American underground comics great Jim Woodring brings Frank to Fantasia
Jim Woodring is the pusher of a particularly potent and addictive substance. His candy- coloured universe, inhabited by the simpleminded Frank and a multitude of frightful amorphous entities, is as fearsome as it is serene. Woodring’s line is so slick, his colour work so seamless, they give his images a hyperreal sense, as if the artist wasn’t inventing them, but seeing them. Indeed, for much of his life, he suffered from hallucinations. They were horrific, until the day he started translating them into art.
Montrealers are lucky enough to get the chance to meet Woodring this week, when he comes to Fantasia to present Visions of Frank, a collection of animated shorts made by Japanese animators inspired by his comics.
Hour How did Visions of Frank come about?
Jim Woodring Visions of Frank was proposed, arranged, organized, produced, manufactured and distributed by Presspop, the Tokyo publisher that has brought the work of so many American artists to that culture-drunk country. I did absolutely nothing except okay the project and design the cover. Well, I provided the stories the animation is based on, but such extreme liberties were taken with my "material" that I feel the results belong at least as much to the animators as myself… artistically speaking.
Hour Have you ever animated your work yourself?
Woodring I’ve made four Frank cartoons using Flash, one of which opens Visions of Frank. And I’ve made some bizarre Flash movies and some videos of manipulated images – one of which, Lazy Robinson, I’ll be showing at the festival with narration – for my collaborations with the guitarist Bill Frisell, but they’re too abstract to be considered "animation" in any accepted sense.
Hour Where did Frank sprout from?
Woodring Frank came from my desire to create a cartoon character that wasn’t based on any kind of recognizable animal, but was just a cartoon character, pure and simple. Now that I think of it, "pure and simple" describes him perfectly.
Hour Do you still hallucinate?
Woodring I haven’t had a hallucination in about two years. During my 20s I’d have two or three a year, and when I was a youth they occurred frequently. Usually they are not without a basis in reality. The last one… I saw two men who looked just like the Thompson twins, from Tintin, walking down the sidewalk alongside my house. They were in black and white, as if they’d stepped out of an old movie. They were accompanied by a seven-foot-tall streetwalker in fuchsia hotpants and thigh boots. I went outside to get a better look at them and they had resolved into a normal-looking mother and her two children.
Hour Is your inner world a fearsome place?
Woodring It is, but I feel comfortable there because I know the things I see there won’t hurt me. I’m never afraid my soul is going to be sucked out or that I’ll be frightened so badly I’ll become insane or that I’ll learn something I can’t bear to know. I learned to enjoy being frightened by my misperceptions when I was a child and now I derive a measure of comfort from the normalcy of those events. That world doesn’t scare me half as much as regular old human behaviour in the sunlight.
Hour Do you ever think of working autobiographically again?
Woodring Yes, I do, and I hope I get the chance. I have a number of stories written and worked out, and a lot more in seed form. The problem is finding a way to draw them and make the mortgage. Like crime, those things don’t pay. And they are draining for me to do… emotionally draining. I have a feeling of perpetual self-discovery in the afternoon when I work on those things… ideas about myself, memories, regrets, cherished delusions exposed… it makes me very sentimental, nostalgic for an unachieved perfection of life.
Hour Do you still make hand made toys, like those you used to sell from the back of your comics? Or are the Frank toys all mass made now?
Woodring I don’t construct artefacts to sell anymore, but I do make things for my own amusement, sometimes. I never really did make figurines or toys per se… I made machines and gadgets, devices to explore with. Stupid things. Like the Looty, which enables your eyes to stare directly into each other. It’s a bad invention… I made a few to sell and then stopped because the effect is unnatural and probably harmful. Yes, the Frank toys are mass-produced… Presspop again.
The Visions of Jim Woodring
At Fantasia, Cinéma J.A. de Sève (1400 De Maisonneuve W.), July 15, 7:35 p.m.