Woodring, Jim 1952-
WOODRING, Jim 1952-
Born 1952, in Los Angeles, CA; married; children: one son.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Fantagraphics Books, 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115. E-mail—[email protected].
Cartoonist, writer, illustrator, animator. Creator of the comic book series Jim and Frank; commercial illustrator for clients that include The Whole Earth Catalog and Microsoft.
Harvey Award for best colorist, 1993, for Tantalizing Stories Presents Frank in the River; Booklist's Top Ten Graphic Novels, 2004.
Tantalizing Stories Presents Frank in the River, Tundra (Northampton, MA), 1992.
The Book of Jim, Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), 1993.
(With others) Star Wars: Jabba the Hutt, Pan Macmillan, 1995.
(With Kilian Plunkett) Aliens: Labrinth, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 1997.
Frank (two volumes), Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), 1997.
(With others) Aliens: Kidnapped, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 1999.
Trosper, Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), 2002.
The Frank Book, introduction by Francis Ford Coppola, Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), 2003.
Jim Woodring Dream Journal, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 2003.
Also author of Trosper. Work represented in anthologies, including Flock of Dreamers: An Anthology of Dream-Inspired Comics, Kitchen Sink Press, 1998; contributor to periodicals, including Wired, World Art, Weirdo, Kenyon Review, and Zoetrope.
Although Jim Woodring is best known for his wordless comic Frank, in his autobiographical Jim, he is generous in using dialogue to express his emotions and put his dreams down on paper. James Donnelly reviewed the four issues published as The Book of Jim in Whole Earth Review, saying that the stories "are composed with the pacing, tension and eloquence of a wholly mature, if overtly peculiar, artist."
Woodring grew up in Southern California and, according to his Web site, "enjoyed a childhood made interesting by frequent hallucinations, apparitions, disembodied voices, and other psychological malfunctions. Despite the generally frightening nature of his delusions, he learned to accept them as part of life and was accordingly a reasonably cheerful and good-natured lad."
Woodring moved up and down the West Coast and worked at a variety of jobs while he submitted his work to underground publications, a number of which used it. He found work as an animator in Los Angeles, where he says he "worked on some of the worst cartoons this degraded planet has ever seen." The self-taught artist self-published Jim and then met Gary Groth, founder of Fantagraphics, in 1984, and Groth published it as a thirty-two page magazine. When Fantagraphics moved to Seattle in 1986, Woodring relocated, and from that point, he became a full-time comix artist.
Richard Seven wrote in an article for the Seattle Times: Pacific Northwest Online that Frank "is a buck-toothed, wide-eyed, balloon-cheeked character who looks like a skinny cat that walks on two legs. There's no telling how old Frank is and he never talks. He lives in an unidentifiable place that can be pastoral one frame and hellish the next. Frank mutely moves through adventures full of strange offers, morphing objects, and creepy nooks just on the other side of some portal. A lot happens to Frank, but he comes out unscathed and none the wiser." Seven commented that "the work is steeped in symbolism and messages that Woodring himself doesn't always understand immediately."
The other creatures in Frank are bizarre and include the repulsive Manhog, a thin devil-like creature named Whim, Frank's satchel-shaped pet Pushpaw, and the Jerry Chickens, geometrically shaped fowl who play cards. Andrew D. Arnold wrote for Time.com that Woodring "keeps the stories wordless, both as a challenge to himself—'like writing a novel without the letter "e,"' he has said—but, more importantly, as a way to avoid cultural currency. Not using words keeps the 'Frank' stories timeless and universal.… Word less, sequential drawings have been the purest form of communication since prehistory."
Robotfist reviewer Joseph Caouette called Frank's world "an empty world, and the pretty landscapes take on a deathly stillness because of the unsettling desolation that haunts them. In fact, one of the most fascinating aspects of these stories is that creeping sense of isolation. Even with a recurring cast of characters, the world seems so vast that our little dramatis personae cannot hope to fill the emptiness."
On her Web site, Kathleen E. Bennett wrote in a review of the series that Woodring "uses both stained glass/acid trip colors and rich, woodcut-like ink drawings to evoke different moods, two facets of the same world, which is both transparent and inscrutable.… If Frank is a hero, he's a Taoist or Zen one rather than a conqueror seeking personal victory or gain. While the world is trickster, Frank is the fool of tarot, with all of his human foibles and innocence." Bennett noted that while the stories illustrate basic concepts like death, spirituality, evil, pleasure, solitude, and friendship, "the strange landscapes, bizarre creatures, otherworldly colors and shapes, and often inexplicable actions that make up the stories are alien, at least to our conscious minds."
In an interview with Groth for Comics Journal online, Woodring said, "I wanted to be beyond any kind of place or time or culture. I do put in occasional cultural artifacts like hammers or party horns and things like that just for a little shock now and then. Besides, I'm sure every civilization has had something to pound with and something to make noise with at celebration times. But there would never be anything in there as modern as a television, or anything having to do with electricity. Everything is very primitive."
Woodring has branched out over the years and added commercial clients from Microsoft to the Experience Music Project. He designs CD covers and freelances for Japanese companies who push him to create ever-weirder art. He has also been involved with children's books, including his own creation, Trosper, which stars an elephant-like creature with a human face. The book comes with a CD of music by Bill Frisell.
The two have performed together, with Frisell playing guitar to Woodring's surreal stills and films. Ben Ratliff reviewed a seventy-minute performance in the New York Times, writing that Woodring and Frisell, "a superb draftsman and a superb technician, for those who had come to gawk at sheer skill, are on to a good idea."
The Frank Book collects all of the series since its 1991 debut, including the covers. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "Woodring's talent is finally captured in a definitive collection that lives up to his genius."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August, 2003, Gordon Flagg, review of The Frank Book, p. 1942.
New York Times, June 11, 2002, Ben Ratliff, "Music Review: A Visual Collaborator and His Accompanists," p. E5.
Publishers Weekly, September 15, 2003, review of The Frank Book, p. 46.
Whole Earth Review, winter, 1993, James Donnelly, review of The Book of Jim, p. 112.
Comics Journal,http://www.tcj.com/ (summer, 2002), Gary Groth, interview with Woodring.
Jim Woodring Home Page,http://www.jimwoodring.com (January 13, 2004).
Kathleen E. Bennett Home Page,http://www.drizzle.com/~kathleen/Comix/frank.html (January 13, 2004), review of Frank.
Robotfist,http://www.robotfist.com/ (July 16, 2003), Joseph Caouette, review of The Frank Book.
Seattle Times: Pacific Northwest Online,http://www.seattletimes.com/ (March 18, 2001), Richard Seven, "The Misunderstood Art."