after-school activity. Gary Panter’s drawing is a true compendium of life as lived in this world: alternatingly absurd, beautiful, strange, and poignant. Thankfully for us, he continues to use his pen to diligently take stock of all human affairs (205).


Richard Klein is exhibitions director of The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Conneticut, where he organized Gary Panter’s 2008 exhibition Daydream Trap.

Source: Nadel, Dan (Ed.) Gary Panter. PictureBox, Brooklyn, 2008. Excerpt used by permission of Dan Nadel.

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