Jim Woodring is a comics artist and painter who delves into strange and wonderful imagery derived from dreams and a history of childhood hallucinations.
Woodring is known for his short comics stories, told wordlessly and in a stream-of-unconsciousness manner, that feature his recurring character, “Frank”.
Frank is something of an apparition in himself, a fever dream version of 1920’s anthropomorphic animal cartoon characters, who is the center of the dream and also a stand-in for the dreamer.
Woodring also does painting, in monochrome and in color. I’m not one to toss the word “surreal” around lightly — having read the Surrealist manifestos, and aware that true Surrealism is by definition drawn from the unconscious in the form of automatic drawing or dream-state imagery — but Woodring’s work is truly that: surreal.
As much as I enjoy his work in color, I find it most entrancing in the form of his black and white pen drawing. His thick repeated linear patterns and woodcut-like wavy lines create “colors” in much the way the gray inks of Chinese ink painting are said to have colors. This is wonderfully evident in his comics, which are dream-like in the telling as well as the in the imagery.
You can see previews of two of his titles in the comics section of his website.
I will be the first to suggest that Woodring’s work is something of an acquired taste and not likely to appeal to everyone. However, if you acquire that taste, you may find it irresistibly fascinating.
If you were not previously aware of Woodring’s work, and the small taste here has piqued your interest, believe me when I say the small online excerpts here and on his site don’t do justice to the way his drawings look in print.
There are several collections of his work: The Frank Book, which collects 10 years of his signature work; a follow-up: Congress of the Animals; a one-off treat for fans of 3-D comics: Frank in the 3rd Dimension; and the latest, Weathercraft, a full-length graphic novel, told — like most of Woodring’s work — wordlessly. You will also find other titles, most published by Fantagraphics Books.
There is currently an exhibit of Woodring’s work at the Frye Museum in Seattle, for which the museum commissioned a series of large scale pen drawings — drawn with a large scale dip pen created by Woodring — that is on display until April 16, 2017 (images above, bottom three).
Exhibition at Frye Museum, to 4/16/2017
Interview on The Guardian
Interview on Believer
Bio on Lambiek.net Comiclopedia
Bio on Wikipedia
Books (Amazon links):
The Frank Book
Congress of the Animals
Frank in the 3rd Dimension
7 Replies to “Jim Woodring”
Absolutely agree with everything you wrote Charley. I’ve enjoyed his work for quite awhile. Thanks!
Sir John Tenniel was first, was he not?
Excuse me, but Tenniel had his Frankensteins. Coincidence?
Not sure what your asking about, Ælle. Tenniel certainly did some wonderful and fantastical pen and ink drawings, but there are also other predecessors to Woodring’s imaginative approach and pen drawing style.
I could have said that Botticelli, Pollaiulo, the Egyptians or the Chinese were first. I should have actually.
I just wish the images were much much bigger on the site. Even with my reading glasses, there’s just so much detail I can’t see!
Yes, his color and black and white gradient stuff is fascinating but when you get hit by the buzz and punch of the pen and ink it’s hard to look at anything else. My head will be vibrating for awhile.
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