It’s Day 351 and I didn’t start my painting until later this evening. I am pooped from painting and various holiday activities. I did have a lot of fun painting this wonderful and colorful piece. Please join me in honoring Jim Woodring today!
James William Woodring (born October 11, 1952) is an American cartoonist, fine artist, writer and toy designer. He is best known for the dream-based comics he published in his magazine Jim, and as the creator of the anthropomorphic cartoon character Frank, who has appeared in a number of short comics and graphic novels.
Since he was a child, Woodring has experienced hallucinatory “apparitions”, which have inspired much of his surreal work. He keeps an “autojournal” of his dreams, some of which have formed the basis of some of his comics. His most famous creation is fictional—the pantomime comics set in the universe he calls the Unifactor, usually featuring Frank. These stories incorporate a highly personal symbolism largely inspired by Woodring’s belief in Vedanta from Hindu philosophy. He also does a large amount of surrealist painting, and has been the writer on a number of comics from licensed franchises published by Dark Horse and others.
Woodring has won or been nominated for a number of awards. He placed twice on The Comics Journal’s list of the 100 best comics of the century, with the Frank stories ranked #55, and The Book of Jim ranked #71.
The elder of two children, Woodring was born in Los Angeles. He suffered from hallucinations (which he called “apparitions”) of floating, gibbering faces over his bed (among other visions) when he was a child, and “was obsessed with death at a tender age” and was afraid his parents would come into his bedroom and kill him. He had behavioral problems, finding himself unable to stop himself from doing things he knew he should not be doing, which he says he did not bring in line until he got married.
He graduated from high school in 1970 and went to Glendale Junior College for about two months. While there,
“I had the most significant hallucination of my life in this art history class. I took it as an omen that I should just get the hell out of school and stay out! [Laughs.] This hallucination was so much more interesting than the class — it seemed to have forced its way into the classroom and jumped out of the screen where these slides were being projected in order to tell me that I should be somewhere else. I felt
that this image had gone to a lot of work to get into the building and get into that room and wait for the screen to turn blank and then appear at me to honk at me to go. So I did.”—Jim Woodring
Woodring dropped out of college and spent the next year and a half as a garbage man. During this time he developed a serious drinking problem, which lasted about eight years. He eventually quit drinking because he felt it was interfering with his growth as an artist.
In 1979 he was persuaded by his best friend John Dorman to take work as an artist with the Ruby-Spears animation studio. He did “[s]toryboards during the production season and presentation work during the off-season.” He did work for the cartoon shows Mister T, Rubik the Amazing Cube and Turbo Teen, and he has often said that these were the worst cartoons ever produced. At that 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.
While working at Ruby-Spears he began self-publishing Jim, an anthology of comics, dream art and free-form writing which he described as an “autojournal”. In 1986, Woodring was introduced by Gil Kane to Gary Groth of Fantagraphics Books. Jim was published as a regular series by Fantagraphics starting in 1986, to critical acclaim if less than spectacular sales, and Woodring became a full-time cartoonist. Frank, a wordlesssurrealist series which began as an occasional feature within Jim, became his best-known work, eventually spinning off into its own series in 1996. Most of the content of the first of the two volumes of Jim were collected as The Book of Jim in 1993, which was subsequently ranked as #71 on The Comics Journal’s 100 best comics of the century list.
“There are a lot of elements in the stories that mean something to me that shouldn’t mean anything to anybody else, though of course I hope they do. I use these radially symmetrical shapes and bilateral symmetrical shapes and those have both got a different import to me. They stand for different specific qualities. So if Frank cracks open a jar and a bilat comes out, that means one thing. If he cracks it open and a jiva comes out, that means something else. It’s like saying a stench came out or a mouse came out. I have this symbolic language worked out.”
Woodring created a short-lived comics series for children, Tantalizing Stories, with Mark Martin. This was the place in which his character, Frank,
first featured prominently, in stories that “have a dreamlike flow and an internal logic to them” written in a “symbolic visual language” that is
“defined by thick, unforgiving cartoon lines that marry Walt Kelly with Salvador Dali.” Most of the Frank stories have been done in black and white, but a number are notable for being in (usually painted) full color. In particular, Woodring was nominated for “Best Colorist” at the 1993 Eisner
Awards for the story Frank in the River. The Comics Journal ranked the Frank stories #55 in its list of the 100 best comics of the century.
He has also worked as a freelance illustrator and comics writer, adapting the film Freaks with F. Solano Lopez for Fantagraphics and writing comics based on Aliens and Star Wars for Dark Horse.
Woodring produced a new Frank book in 2005 (The Lute String) and in 2010 his first graphic novel-length Frank book, Weathercraft, which found itself on a number of “Best of 2010” lists. This is being followed up with another, Congress of the Animals, in May 2011. Woodring says that, while he had been away from comics, he built up a backlog of new stories, and he intends to complete a total of four 100-page books like Weathercraft and Congress of the Animals, and then return to the types of stories he had done in Jim.
As a comics historian, Woodring has written about T. S. Sullivant and other classic cartoonists for The Comics Journal. He also interviewed cartoonist Jack Davis for the publication.
Woodring illustrated Microsoft’s Comic Chat program, an IRC client employed in the creation of the daily web comic Jerkcity. The Museum of Love and Mystery is available as an iGoogle theme.
He illustrated the cover of The Grifters’ 1996 album Ain’t My Lookout. He also illustrated the front cover, endpapers and the song “Toy Boy” in singer-songwriter Mika’s 2009 EP Songs for Sorrow.
For years, Woodring ran ads for “Jimland Novelties” in the back of his comics. These toys, books and oddities included a kit to make a frog’s (severed) legs swim by hooking them up to a little motor, and another kit for leaving Woodring’s own fingerprints around your home. For a time, Woodring was sending his readers free drawings, his “jiva portraits” of what he imagined their souls looked like. A sample of the “Jimland Novelties” pages can be glimpsed in the back of The Book of Jim.
Woodring’s work often has a nightmarish surreal quality. Woodring told The Comics Journal that under the right circumstances he is capable of “hallucinating like mad.” The desire to draw something that “wasn’t there” was always of “paramount importance” to Woodring.
Woodring’s drawing style in the black-and-white Frank stories has often been mistaken for brushwork due to the greatly varying thickness of the linework typical of brush cartooning, but he has insisted, and indeed demonstrated, that it is done with a dip pen. He has said, “pen and ink for me is the ne plus ultra of drawing.”
In his Frank stories, Woodring employed a style that combined 1920s–30s Fleischer Studios-like character designs with an Eastern architectural and
design flavor. He also makes heavy use of a distinctive controlled wavy line that adds contour and texture to the backgrounds, which has become his trademark.
Woodring also works in charcoal and paint (mostly in watercolor). A selection of these works (mostly charcoal) appeared in the collection Seeing
Things in 2005.
Woodring is a follower of Vedanta, and aspects of this philosophy often appear in his stories. He says, “Meditation is the uber-skill. It ought to be taught in elementary school.”
Partial biography is from wikipedia.
I hope you enjoy my tribute today and I’ll see you tomorrow on Day 352!