Jim Woodring is a cartoonist and fine artist best known for his comic book series Jim and his anthropomorphic character Frank. His latest art exhibition “You Drive!” is currently on view at the Scott Eder Gallery in Brooklyn, New York. I asked him five questions about his life and career as a cult comic artist.
WILLIAM PENNINGTON: Fantagraphics Comics [which publishes some of Woodring’s work] is still a bit under the radar, even though they've been publishing since the 1970s. Does that kind of low visibility take some of the pressure off comic artists to be creative?
JIM WOODRING: Fantagraphics publishes work that they think has artistic merit. Of course they want their books to make money, but they are willing to lose money to publish something they think deserves to be published. I'd say that puts the pressure ON any cartoonist who wants to be published by them to be as creative as they can be.
Have you ever wanted your career to turn out differently? Have you met your goals?
Actually, my career has exceeded my ambitions, which means I should have aimed higher.At any rate, I did attain that modest goal. Now I'm trying to do something new, something currently beyond me, something that is maddeningly difficult to approach... which makes me feel 26 again, in a way.
Your comics would work well with animation. Why hasn't someone made a Jim or a Frank movie, or even a short film?
Well, there are some short Japanese Frank animations (VISIONS OF FRANK). I have been approached by people who wanted to make a Frank film, but none of them understood the stories well enough to be trusted. A creator in my position (i.e., powerless in Hollywood) would be expected to surrender all creative control—to say nothing of the rights to the property—to have a film made. Maybe they are waiting for me to die.
If you had perfect day set aside to write and illustrate, how would that day go? Do you have any rituals?
I experience that perfect day most days. Awake around 6, have coffee, devotions, get to work by 8, work ‘til noon, eat, have a bike ride (maybe), work ‘til dinner, eat, go to the gym (maybe), watch a film, devotions again, retire at 10.
Since I moved to Seattle six years ago, I've really been fascinated with the comics that come from Fantagraphics. In the Nineties growing up in the Midwest, I thought of only the grunge movement as being the number one reason to move to Seattle. If I had known about Fantagraphics I would've moved here a lot sooner. How does a kid growing up in the rural Midwest get inspired by you or any other comic artist, if there isn't a comic show within 100 miles? I wish I could live my life over and insert Fantagraphics in there. I would've had a lot more fun.
That would seem to be a moot point nowadays, when everything is available to everyone. Which, from my perspective, is too bad. The Less is More principle is powerfully at work online, where More is mandatory. It seems to me that most of the fun of being young is finding your way, making cultural discoveries and locating those things that are going to be important to you for the rest of your life. It seems to me that being introduced to, say, the work of Heinrich Kley in a used book store is much more personally gratifying than merely noticing his work in the avalanche of mixed images we get onscreen.
“You Drive!” is on display at the Scott Eder Gallery until February 27, 2015.