The title of Image Comics new original graphic novel Jim Lives: The Mystery of the Lead Singer of The Doors and The 27 Club is a statement of fact (Jim Lives) and the introduction of an urban legend (the 27 Club). Where Marvel have What if..? and DC have their Elseworlds, Image Comics have the conspiracies of Paolo Baron and Ernesto Carbonetti. They are fascinating and engaging stories of urban myths and hopeful pipedreams.
The second volume in The Conspiracy Trilogy asks what would have happened to Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, if his death had been faked. Who would have been responsible, how could it have been done, and more importantly, where would the Lizard King end up?
Ride the Snake
Jim Lives opens with a journalist, hot on the trail of the long dead singer. His stalking of an elderly fisherman in a coastal Italian town is intrusive and obsessive. Jax, the journalist, is convinced that the distant shape fishing for squid is the legendary singer, but his companion is not yet on board.
As a reader you assume Jax is speaking the truth. You have, after all, picked up a book exclaiming the very thing the young journalist is excited about: Jim Lives. This is going to be about Jim Morrison and the life he would have led.
Well, yes and no.
Like numerous other texts involving Morrison, such as the biography No One Here Gets Out Alive by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman and the Oliver Stone movie, Jim Lives is as much about the lives affected by the lead singer’s presence than it is about the man himself. Baron and Carbonetti take the reader on a journey of obsession and love. In this case, they show a relationship between father and son. Both of these are themes that epitomize Morrison’s life experience. Jax and his companion, and eventually his father, are all riders on the storm, swept along by an idea that becomes impossible to let go. It is an addiction that mirrors Morrison’s drink and drug dependence. As the story unfolds, the consequences of this addiction are played out in various forms. Each sequence becomes a metaphor for the inevitable effects of this unhealthy addiction: the highs and lows, the good and bad.
The script cleverly weaves elements of The Doors music and lyrics into a thematic exploration of Jim Morrison’s life and the wider concerns of celebrity. The destructive highs of fame and fortune are sorted through and illustrated by references to other bright flames who burned bright but fast. Cameos by the likes of Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse highlight the discussion of the 27 Club and act as reminders for the tragic lives these stars led. While the book celebrates life it is also a constant reminder of the losses. There are moments that will make you laugh and fill you with glee at the references being made but there is also a somberness to much of the narrative.
The Show Is About To Begin
Carbonetti captures a beautiful, sublime world soaked in the Mediterranean sun. The bright Italian landscapes and clear ocean scenes are wondrous to behold: works of art in their own right. A high number of double page spreads allows Carbonetti to capture spectacular vistas. This is a dream world, suited to someone like Jim Morrison and therefore believable that this is where he would end up. It is the singers utopia, influenced by real landscapes and the visual style of Oliver Stone’s biopic The Doors. Golden lights flood the scenery and glisten on the sea. The landscapes merge with the characters and fade out before the borders of the panels. This creates an ethereal sense to the location. It is the very essence of idyllic.
However, the strong use of silhouettes and negative space gives Jim Lives a darker undertone, often reflected in the script. Not everything is as it seems and you are led through this labyrinth of possibilities with Jax. The desire to meet Jim Morrison pushes the narrative but this longing is also expressed through the artwork. A series of quick glimpses, distant figures, and recognizable faces help to grow a lyrical tension befitting of a Doors song. It is time to break out Waiting for the Sun and Morrison Hotel and play them as you read. The music fits beautifully with the book: a perfect unison between music and art.
Somewhere the Lizard King stirs as his spirit is called.
In 1991, to celebrate 20 years since Jim Morrison’s death, the British Comic Crisis published a story entitled Lord Jim. Written by Igor Goldkind and illustrated by Steve Sampson, the short comic followed a desperate journalist on an obsessive quest to find the lead singer who potentially had faked his own death. Although similar in plot, the 1991 take focused on the cult status of the singer and the destructive quality of his life. He was an unstoppable force that led many to their destruction. Coming out of the 1980’s, especially with UK politics and the thematic comics emerging at the time, Lord Jim was a product of its time. Self reflective, desperate, and destructive. Jim Lives is of a different ilk. Even with the darker undertones and the sad reflection of lost talent, Baron and Carbonetti’s tale is optimistic and about self discovery.
Obsession was a large part of Jim Morrison’s life: obsession with Pamela Courson, obsession with pushing life to its extremes, obsession with experience. Jim Lives captures that essence with the interplay of self destructive obsession and the celebration of life. There is a duality to the narrative that comes from the characters’ interactions. The links to real people gives the book a solid foundation for its premise and you can almost believe in the conspiracy that it flaunts. There is a truth beneath the surface that you can’t help but pick at. Not the one surrounding the famous singer but something more universal about relaxation and living a secluded, balanced life. The hustle and bustle of the modern world blinds us to the simplicity of existence and contemplation. Jim Lives reminds us that it is worth taking time out. Be reflective and take a breath.
Ultimately Jim Lives is a story about a man who wanted to be left alone and a world that wouldn’t allow such selfishness.
Jim Lives is a triumphant book packed with outstanding art work and reflective storytelling. There are layers to the narrative that are mirrored throughout the layouts and sublime panels. The painted quality of the art creates a dreamlike world populated by dreamers, some who are trying to find their way and others who are already there. You will become enraptured with the conspiracy aspect of the story, especially with the surprising amount of humor that Baron puts into the script, but there is so much more to discover and learn from this humble 140 page book.
Before he died Morrison expressed some regrets with the way his life unfolded. This is evident in the writings that he left behind. He was a creative thinker trapped in a corporate world and in need of an escape:
The horror of business
The Problem of Money
do I deserve it?
Rid of Managers & agents
After 4 yrs. I’m left w/a
mind like a fuzzy hammer
regret for wasted nights
& wasted years
I pissed it all away
(From Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison published by Penguin Books 1988)
Jim Morrison was a poet and a self destructive force of nature. But thanks to Image comics, Paolo Baron, and Ernesto Carbonetti, 50 years after his body was found in his apartment in Paris, the life of The Doors frontman is celebrated and Jim Lives again.