Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 6:06 PM on Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cartoonist explores world inside his head

By Christing Whiting

Walk into Bunnell Street Arts Center and you enter a world of strange creatures, haphazard shapes and unusual scenes.


Photo by Christina Whiting

"Electron Microphotograph" by Jim Woodring.

Pen and ink drawings of a nightmarish, hallucinatory nature cover the walls. Titles of the pieces include "Jesus and the Bear," depicting Jesus sitting in the woods with, well, a bear, and "Electron Microphotograph," resembling creatures from an alternate universe.

These unusual and creative works of art are the renderings of Seattle cartoonist and graphic novelist Jim Woodring. Woodring is the artist in residence at Bunnell for the month of March, thanks to a grant from the Rasmuson Foundation.

The Bunnell gallery space has been transformed into an exhibition of Woodring's art and into a working studio. His work table is covered with pads of paper, bottles of ink, quill pens and unfinished drawings — basic tools of his trade.

"A cartoonist's needs are quite simple: Bristol board, bottles of ink, dip pens, a nib, ruler, eraser, templates for geometric shapes, tape, extra paper, photo references and a variety of pens," Woodring said.


Photo by Christina Whiting

Jim Woodring at Bunnell Street Arts Center

Since his exhibit of pen and ink drawings opened at Bunnell on March 5, Woodring has presented an animation screening of a selection of his collaborations with guitarist Bill Frisell, hosted a party for his newly released book "Weathercraft" and offered a pen and ink workshop in which he showed participants how to handle a dip pen and India ink for use in comics, illustration and academic drawings.

Throughout the month, Woodring also has been working on a 100-page graphic novel, which he plans to publish. The first 20 pages are currently displayed in the gallery exhibit area, and he is adding a new page to the wall every couple of days.

"I'll likely create ten new pages while I'm here," Woodring said.

Woodring drew his first cartoon as a toddler.

"I drew pictures of things that scared me, scary drawings that my parents regarded as a sign that I was troubled," he said. "I experienced moments of delusion where things just didn't seem right. My parents didn't understand, and so growing up, all of my support was internal. I always knew that I'd find a way to express how I viewed the world."

And so he has.

Some of Woodring's first fledgling cartoon efforts were printed in various "underground" publications, including Two Bit Comics, a weekly tabloid of the 1960s that was a cheesy imitation of the underground comics of the day. He also was published in the Los Angeles Free Press and his earliest effort at self-publishing, entitled The Little Swimmer.

Over time, Woodring developed his own cartooning style and found a market for his art, becoming a full-time freelance cartoonist, and working with advertising agencies and publishing companies. In 1980, he self-published "The Book of Jim," an illustrated autobiographical journal of comics, drawings and stories drawn from experiences of his early childhood years. "The Book of Jim" was later published as a 32-page magazine by Fantagraphics Books and is currently out of print.

The positive reaction to his autobiographical journal encouraged Woodring to embark on a career as a full-time cartoon artist. During the 1980s and 1990s, Woodring's work was featured in numerous publications about comics and culture, including Kenyon Review, World Art Magazine and Zoetrope. He is perhaps best known as the creator of "Frank," a wordless cartoon series, and his latest work is a newly released 100-page wordless graphic novel, entitled "Weathercraft."

Woodring's definition of a cartoonist is broad.

"A cartoonist is an imaginative artist who sees what's inside his head instead of what's in front of him. He draws ideas. Everything that I ever display comes out of an idea that I've had that's imaginative or fanciful. Every cartoon that I draw has a point or a purpose to it, which I believe is very true of most cartoons. Cartooning is a great way to get a point across, and it is extremely versatile and expressive artwork," he said.

Cartooning is a worldwide art form that began in the United States in the late 1800s. American cartoonists like Walt Disney had a big influence on cartooning around the world. Cartooning is huge in Japan, making up 25 percent of the printing industry.

Cartoons started out in newspapers and magazines. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, American cartoonist Justin Green pioneered autobiographical comics with his creation, "Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin."

"This was the first comic book to deal with a personal history in a serious way. It sustained people who had symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. This comic was a cultural landmark," Woodring said.

Woodring said the art of cartooning can be misunderstood.

"There are times when I sense that cartooning is not taken seriously, and I feel a bit of a disconnect with people. When these people think of cartooning, they think of Hannah Barbara. Cartooning can depict something silly, but some people just can't seem to wrap their minds around the fact that an awful lot can be said within a cartoon. Cartoons deal with a lot of important social issues," he said.

His peers, including R. Crumb, Justin Green and the Hernandez brothers, inspire Woodring.

"We exchange ideas and are inspired friends. Just looking at what other artists have accomplished with pen and ink hugely inspires me," he said.

Woodring offers encouragement to fledgling cartoonists.

"This is a great time to be a cartoonist. There's so much opportunity and lots of work. The world is more receptive to this type of art than ever before. It is a lot of work, but is very rewarding too," he said.

Woodring will be at Bunnell Street Arts Center through March 31.

Community members are encouraged to drop in and watch Woodring as he creates his work in progress novel, entitled "Congress of the Animals."

His work can be found at jimwoodring.com or jimwoodring.blogspot.com.

Christina Whiting is a freelance writer and artist who lives in Homer.