When a man's sexual fantasies start turning on him, it may be time to confront those factors that have brought him to his current state. This, among many other themes, is explored in Sam Kieth's "My Inner Bimbo," released in trade paperback form this month from Oni Press. Kieth wrote and provided layouts for the book, and was an illustrator along with assistants Leigh Dragoon and Josh Hagler.
Originally released over several years as a five-issue miniseries, "Bimbo" stars an isolated old man named Lo who, after spending his entire life with a woman seventeen years his senior, is beginning to wonder if it's all been a mistake. Enter into this scene the Bimbo, a stereotypical nymphette who may be a manifestation of Lo's feminine side, a personification of his repressed sexual desires, or an otherworldly being sent by the mystical Trout.
Like Kieth's most famous creation, "The Maxx," "My Inner Bimbo" spends a lot of time treating the subconscious and advancing small yet devastating revelations through symbolic imagery. CBR News sat down with Kieth, who tends to be very self-deprecating about his work, for an in-depth discussion about "My Inner Bimbo," his upcoming mainstream comics, and the evolution of the 16-part Trout series.
Following on the heels of "Ojo," "My Inner Bimbo" is the second of what Kieth calls his "Trout Stories," a series of books that will be connected by characters' visitations by a magical trout, as well as sharing some other common features. "Ojo," pronounced "o-joe" rather than as the Spanish word, focused on a young girl coping with the loss of her mother and growing fond of the one pet she couldn't kill. "I just thought that, after such an innocent story, dealing with loss and death and things like that in 'Ojo,' that it might be interesting to go way over into the other side of the spectrum and deal with someone who was looking back at their life," Kieth told CBR News. "I do think I'll jump to another age group for a future book and not test people's patience with a 60-year-old guy and his 75-year-old wife. Not sure how popular of an idea that was going to be."
Kieth noted that "Bimbo" may have enjoyed a wider readership in single issue form if he had been able to maintain a regular schedule--a year-and-a-half elapsed between the release of issues #1 and #2. "There was a whole series of changes and personal issues that aren't terribly interesting, and just a whole lot of drama," he said of the delay, which did not entirely disappear after the long-awaited second issue appeared. "After everything settled down, I realized that I probably should have started [the series] before all this had happened. Or after! But not during. One of my assistants, actually, there was a fire and his place burned down. But most of the blame really needs to be with me."
"What I hope is that people pick up the trade and give it a try," Kieth said.
The writer-artist also apologizes for "My Inner Bimbo's" excessive wordiness, particularly in early chapters. "Did it feel like a less sexy version of reading 'War and Peace?'" Kieth joked. "What I really need is a comic about a deaf-mute next time! Or just someone who is as quiet as possible. I do promise that there will be less words in the next one."
Throughout his works, from Julie and Sarah in "The Maxx" to the protagonists of "Zero Girl," "Four Women," and "Ojo," Kieth has set the spotlight on strong-though often damaged--women, and this trend continues in "My Inner Bimbo." In addition to the Bimbo herself, who undergoes a marked transformation between the start and conclusion of the book, Lo's life is presented through his interactions with his wife Betsy, his guru Teresa, and the Female Disapproval Monster that has haunted him from youth.
"I seem to be sort of stuck there, don't I?" Kieth laughed. "Without sounding too pretentious, I find it native to the things I write about and it actually felt like a stretch for me with 'Bimbo' to write from Lo's perspective. I'm just never as patient with male characters as I am with female characters."
A intriguing twist in "Bimbo," though, is that the title character is a female within the male protagonist. "Yeah, that's sort of what got me through it," Kieth said. "An old guy who feels like dying doesn't nearly have the charm of 'Zero Girl,' when she says she feels dead inside. You're thinking, well, he's almost already dead anyway. Rather than, 'Oh, but there's somebody bouncy and young!'"
Kieth's reputation for surreal plot elements and overlapping subconscious crises with developments in the literal narrative represents another tendency the creator has trouble tamping down. "I was actually talking to an editor at DC, and he said, 'Why does everything have to have a subtext with you? Why are there always these subconscious things happening? Why can't you just do a story where things happen?' And I said, you know, I thought I was!" Kieth recalled. "I do try to have action. I can't help it, I am interested in--and perhaps overdo--the subtext and unconscious, because I've had an interest in it since I was very young. In a lot of ways, not everything, but some of these things, certainly the flashbacks and emotional things, that are dealt with in 'Bimbo,' I was able to put that into the story because it feels almost intimate to me in a way that, to someone reading it, might seem like just another story.
"A guy named Tim Kelly, an artist I was talking to, mentioned the scene where Lo straightened that sword out. He said, 'Yeah, I really liked that over-the-top scene where the guy straightened the sword out!' And I said, yeah, that was over the top. But I didn't do it for the symbol, it simply bothered me that the sword was bent. And so I straightened it out.
"A lot of those melodramatic things that happened in the story, I wanted to take them down and have the Bimbo mock them in the beginning, as Lo would have when he was younger," Kieth continued. "But the Bimbo catches up on the fact that, as you learn and as you grow, it's not necessarily always a positive thing."
The Bimbo begins to change fairly early in the story, after an episode at an art appreciation class conducted by the mystifying Teresa. But of course, the Bimbo is essentially Lo, so unpacking just what her evolution means is central to the story. "I just wanted to show the Bimbo eventually come out of this darker side because it was not easy for Lo to feel essentially inconsequential. I think a lot of comics and a lot of guys growing up are either are either slow to get jobs or in comics and are introverted," Kieth explained. "In a way, you could have got rid of that whole Bimbo facade and mechanism, but I knew a picture of a middle-aged man with a pot belly on the cover to each issue was probably not going to capture people's imagination. It's a tricky story and if people find it melodramatic or pretentious I think that's a worthy complaint about it. And I wanted to go to that extreme and go, 'Uh oh! I've gone too far!'"
