The Net Net Home


















Contribute Masthead About Home

JIM#6 and FRANK'S REAL PA, by Jim Woodring

by Zvi Gilbert

Pay Your Mental Health Fee and Join the JIMnasium


Ah, JIM.

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 has terrifying 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 motion.

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 favorite.

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!

frank 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 sold.

The Net Net is affiliated with
All contents of this Web site are copyright © 1996 - 2001 The Net Net and individual artists and authors. Do not reproduce contents of this site without permission of The Net Net and the artist or author. You may link to this site freely.
Design by Marmoset Media. Illustrations by Les graphiques Grenade. Hosted by The Anteroom.