As with many things that span more than 30 years, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure contains multitudes.
Hirohiko Araki’s manga began as a horror comic that combined gothic vampire atmospherics and buff boys with silly names who like to punch. Araki’s interests in fine art, outré fashion, capital-R Romantic displays of emotion, and the dadliest of dad rock have grown the manga into a century-spanning saga with eight main characters and two universes. Over time, the main mechanic of the action morphed from a classic Fist of the North Star martial arts style to an idiosyncratic system that resembles an amalgamation of C-tier superhero powers and, like, Jungian spirituality or something. The anime adaptation is currently on its fifth protagonist, Giorno Giovanna, who takes down a crime syndicate with a band of rowdy teen gangsters.
JJBA stories build on a truly daunting amount of narrative, drawn and written in a cascade of different styles, but what binds each iteration, along with every protagonist being nicknamed “JoJo,” is a sense of lineage. The main characters are descendants of the Joestar family, the drama rippling from the legendary hate-love between two adoptive brothers in 1880s England. Throughout JJBA, parents endow their children with powers and destinies, only to lose or run away from them. These classic tropes propel the action.
Though parents serve as powerful symbols, whose deaths must be avenged and whose names confer honor and dishonor, meaningful emotional moments between them and their children are few and far between. In the “Battle Tendency” arc, a man discovers his mother and doesn’t do more than react in surprise; In “Stardust Crusaders,” a grandfather spends a year with his estranged grandson, only to harangue and embarrass him. (The main exception is the scene in “Diamond is Unbreakable,” in which a teen meets his father for the first time, but the emotion is conveyed to the audience ham-fistedly by a third party.)
This lack of expression has prompted artists to pick up the slack and develop a significant strain of fan art to fill those missing parts of the story, sometimes for their own sakes. This kind of thing is the essence of fandom — I put myself in the art so that I can see myself reflected and experience the quasi-reality of that reflection — but here the maximalist fantasy is happily traded for a domestic one, with results that demand a deeper read.
JJBA fan art is much more than an appreciative reflection of the manga, anime or the wider content universe. A series with such a hyperbolic aesthetic could easily spawn a fandom that merely adopts the aesthetic and content as its own (i.e. “Hey, look at this weird thing I like”), but JJBA is more of a substrate for the kind of fan alchemy that countless corners of the internet have been built on. Writers, artists, and general meme-crafters alter the JJBA canon to remake it in their own image.
In the world of JJBA fan art, this has largely manifested as an astonishing amount of beefcake portraiture, styles ranging from fashion plate to Michelangelo to Tom of Finland. The original stories themselves dwell on sensual poses and homosocial devotion between men, so it is less surprising and more in the spirit of the JoJoverse. (Why is Dio drawn naked on the cover of a compilation volume? Hirohiko Araki says “he wanted to show off his beautiful body.”) JJBA is full of subtext and suggestive content, just waiting for someone to elaborate on what goes on behind closed doors. Interviewers even tell Araki of their fan theories of who was in love with whom, and Araki demurs every time as if he’s unable to see the queer aesthetic universe he’s (accidentally?) created.
The fan depictions of parental relationships, on the other hand, run counter to the official descriptions, and often as a corrective. The most prominent, parent-child relationships represented in fan art are between delinquent-teen-hero-turned-marine-biologist Jotaro Kujo and his wrongfully-imprisoned-delinquent-teen-daughter Jolyne, and between delinquent-teen-turned-fashion-vampire Dio and his delinquent-teen-gangster-son Giorno, despite the fact that neither dad had the time nor inclination to take care of their children at all.
The canon relationship between Jotaro and Jolyne is beyond strained, and they have little chance to reconcile. In Dio’s case, it is more complicated: the series never explains how the bloodthirsty vampire even had a child. On top of that, is the child really his or is it the child of the body his head was reattached to? (Welcome to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.) Nevertheless, a torrent of artists have depicted Dio grudgingly feeding a baby Giorno, taking him to playdates, or training him in the minor ways of evil. These drawings fill a character void.
au where giorno and jolyne become friends (their dads however do not) pic.twitter.com/BTnJbd6OFo— lonely rolling star (@mezzofortes) July 21, 2018
Artist Saba, who goes by @mezzofortes on Twitter, describes their fan art of Jotaro and Jolyne as “what if” scenarios. They apply Jotaro’s personality — “gruff, stoic, and sometimes awkward” but ultimately dutiful and protective — to what he might be as a parent, opening up the world of classic cool-guy-learning-to-be-a-dad gags and poignancy. They aren’t, in their own words, trying to be one of those artists who makes a “’fix it’ universe” where favorite characters don’t die and everyone hangs out together. These parental fantasies keep the characters as they are, even if the events do not.
Araki says that Jolyne “felt a deep void in her heart … because she was missing the paternal love” that led her to become somewhat of a miscreant, but, then again, the same could be said about every JoJo. Their fathers, and some of their mothers, are absent. (And the mothers are victims of JJBA’s sub-par gender politics.)
As I said before, the JoJos all seem to be, with the exception of the archetypally pure Jonathan, troublemakers. They are unconsciously looking for identity and acceptance as they push societal boundaries pursuing high school popularity, minor cons, the wholesale takeover of a criminal organization, or a cross-country horse race. Take out the narrative hyperbole, and it maps on to the experience of any adolescent or emerging adult who might gravitate to JJBA, whether or not they make art about it.
For some artists, such depictions can be even more personal. Melts (@meltsmelts) believes that “a lot can still be read into the few moments” that Jotaro and Jolyne have together. “The Jotaro and Jolyne I draw are more from another place where that conflict doesn’t have to happen. If I have to be honest, I’m filling [a] gap in my life.”
Drawing these poignant moments makes them possible in a certain way, not so much by making them exist in the narrative, but by making them felt. Depicting these parental bonds brings warmth into a world that lacks it, whether that world is real or fictional. However grand and unintuitively cohesive the decades of JJBA might be on their own, it, like any work of art, is not complete. Someone has to see it and all its strengths, flaws, idiosyncrasies. Someone has to see where they can fit into it. Someone has to love it and feel loved by it.
Max Genecov is a journalist living in Los Angeles. He is on Twitter @maxgenecov.