Pan’s labyrinth

Pan Pantoja

Pan Pantoja, surrounded by his work at the Studio on 4th, has a new book, <i>God Comes Near In Us</i>.

Pan Pantoja, surrounded by his work at the Studio on 4th, has a new book, God Comes Near In Us.

Photo by Lauren Randolph

“History tells us great thinkers were often considered crazy,” writes Pan Pantoja. “So I decided to fake a bipolar disorder.”

Considering Pantoja’s seemingly manic output of sometimes depressing artwork, it’s hard to tell if he’s really faking.

The 27-year-old writer, painter, sculptor, spoken word artist, play director, curator and illustrator is prolific and gifted, but his work often challenges viewers and readers on a level they might not be used to.

This is certainly the case with his latest book, God Comes Near In Us.

“I would like for people to leave that book and notice how little things in their lives connect,” Pantoja says. “[To see] how a disappointment is not a disappointment but an opportunity.”

Pantoja describes himself as a “potentialist,” and he attributes his relentless work ethic to that label. God Comes Near In Us is one of 54 books he has written and illustrated by hand. Pantoja has won some awards for his art. He was one of only 50 artists from around the globe to be featured in the book Art Buzz 2008.

He describes God Comes Near In Us as an “absurdist graphic novel.” It only takes about 15 minutes to read—perhaps 30 if you really spend some time admiring the illustrations. It’s structured like a long, bizarre children’s book, with single passages followed by an illustration.

God Comes Near In Us is broken down into 10 parts. The first part, “A Previously Viewed Life” is autobiographical.

“Living in the city is a gamble, you never know when a doctor will stick a telescope in a very uncomfortable place, and charge you obscene amounts of money for it!” begins the book. “You know, in some places they would pay me for services like that.”

The accompanying illustration shows actual medical bills addressed to Pantoja, along with a drawing of a man holding a sign that reads, “Will work for med-bills.”

The rest of the book possesses that same cynical humor.

“As I re-read it, I read it as, yeah, pretty cynical,” says Pantoja. “Which is also where the humor comes in.”

Characters in other sections include a man on a search for cottage cheese, a disturbed bird who rejoices at the murder of his family, and a cat who morphs into a small man and ends up in jail.

“I’m every one of those people,” says Pantoja. “That’s the thing, we pigeonhole. And when we can’t pigeonhole someone, boy does that cause a lot of problems!”

The strongest section of the book, “Pigs in America,” attacks the stereotypes of Americana.

“Young pigs quickly learn their place in society,” the section begins. “Pigs marvel at the world they have built. Sometimes pigs need lawyers. Pigs wait until retirement. Pigs watch reality TV.”

Pigs watch reality TV. Pantoja laughs at that passage, adding that he holds pigs in high regard, partly because the rest of society does not.