A Tribe Of One : Jim Blanchard’s “Primitiva”

Running a gamut of garishness and ghoulishness from the grotesque to the giddy, it’s tempting to say that Jim Blanchard’s splendidly-produced mini Primitiva (Noreah/Brownfield, 2019) is something of a “sampler” of the artist’s wares — and while there’s no denying that it is, there’s also more to it than that. And while it’s admittedly not the long-form showcase afforded to the artist by Fantagraphics in books such as Visual Abuse or Meat Warp, that’s not necessarily a strike against it : in fact, the selection of acrylic and ink drawings herein seems hand-selected for its ability to really jump off these slick, glossy, high-production-value pages, which means the aesthetic focus here is —at least somewhat tight?

I realize full well that the beginning and ending of the preceding paragraph contradict each other, but let’s just go with it all the same, because deliriously contradictory (even self-contradictory) imagery has been a Blanchard staple going back as far as I can remember. Here’s a guy who’s known for some of the most intensely-rendered portraiture around, but who also delights in serving up dark hallucinogenic hellscapes that that bear all the hallmarks of chemically-induced acts of self-exorcism — so while his muses may be many and varied, his absolute commitment to delineating them with meticulous, even obessive, care is tenacious bordering on the flat-out unwavering.

I suppose that’s why his stuff is well and truly timeless — and that’s not polite-speak for “it ages well.” It’s a literal description. His art seems to both come from and situate itself entirely outside of the space-time continuum as our admittedly feeble brains understand it, but this publication is no simple trip into tripped-out territory. Rather, the seemingly random assemblage of primitive (hence, I would assume, the name) tribal designs, electro-psychedelia, insectoid imagery, homicidal cartoon kids, “good girl” pin-up art (including some Bettie Page stuff), Satanic symbolism and, for lack of a better term, “skulls and shit,” rhythmically beats a tattoo into your optic nerve that bypasses rational analysis entirely and forces you to confront it on its home turf — the subconscious. Sounds kinda far out, huh?

And so it is — but it’s considerably farther out than most art that bills itself as such. Certainly commercial considerations don’t even enter into the equation here, as Blanchard’s “intended audience” would appear to be nobody other than whoever the fuck digs this sort of thing, and that can shift from page to page, drawing to drawing, given that there aren’t fixed point of aesthetic reference here so much as there are recurring themes and/or obsessions that make their presence felt by dint of repetition only to surrender “center stage” again as quickly as they found themselves thrust upon it. Think of this, then, as a “grab bag” that grabs back.

In that respect, it’s not difficult to see how, back in the sub-halycon days of the 1990s, Blanchard’s work routinely was presented/ended up in the kinds of ‘zines where you’d also find stuff by the likes of Nick Bougas, Tom Crites, Trevor Brown, and Molly Kiely (among others), but it’s probably worth remembering that he enjoyed (hopefully that’s the right term) a lengthy stint as Peter Bagge’s inker on Hate, as well. So while his field of vision, so to speak, is both broad and broadly bizarre, he’s got the chops to make it all entirely accessible to even fans of mainstream (or at least mainstream-adjacent) cartooning. Skill is skill, there’s no denying that, and on a purely functionary level, Blanchard’s skills are an undeniable as they come.

All of which is to say, if you’re a “newbie” to this artist’s work (welcome to the club, we’re glad to have you), there’s nothing in this little ‘zine that’s gonna freak you out too much — unless you’ve got a phobia about bugs, boobs, or ol’ Beelzebub, I suppose. And yet this isn’t “Blanchard-lite,” by any stretch, either. Much of this imagery is disquieting, unsettling, maybe even heretical — but often for reasons you can’t quite put a finger on. These drawings will worm their way into the back of your brain, burrow a nice comfy hole for themselves there, and take up as much mental real estate as you allow them over time. Like guests who came to visit and decided to stay, you’ll get used to their presence for good or ill, and while life would be a calmer and easier place without them, it would also be considerably more dull.


Primitiva is available for $12.50 directly from the publisher at https://noreahbrownfield.com/product/primitiva-by-jim-blanchard/?fbclid=IwAR2X3jx_44ko-VUgGdUrW_WMKAWeJy8I_UsnWtFzM8WVqG5807KWXu3WjXo

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse