Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Author Du Jour: Jim Woodring

Jim Woodring (born October 11, 1952) is a comic book author and artist. He was born in Los Angeles, USA, and lives in Seattle. As a child he suffered from hallucinations of floating, gibbering faces over his bed (among other visions), and his work still has a very surreal and often nightmarish quality. Woodring once told The Comics Journal that under the right circumstances he is still capable of "hallucinating like mad." The desire to draw something that "wasn't there" was always of "paramount importance" to Woodring.

A self-taught artist, Woodring dropped out of college when he hallucinated a cartoon-like frog in the middle of an art history course. (Frogs feature prominently in Woodring's comics, and their symbolism seems to change from story to story. Often they are spiritually-minded but rather pompous creatures, but at other times they are more sinister and alien, at at still other times they are "average joes" struggling to protect their homes or their families from predators.) He spent a few years working as a garbageman and developed a serious drinking problem; he eventually quit drinking because he felt it was interfering with his growth as an artist. He then landed a job with the animation studio Ruby-Spears in the 1970s. He worked designing characters and doing layouts for cartoon shows about Mr. T and Rubik's Cube, and he has often said that these were the worst cartoons ever produced. During this time he formed friendships with and was somewhat mentored by celebrated comic book artists Gil Kane and Jack Kirby, who were both disgruntled with the comics business and were working in animation at the time.

In 1980, he began self-publishing Jim, an anthology of comics, dream art, and free-form writing which he described as an "autojournal". Jim was published as a regular series by Fantagraphics Books starting in 1986, to critical acclaim if less than spectacular sales, and Woodring became a full-time cartoonist. Frank, a wordless surrealist series which began as an occasional feature within Jim, became his best-known work.

Other Woodring characters include Pulque - a perpetually drunken, man-sized, Spanish-speaking frog-creature who inexplicably hangs around with a group of American, suburban children despite the fact that they cannot understand each other and are drawn in markedly different styles - and Big Red, a large street cat who hunts and kills with an appropriately cat-like gusto made chilling by the fact that we can understand his dialogues with his prey ("I'll kill you," shrieks a terrified possum, "I killed the old owl!" "That's nice," is Red's amused response, as he moves in for the kill.)

Woodring created a short-lived comics series for children, Tantalizing Stories, with Mark Martin. He has also worked as a freelance illustrator and comics writer, writing comics based on Aliens and Star Wars for Dark Horse Comics and adapting the film Freaks with F. Solano Lopez. Additionally, Woodring illustrated Microsoft's Comic Chat program, an IRC client which is notably employed in the creation of the daily Internet comic Jerkcity. In recent years Woodring has also become a popular toy designer, with his strange creations sold in vending machines in Japan and available at hip comics shops in America. In a 2002 interview with The Comics Journal, Woodring said that he was gradually leaving comics behind because they simply weren't lucrative enough, and he was increasingly concentrating on individual paintings. Still, Woodring produced a new Frank book in 2005 (The Lute String) and is working on another.
(End of Wikipedia entry.)

For a more personal look at the man, check out Woodring's own blog, here, or read the Comics Journal interview here.

Too shy for such an intimate encounter? Then by all means, go the formal route and visit The Official Jim Woodring Website, which also happens to house The Official Jim Woodring Website's Official Art Gallery.

And lastly, for the lazy, Visions Of Frank, a series of short films by some of Japan's hippest animators, all based on the Frank comics by Woodring.