Pay Your Mental Health Fee and Join the JIMnasium
But what is JIM?
JIM is Jim Woodring, a comix artist living in Seattle.
JIM is a comic book published by Fantagraphics.
JIM is a cartoon universe, a fantastic and horrifying place where
strange creatures cavort, caper and kill.
The JIM universe is unlike anything else. Woodring shares with the
surrealists a commitment to exploring the inner world through
dreams and symbols, and the best of Woodring's stories can be as
beautiful and strange as a painting by Dali or Ernst, and as
difficult to describe. His graphics, characters and stories are at
once highly personal and universal. I was scared to read JIM when
I first saw it in the comic store; there was something about the
shapes that frightened me. Now, of course, I'm hooked.
Woodring works in three or four basic styles. There are stories,
often involving Woodring himself as a character, that he claims
are direct transcriptions of dreams. There are the Frank stories,
populated by a plethora of bizarre characters, from Frank himself
(what *is* he, one of Jim's correspondants asked, a catmouse?) to
the grotesque Manhog. As well, Woodring often puts his larger
surrealistic paintings into JIM. Finally, there are pieces of text
narrative, sometimes with illustrations.
Through all his narratives runs a fascination with death, with
bilateral or radially symmetrical shapes, with the unconscious
mind, with eyes and bulbous houses.
JIM #6 -- the most recent issue of JIM -- and the one-shot collection
Frank's Real Pa explore all sides of Jim. JIM #6
and beautiful cover illustrations, and contains three stories:
Obviously Not, a dream story; a Chip and Monk story; and an
illustrated text called Boyfriend of the Weather. A page of
letters from JIM readers and some plugs and products by Woodring
round out the package.
It's worth buying for just the cover and inside front cover. A
sad, many-eyed wrinkly monster looms out as us, bearing one horn
on the top of which is carved... a small city, perhaps? And
inside, some strange hillbilly wind-up toy just waits to be set in
Well, I could stare at them for hours. The stories are a bit
uneven: Obviously Not -- a story about violence and responsibility
in dreams -- is disturbing, while the Chip and Monk story is more
cute than anything else. Boyfriend of the Weather, with its
disturbing illustrations and themes of death and resurrection, is
My one quibble: I somtimes wish Woodring would vary his cartoon
style. While his heavy, thick-outlined style is often appropriate,
I feel that a different and lighter style would be more in keeping
with the ethereal nuances of his dream stories. Since he often
draws people in those stories, having them look like Saturday-
morning cartoon characters distracts from the story. (Woodring
worked for years at Ruby Spears, a cartoon production house.) This
is particularly evident in Obviously Not: the cartoony people
distance the reader from their emotions and actions.
In the Chip and Monk story, cartoony distancing seems to be what
is intended. While the story has a bright and carefree surface
(two boys planning mayhem, teasing the sister, meeting the new
girl), there's a sinister undertone of surrealistic horror lurking
in the radio play that Chip puts on. The cartoony style makes more
sense when dealing with youthful characters and makes the horror
more unfamiliar and ironic. Charles Burns often acheives a similar
effect in his Big Baby strips.
Boyfriend of the Weather -- a strange narrative of a child's
misadventures at some dreamlike party -- is familiar territory for
Woodring, and he carries it off with style. Woodring's gift for
prose truly shines, and I can't resist quoting one bit: "And then
comes the brief and final death, and the world is stunned. No one
can comprehend it. The sun shines like a chunk of pastrami, left
unattended in a hot skillet. The waters swarm with insanity in the
form of protozoa." Neat!
JIM #6 is a worthwhile addition to the JIM universe. I just wish
he didn't take so long to get the damn things out. Perhaps our
jones for JIM will be assuaged: starting this summer, Woodring
will be putting his art into two titles: the aforementioned JIM
and a new title, FRANK, containing the misadventures of everyone's
favorite... whatever. I can hardly wait.
Our last glimpse of Frank was in the Frank's Real Pa collection
where Frank appears in his longest narrative to date. This long
story, strangely enough, first appeared in the Millenial Whole
Earth Review. It's strange but amazing to see Frank doing his
thing in the middle of all these anarchists and ex-hippies.
The narrative is obscure: Frank wanders through the landscape of
his world, purchases a mysterious rug which his pet/guardian
Pupshah gets rid of, and we follow him through several adventures
invovling devils, Manhog, and eyepools. It's not my favorite Frank
story--others have had stronger effects on me--but it's
fascinating nonetheless. Puzzling out the actions and lacunae in
this wordless narrative is an involving experience. It's also in
black and white, except for the cover, which is a pity as, the
Frank stories glow beautifully in their garish spectrums. Above
all, Woodring is a master of color.
Enter the Woodring universe. His characters and words will start
ringing bells in your mind, too.
JIM #6 and Frank's Real Pa,
available where finer comic art is