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People are Strange: Strangeness Abounds In ‘Jim Lives’

Katie takes a look at Jim Lives about the life of Jim Morrison!

Jim Lives is published by Image Comics, whose silence on welcoming back known abuser Warren Ellis, who has not taken any steps to address his gross behaviour, with open arms is an absolute travesty. For further information on this situation please follow the link here

“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”

William Blake

Undoubtedly, Jim Morrison was a man of many talents. He was a poet, a musician, and assuredly considered himself a philosophizer. But it goes without saying that he was a free spirit. Profoundly influenced from witnessing a car crash on a Native American reservation as a child, James Douglas Morrison eventually acted as his own kind of shaman. Fans worshiped Jim as a supporter of the profane, equally as intoxicated with the counterculture movement as Jim was during his short time performing with The Doors

Uninhibited lyrics about death and morality often took center stage in The Doors’ music. During the late 1960s/early 70s, The Doors gave live musical performances where lead singer Jim would wobble around the stage erratically, his scratchy vocals enchanting the audience around him. The Doors played songs like “Light My Fire,” “People Are Strange,” and “Roadhouse Blues.” Their music, mostly written by Jim himself, blended dark, psychedelic rock and roll with jazz-infused sensibilities. And like jazz, Jim’s life and stage performances were liberating, unpredictable, and celebratory of freedom. 

It’s no secret that Jim Morrison had an affinity for psychedelic drugs. His songs, free-verse poetry, and off-the-book monologues during gigs praised drugs, rebellion, and free will. As a result, Jim served as a driving force for the counterculture and youth movement of the era. 

Sadly, Jim’s life was cut short. Jim fled to Paris with his girlfriend Pam in March of 1971. Subsequent to drawn-out court battles over his on-stage arrest that eventually led to a successful appeal, 27-year-old Jim decided to quit The Doors and live in Paris. Only a few months later, Jim Morrison was found dead in his apartment bathroom on July 3, 1971. Ultimately, his addiction to drugs, alcohol, and embracement of the no restrictions, “free spirit” mentality cost him his life. But Jim Lives asks…could Jim still be alive? 

Jim Lives: The Mystery of the Lead Singer of The Doors and The 27 Club is an original graphic novel from writer Paolo Baron and Ernesto Carbonetti that speculates on the strange controversies surrounding Jim Morrison’s death. Jim Morrison died of congestive heart failure in 1971. The Lizard King had been away from U.S. soil at the time in Paris. As a result of Paris law not requiring an autopsy, the assumed cause of death and conflicting eyewitness reports created skeptics. 

50 years on, and rumors perpetuating the myth about Jim faking his own death — or some accounts claiming Jim was murdered by his drug dealer — continue circulating. Jim Lives purports the former theory in the form of a speculative fiction comic. For more context, Jim Lives provides the second chapter for Baron and Carbonetti’s “Conspiracy Trilogy”, which explores theories about the suspicious deaths of famous rock legends. Additionally, Jim Morrison also belongs to the “27 Club”. The “27 Club” is a collective term referring to the cultural phenomenon regarding the numerous deaths of famous individuals that occurred at the young age of 27.

The historical conjecture graphic novel, Jim Lives, dispenses a relatively straightforward story. In the opening two-fold splash pages, we are introduced to journalist Jax on an assignment in South Italy. Jax peers through the lenses of his binoculars and makes a bold claim to the man next to him: The man steering the small boat in the distance is none other than the deceased musician, Jim Morrison of The Doors. Flash forward, and audiences learn that Jax has been missing since sending his father a message reading “Jim Morrison isn’t dead. He’s hiding out in Italy. I saw him with my own eyes.” Essentially, Jax has found evidence that Jim lives.

The rest of the graphic novel uses flashbacks and general plot devices to push the story forward. Jax’s father enlists a group of friends in Italy to play detective in an effort to locate his missing son — and solve the enigmatic meaning behind Jax’s final message about Jim Morrison. Clues about Jax seeking out centenarians in Southern Italy, the work of scientist Ancel Keys in connecting the Mediterranean diet with prolonged health, and a local resident spotting a man fishing on a blue skiff all lead Jax’s father and his crew on a wild goose chase.

