Gary Panter (born December 1, 1950 in Durant, Oklahoma) is an illustrator, painter, designer and part-time musician. Panter is a luminary of the post-underground, new wave comics movement that began with the end of Arcade: The Comics Revue and the initiation of RAW. Many consider him the second generation in American underground comix
Panter has published his work in various magazines and newspapers, including Raw, Time and Rolling Stone magazine. He has exhibited all over the world, and won three Emmy awards for his set designs for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. His most famous works include Jimbo, Adventures in Paradise, Jimbo’s Inferno and Facetasm, which was created together with Charles Burns.
Panter is known to many as the “father of punk comics” and the “King of the Ratty Line” due to his idiosyncratic, scratchy line work emblematic of the DIY aesthetic prominent in the work of many small press cartoonists. He claims to have been influenced by among others, Frank Zappa’s art director Cal Schenkel. His comics are fast and hard and are drawn in an expressionistic manner. His works easily balances the worlds of painting, commercial art, illustration, cartoons, alternative comix, and music. Panter undertakes all of his projects with imaginative punk flair.
As an illustrator, Panter was one of the first to stop worrying about graphic perfection, preferring instead to push the underground punk attitude he had nurtured since the ’70s into his commercial art for established magazines such as Time, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker. By deliberately presenting his work with serrated edges instead of clean lines, Panter’s style came as a breath of fresh air to both publishers and audience alike. His fame as an illustrator grew when he was commissioned by Warner Brothers to produce a set of album sleeves for Frank Zappa. The resulting covers for Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favorites were universally admired (albeit initially not by Zappa himself), as was his cover illustration for the debut album by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He also did the cover artwork for Red Hot Chili Peppers record ‘the uplift mofo party plan’. He also did the artwork for Avant-Garde duo Renaldo & The Loaf’s “Song’s For Swinging Larvae” album artwork in 1980.
As an early participant in the Los Angeles punk scene in the 1970s, Gary Panter defined the grungy style of he era with his drawings for Slash magazine and numerous record covers.
Some time around 1980, Panter’s Rozz Tox Manifesto was published in the Ralph Records catalog, calling for artists to work within the capitalist system.
In the 1980s, he was the set designer for Pee Wee’s Playhouse, where he changed the face of children’s television, winning three Emmy Awards in the process. Prior to Panter’s work, kid shows had a drearily lulling aesthetic: everything was round, cute, simplified, and pastel. The set of Pee-wee’s Playhouse was the antithesis of pablum-art: it was dense as a jungle and jam-packed with surprises, often loud and abrasive ones.
While doing illustration and set designs, Panter kept up an active career as a cartoonist. His work in comics includes contributions to the avant-garde comics magazine RAW and the graphic novel Cola Madnes. Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons TV show, once noted that Panter “applied his fine-art training to the casualness of the comic strip, and the result was an explosive series of graphic experiments that are imitated in small doses all over the world today”. Groening himself can be seen as an example of a cartoonist who has learned much from Panter. The jagged smashed-glass rawness of The Simpsons (think of Lisa’s hair) can be traced back to the post-apocalyptic world that Panter was sketching in the early 1980s. The Simpsons could be seen as mutant escapees from Panter’s early work.