“I have something to live for in the goal of producing this long, fascinating, convoluted, loop-de-loop, metaphysical story arc. And that’s the kind of thing that occupies me and makes my days the joyous things they are: living in this screwed-up dream-world that isolates me from the rest of the world and humanity in general.”
Jim Woodring rejoins the show to talk art, comics and the Unifactor! During a break at SPX 2016, we sat down to discuss the importance of Fantagraphics on its 40th anniversary, Jim’s move to Seattle in 1974 and his move away from there last year, camaraderie with the cartoonists of his generation, what he’d do if he was just starting out as a cartoonist today, the experience of seeing Frank in 3-D, the joys of drawing with a six-foot pen, just what Art is there for, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy his newest book, Frank In The 3rd Dimension!
“Some people say religious experiences are just in the person’s mind, but where else would they be?”
We also talk about how Jack Kirby drew like a haunted machine, why computers have led to a generation of prosthetic geniuses, why he sticks with analog drawing tools (like that six-foot-long pen, known as Nibbus Maximus), the remarkable experience of going on a tour of the South China Seas with “a billionaire friend of mine”, his relationship with the Unifactor (and the perils of trying to circumvent its storytelling imperatives), the role of perseverance in becoming a better artist, and the feeling that he’s done the right thing in his life. Now go listen to the show!
“I feel like a pretender next to guys like Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. With my limited abilities and my ‘that’s good enough’ philosophy of art, I feel like I’ve just sneaked into the party.”
About our Guest
Jim Woodring was born in Los Angeles in 1952 and enjoyed a childhood made lively by an assortment of mental an psychological quirks including paroniria, paranoia, paracusia, apparitions, hallucinations and other species of psychological and neurological malfunction among the snakes and tarantulas of the San Gabriel mountains.
He eventually grew up to be an inquisitive bearlike man who has enjoyed three exciting careers: garbage collector, merry-go-round-operator and cartoonist. A self-taught artist, his first published works documented the disorienting hell of his salad days in an “illustrated autojournal” called JIM. This work was published by Fantagraphics Books and collected in The Book of Jim in 1992. A newer collection of these comics was published as Jim.
He is best known for his wordless comics series depicting the follies of his character Frank, a generic cartoon anthropomorph whose adventures careen wildly from sweet to appalling. A decade’s worth of these stories was collected in The Frank Book in 2004. The 2010 Frank story Weathercraft won The Stranger’s Genius Award and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for that year. Woodring has published two more FRANK books, The Congress of the Animals, and Fran. His newest book is Frank In The 3rd Dimension, with Charles Barnard.
Woodring is also known for his anecdotal charcoal drawings (a selection which was gathered in Seeing Things in 2005), and the sculptures, vinyl figures, fabrics and gallery installations that have been made from his designs. His multimedia collaborations with the musician Bill Frisell won them a United States Artists Fellowship in 2006. He lives on Vashon Island with his family and residual phenomena.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Bethesda North Marriott on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photos of Jim by me.
“How can you keep experimenting within your own work? When they say people reinvent themselves, they just mean they put on new clothes or something.”
Ben Katchor rejoins the show to talk about the 25th anniversary edition of Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay (Drawn & Quarterly)! We talk about those aforementioned pleasures, the boredom of the modern flaneur, his evolution from genre fandom to “literary comics” (my awful term, not his), the danger in comics becoming over-academic, the challenges of writing a world history, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Cheap Novelties!
“You spend the first 20 years of your life figuring out how the culture works, another 20 years figuring out how to make a living in that culture, and maybe the last part you’re in oblivion, saying, ‘What did I do?'”
We also get into the tedium of the latest iteration of New York City, the experience of capitalism’s end-game, why his comics are a product of a unique moment, his discovery of Undergrounds, the challenges of making anything new, how he found a readership that isn’t interested in comics, and more! Now go listen to the show!
“All these people who weren’t born or were babies when Cheap Novelties came out, now they’re going to look at it and say, ‘What does this mean? How does this even relate to us?'”
About our Guest
Ben Katchor lives in New York, where he is an Associate Professor at Parsons School of Design—The New School. As director of Parsons’ Illustration program, he runs The New York Comics & Picture-story Symposium, a weekly lecture series for the study of text-image work. He has been the recipient of both a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Fellowship.
Along with his long-running comic-strip work — Julius Knipl, Real-Estate Photographer, The Cardboard Valise, Hotel & Farm, The Jew of New York, and a monthly strip for Metropolis magazine—Katchor has also collaborated with musician Mark Mulcahy on a number of works for musical theatre. These works include The Rosenbach Company (a tragi-comedy about the life and times of Abe Rosenbach, the preeminent rare-book dealer of the 20th century); The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island, or, The Friends of Dr. Rushower, an absurdist romance about the chemical emissions and addictive soft-drinks of a ruined tropical factory-island; A Checkroom Romance, about the culture and architecture of coat-checkrooms; and Up From the Stacks, about a page working the stacks of the New York Public Library in 1975. Katchor is the only cartoonist to have won an Obie for Best New American Work, for his libretto and drawings for The Carbon Copy Building, a collaboration with Bang on a Can. His TED Talk is titled Comics of Bygone New York. He is on Twitter at benkatchor.
His books include the 25th anniversary edition of Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay, Hand-Drying in America: And Other Stories, The Cardboard Valise, Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: Stories, Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: The Beauty Supply District, and The Jew of New York.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded in the garden at the rear of the Columbus Metropolitan Library on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-1 and then into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photo of Mr. Katchor at his drawing desk by Keetja Allard, photo from his Twitter avatar by ???.