Double-spread title pages divide the book into chapters, clearly marking time jumps for the reader. Thus, the graphic novel focuses on the mystery of Jax’s disappearance from his father’s perspective in the present day, and Jax’s own hunt for Jim Morrison a week prior. The alternating points of view work cohesively from a structural perspective. Although the reader learns about Jax’s fate before his father’s breadcrumb search shepherds any success, the mystery remains compelling. 

Jim Lives seems to have several purposes. Firstly, it entertains. While the plot isn’t entirely original, boasting a generic conspiracy theory plot and fairly one-dimensional characters, most audiences relish in conspiracy stories. Whether you believe in conspiracies or not, an innate compulsion to contemplate perception versus reality proves difficult to ignore. Therefore, Jim Lives prods below the surface of the iceberg. The plausibility and execution of the conspiracy in the graphic novel may not gratify readers in the end, but it opens the mental door to the idea of possibilities. What could have happened when the music was over for Jim Morrison? 

Secondly, Jim Lives supplies a story, not in novel format, but in the glorious intersecting medium of comics. I praise the comic medium in nearly all of my writing for a reason. Comics allow text and artistry to overlap with one another, each supplementing different capacities of storytelling. If Jim Lives was a novella, it would have held immeasurably less substance. Instead, we receive a visual expression of Baron’s story. Carbonetti’s art emerges as a corporeal utterance of the alternate reality these characters inhabit. 

Artistically, Carbonetti’s style could be characterized as avant-garde. Experimental art choices occupy the page space. Sometimes, he paints the entirety of two pages, dousing the two-fold splashes in watercolor that shimmers like a lingering musical chord. Carbonetti’s environmental depictions of Italy drag you straight into the ivory-colored columns and domed architecture of the city. Water imagery looks so fluid against the colors reflected from the setting sun, you might imagine slipping through the borderless panels and diving into the river. 

Choosing Italy as a setting for Jim Lives communicates symbolism and theme that appeared taciturn in the dialogue. The stone walls and clustered towns bordering the sea channel the idea of fluctuation. Where the expansive water Jax sighted Jim Morrison traveling upon infers the freedom Jim professed, the limited proximity inside buildings with winding staircases suggests disorientation. Silhouettes appear frequently, again functioning as a further means of conveying the plot’s thematic mystique.

Carbonetti’s art works as an expression of music. Panel structure varies on every page, and boundaries around the art are nonexistent. Jim Morrison’s music rejected limitations, as does Jim Lives. Unfortunately, where Carbonetti’s illustrations falter is in renderings of people.

Both Carbonetti’s strange visual depictions of the characters and Baron’s narrative shortcomings in character development hinder Jim Lives immensely. Any image of our main characters, including portraits of an older Jim Morrison, appear exaggerated. Faces are stretched when the characters smile in a manner that looks ghastly. Anatomical proportions remain skewed in favor of preserving avant-garde techniques. Further, the ultra-smooth coloring of skin and hair contrasts dramatically with the watercolor-splatter backgrounds — and the effect is jarring. Audience resonance with characters in Jim Lives will plummet below expectations. 

The 140-page count rounds down to about 70 pages of actual story. With the addition of interlude text pages, a “Bloopers” section, and the preliminary art designs in the back matter, character and narrative are sacrificed. Jim Lives propels forward at high-speed. Hence, readers never really receive a chance to understand the characters or digest the implications of the conspiracy offered. The elderly Jim Morrison character scarcely appears in Jim Lives. Still, tangible references to The Lizard King will excite fans. Readers searching for density will enjoy mining for the subtext evident on the pages of the graphic novel. 

In conclusion, Jim Lives surfaces from the Italian waters with some discordant refrains. Rock and roll legend Jim Morrison and the rest of the 27 Club are given recognition in the comic, with some members gaining a more credible mythology than others. Will Jim Lives “light your fire?” Maybe not, but it’s a comic worth reading for the artistic scenery and intriguing speculation alone. Open the doors of perception with Paolo Baron and Ernesto Carbonetti’s strange conspiracy tale about Jim Morrison. The Doors fans will appreciate the potential of Jim Lives: The Mystery of the Lead Singer of The Doors and The 27 Club. Take us higher, Jim Lives.

By Katie Liggera

Graduate of UCF Online with a B.A. in Creative Writing.
Reading anything I can get my hands on. Wishing I could write about every single comic I consume.

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