Northwest Reads from University Book Store reviews the works of Northwest authors and is a recurring column in the News of Mill Creek written by expert University Book Store booksellers.
By Joe Garvin, a freelance writer and Author Events Buyer at University Book Store
Heralded as a “medium-changing genius,” and “one of the great cartoonists of his generation,” Jim Woodring has been quietly but steadily plying his trade under our noses for over 25 years. Woodring has published upwards of 16 collections of work since moving to Seattle in 1987—comics, stories, illustrations, and paintings--nearly all through the esteemed Fantagraphics Books based in Georgetown. The recipient of numerous awards including a United States Artists fellowship, he has placed twice on The Comics Journal’s list of the 100 best comics of the century.
But "Calvin and Hobbes" this is decidedly not. The bulk of Woodring’s work—profoundly surreal, both dreamlike and nightmarish with its characters and procession of events—gives the impression of having been decanted directly from the unconscious. Anthropomorphic creatures resembling frogs and elephants occupy strange but uncannily familiar landscapes; beings traverse realms and undergo spontaneous transformations. Nevertheless, all seems to belong to a private and coherent symbolic language. This is the wondrous and unique sensation of reading Woodring’s most personal work—the artist delving deeply into his imaginative consciousness, and creating artful transmissions back from his world.
If it seems as though Woodring’s memorable, vividly rendered images seem to have been snatched directly from a florid vision, it bears mentioning here that Woodring has spoken frequently and at length of his history of experiencing hallucinations. These “apparitions” visited him, entirely without the influence of drugs, from his early childhood in Los Angeles and well into adulthood. Their personal significance to Woodring, as well as the role they play in his work, is clearly enormous.
Woodring has enjoyed the greatest commercial success for his fictional creations set in the universe called Unifactor—most notably Frank, a friendly-faced bucktoothed animal the artist describes as a “generic anthropomorph.” But Woodring has also long kept an "autojournal" of his dreams, comprised of autobiographical comics, illustration, painting, and free-form writing. It was this content that became the basis for his first publication in 1980, a twelve-page hand-Xeroxed issue simply called "Jim". Woodring has regularly published issues of "Jim" ever since, and a beautiful new hardcover from Fantagraphics Books, "Jim: Jim Woodring’s Notorious Autojournal", cherry-picks the best of this material from the artist’s 30 year career. The 224-page anthology includes an introduction and afterword by Woodring, as well as 16 gorgeous full-color pages of paintings, issue covers, and excerpts of comics.
"Jim: Jim Woodring’s Notorious Autojournal" is an ideal entry point to the most revelatory and personal work of this artist, whose work has been described as “marrying [Pogo creator] Walt Kelly with Salvador Dali,” and “filling the gap left between Betty Crocker and Hieronymous Bosch.” It also showcases Woodring’s dry humor throughout, as well as some of his more mundane, earthly concerns. In a 2002 interview, Woodring spoke about how he has begun moving away from such overtly autobiographical work: "I got sick of drawing myself. I don't ever want to draw myself again." We can be grateful for what we have, then, collected in this new volume "Jim"—a singular glimpse into the mind of a deeply imaginative and deeply inquisitive artist.
Jim Woodring will discuss and sign “Jim: Jim Woodring’s Notorious Autojournal” at a free event at University Book Store in the U District (4326 University Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105) at 7pm, September 4th. The book is available for purchase in-store, by phone at (206) 634-3400, or at ubookstore.com, on the date of the event.
“Jim: Jim Woodring’s Notorious Autojournal” by Jim Woodring, from Fantagraphics Books.
Joe Garvin is a member of the Events Staff at University Book Store.