Rebel with a pen: Author leaves the jungle

Bob Anderson is a spirit of the rain forest, and the only rule he bows to is the law of the jungle.

"I had nothing but contempt for people who are into discipline. I would do outrageous things and was in trouble all the time," he says of his younger days.

If his first book, Obo, was a tribute to the lush life of the Amazon and Gabon, his second, When I was a Little Boy I Was a Black Panther, is a preface to his renegade nature. The title, which at first blush suggests a memoir of radicalism, or at least a political pun, is in fact quite literal.

"I really thought I was a black panther," he insists. "Because I was a human being, with my brain in the body of this black panther, I could outsmart anyone who was trying to control me."

Anderson, who was once a popular cartoonist in Paris, has returned to the technique of ZAP comics for the illustrations of his new book. The mesmeric, intricate pen and ink detail of Obo is gone in favor of a more stylized backdrop for the bug-eyed Bob and his sleek avatar on the run from the National Zoo.

An architect by profession, Anderson is faithful to the post-war layout of the zoo, which he first visited when he was six years old. A detail perfectionist, he consulted experts to replicate the '46 Chevy that his father drove on that fateful trip. His father, the estranged authority figure, is represented by a torso in a military uniform, his head never visible.

Anderson's third book, to be called The Wedding, is dedicated to his son Joseph and daughter-in-law-to-be, Michelle. In the book, which for which Anderson hopes to find a publisher soon, Joseph is a honey bear and his beloved, a red panda. The story is about their trip through India, during which they pick up an exotic wedding party of elephants, hyenas, a mongoose, and a sambar deer and her baby.

It's a beautiful book and a simple message from this rebel with a pen, whom time and talent have mellowed.

"You can never get what you want if you're always in opposition with people," he says. "The only way to get what you want is to really understand where they're coming from, and it's always going to have to be some kind of a compromise."

Even the black panther eventually resigns somewhat. After eluding the zoo keepers and the hunters, he succumbs to human "creature comforts." On the final page, he is settled in front of his computer, his zoo-refugee compatriots slumbering on the study floor. The black panther has given up the jungle for a word processor and an easel.