8.3.11

My Inner Bimbo

Not for everyone, one of the quotes on the back cover says. Raw, interesting, confusing, are some of the other verdicts. Sam Kieth being known for mainstream work, this sort of psychedelic, psychological, semi-autobio stuff seems to throw reviewers off-balance. And B&W to top it all off!

A shame, really. This book shouldn't be viewed as niche or difficult. It is pretty much getting the comix thing right, I feel. Forget panels. Here is the brain of the author in words and pictures -- non-linear storytelling with everything left in. Jokes, influences, neuroses, flights of fancy. Everything that makes up who we are.

My Inner Bimbo has a killer hook. We have a 50-year-old protagonist called Lo and his 62-year-old wife called Betsy. It's a marriage not without its problems, which lead Lo to create for himself a Bimbo companion, which serves both as a projection of femininity and as a representation of his teenage self. Both are cast as young, weak and stupid, and Lo rapes / beats them up for it... You sold yet?

Be warned, the rest of this post is gonna get into detailed exposition and decoding. Lo met his wife when he was a teenager. Now that she's in her sixties, he's settling for porn rather than sex. He's also flirting with his hot art class teacher. Gradually we realize what's going on. Lo courts his wife's disapproval, then when she attacks him, he plays the martyr. It's a petty way of punishing the woman that makes him feel powerless. Ultimately, the routine is caused by regret at marrying so young.

Sidebar: if the book has a fault, it's the rather blunt way it relays Lo's problems. At times it almost feels like yr reading the notes of a psychiatrist. Then again, I can deffo believe the character (who is into all kinds of New Age self-improvement) self-analyzes in this way, so Kieth just about gets away with it.

The Bimbo, meanwhile, is initially just a sex object. However, a confrontation with Manet's The Lunch on the Grass begins a journey into subjectivity. She is the part of Lo that engages with art and develops as a person. But Lo isn't listening. He traded self-awareness for self-pity a long time ago. The Bimbo can't influence him, or get rid of him, so resolves on suicide. It doesn't quite work out (she is a part of his brain, after all).

Suicide also shadows Lo's existence. His wife's previous hubby killed himself, and the suggestion is that if Lo doesn't sort himself out, he'll end up dead as well. There is some very obvious symbolism with swords here: Lo has to straighten his one out and "stab" the Female Disapproval Monster. Sex seems to be key. Part of Lo's problem is the division he creates between body and spirit. Sex becomes porn, a mental activity. The hot art class teacher, meanwhile, urges her students to embrace their inner anarchy. Go wild, get weird. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and sleep with your wife!

Bimbo's suicide having failed, she expresses her distress by taking a vow of silence. Lo's curiosity about her experiences with the hot art class teacher leads to a confrontation with all his problems. He figures it out, and is reconciled (physically and spiritually) with his wife, and his female side. The only problem left is a lack of purpose -- Lo has no existentialist project. He's tied up, drifting, not listening to his singing Bimbo / muse. The final issue has a climactic battle where the conflict of the book is reimagined in allegorical form -- hero vs. monster. Lo, thru his Bimbo, discovers his own imagination, a new confidence in his drawing, and decides to tell his story in comix form. At the end of the book, Lo and his Bimbo become more and more alike. She isn't needed anymore, and Lo finally lets her go.

How many books have traced the way a self-pitying middle-aged man's sexual revenge fantasies have eventually led to enlightenment and transcendence? Not that many, I'd wager. Kieth is serving up something really fresh and exciting here. More people need to get on it.

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