Kieth continued, "The first thing people said when I talked to them about this project early on was, 'oh man, you're not going to have her become an enlightened bimbo, are you? There are so many angelic, broken characters in comics--first she's a bimbo but now she's a feminist role model!'"
Kieth admitted that there are traces of this, but thinks his story takes a different path. "I'm not sure if she's a political feminist role model, because she's inside of Lo's head. The only way her feminism is useful to Lo is that she justifies his looking at porn--because it's [a version of feminism] in a guy's head. A particularly illiterate and not particularly thoughtful guy. By extension, it seems like she kind of has to go from innocence toward realizing everything isn't quite as it seems, which leads her to being pretty dark and resentful because she realizes she can't trust his perceptions of the past. And then, she kind of grows up from being his inner child to being more of an adult role."
This progression informs a pivotal event later in the story, one that directly impacts Lo's physical reality. "She's changed from an image of a bubblegum-chewing inconsequential person to somebody Lo can't afford to look at that way anymore," Kieth revealed. "He has to look at her as a grown adult who's just wearing a flannel shirt and jeans because his projection of her is morphing more and more into who he really is."
Also contributing to the uncertain reality of "My Inner Bimbo" is Lo's flawed memory, which is noted multiple times by characters in the story. "He's the quintessential unreliable narrator," Kieth said. "It's kind of like in 'Lolita'--there's another Lo!--where you have to read past what [Humbert, Nabokov's narrator] is telling you to find out what's really going on. When Lo is warning the Bimbo, 'don't go in there,' well, he's talking to himself."
The "there" Kieth mentions is the highly charged symbol of a closed door, beyond which Teresa waits for a special after-class session. A major thread of "Bimbo" centers around whether or not Lo is in fact having an affair with Teresa, though for his own part Lo can't remember--when confronted with the possibilities afforded by that door, his Bimbo takes over. "The idea that he's so trepidatious about [the Bimbo] going in there I think proves to be founded, but not in the way he thinks. In the back of his mind, the fact that he might be having an affair is the worst thing that could happen."
According to Kieth, though, what actually transpires within that forbidden sanctum is "even a more insidious, horrifying act than just having sex with someone." Yet, the events ultimately proved to be "cathartic" and represent the Bimbo "trying to piece things back together--and thus him not wanting to acknowledge that he's trying to piece things back together."
On a lighter note--or not--Lo and Betsy's cat emerges as one of the most memorable supporting characters of "My Inner Bimbo," due to his adorable appearance and blunt comments about his own slow deterioration from cancer. "That's something everybody mentioned when the first issue came out," Kieth laughed. "Why cancer cat? Leigh [Dragoon] pointed it out, and she said, 'that's so funny!' Why do you think that's funny? 'He's got cancer, but look at that little face! He's so cute!' That's why it's funny. It's not funny later on. By the time Josh drew a realistic cat--I drew the little layout of the cat and he just drew this really realistic cat--and I just felt really depressed! Well, now it's really sad that the cat's dying! Thanks a lot, Josh!
"I just felt that it was sort of the sacrificial lamb of the relationship. You go through a lot of pets when you're with somebody your whole life. I guess to be fair I should have shown the cat as a kitty, but that would have been stretching the story along."
As to what's next for the Trout Stories, "My Inner Bimbo" carries a fairly direct hint. As Annie returns, now grown up from her earlier appearance in "Ojo," a caption notes that readers will see more of her story in an upcoming series titled "My Favorite Lie." Kieth said that, in fact, "there are four different artists that are all waiting to be handed stuff for these future stories that are already in progress," and that he has the equivalent of 16 miniseries worth of Trout Stories.
"There's too many that I can't even draw," Kieth said. "James [Lucas Jones, editor] at Oni really wanted me to get back to Annie, because it started with Annie, so I kind of had to know what the climax to her story was. At the end [of 'Bimbo'] she calls Gramps. And of course it makes no sense in this story! Just something about tears, and she calls Gramps, and 'oh, I understand!' Bye guys! What the hell was that? But in her story, you say 'oh! What a moving climax,' and then she calls Gramps,"
Gramps from "Ojo" is "Bimbo's" Lo. Kieth said that Annie will star in a total of four miniseries, with her sister featured in an additional series and other characters taking a starring role in the rest. It should be noted, though, that while Kieth used the word "miniseries," he also said that it was very likely these would be released as original graphic novels rather than single issues. "All of these characters have been plotted out over the last ten years by me, so if I die and croak you'll be blessedly relieved that you don't have to plow through them."
In addition to the prismatic world of the Trout Stories, Sam Kieth maintains a presence in mainstream comic, as well, writing and drawing recent series including "Scratch," "Batman: Secrets," and "Batman/Lobo: Deadly Serious" for DC Comics. He said he is currently working on four new books for DC. "There's two [Batman stories] finished, and there's a Lobo one--I'm not writing this one, so it will be a lot better than 'Batman/Lobo!' What was up with that story?" Kieth laughed. "Actually, Scott Ian from Anthrax, he wanted to write a Lobo story and they asked me if I would draw it. And I said, well if I don't write this one, it has a lot better chance of making sense. And I'm doing [a series] that Bruce Jones is writing. So I'm thinking that working with other people will kind of remind me to be little bit more disciplined. You know, you've got to have some middle ground between a one- and two-panel when people want to see Batman in action and 25 panels a page on 'Bimbo.' How about a nine-panel page! Show some mercy, Sam! What kind of bastard are you?"
"My Inner Bimbo" goes on sale May 27 from Oni Press.