“The Mind of a Worldly Man Is Like a Fly”: A Jim Woodring Interview

Do you still find drawing to be a painful experience? Or, in having improved, is it more of a pleasurable experience?

WOODRING: I find it very difficult to sit down and draw, because when I’m concentrating on that, the rest of the world is going by. I’m not seeing it and enjoying it, and that almost makes me panic a little bit. I feel like I’m missing out on life when I spend hour after hour hunched over the drawing board, and that disturbs me. I find it painful to sit down and draw instead of just staring stupidly into the sky, which I’d rather do. But other than that, once I get rolling it’s okay.

RUDICK: You didn’t start reading comics until the ’60s, and you began with underground stuff.

WOODRING: I would see comic books when I was a kid, but I wasn’t a superhero-comics fan, and I really wasn’t that interested in comics in general. I always liked cartooning. But I didn’t really get into comics, other than Mad magazine, when I was an adolescent, until the undergrounds starting coming out.

RUDICK: Were you interested in animation?

WOODRING: Not the way some people are really into it. I liked cartoons, of course. I liked the really bizarre ones, the old Fleischer Brothers cartoons, the occasional European cartoon that would pop up on television. There’s a Fleischer Brothers cartoon called “Bimbo’s Initiation,” which has probably affected me philosophically and artistically as strongly as anything else in my life.

I’ve seen that one. It makes a lot of sense with your work.

WOODRING: It’s an amazing cartoon. I just realized the other day that the music in it is from Orpheus in the Underworld, which works very well. Obviously it was intentional— they chose that music because of the title. Bimbo is in this underworld, experiencing bizarre things, so I think it shows that the cartoon is a lot more than somebody’s whimsical ether dream. There was some metaphysical intent on somebody’s part.

RUDICK: Are you familiar with Al Columbia’s work?

WOODRING: Oh, yes.

RUDICK: Are you a fan?

WOODRING: Huge fan. I thought his Pim and Francie book was the best thing that came out that year.

RUDICK: You’re both influenced by the Fleischer Brothers.

WOODRING: Yeah. He more overtly, I think.

RUDICK: What appeals to you about his work?

WOODRING: He’s so good at capturing a certain terror of childhood—he distills it, he packs it into his work in such a way that reading it can be an overwhelming experience. The Bloody Bloody Killer in Pim and Francie is this grinning, insinuating, long-faced, scary-looking guy. You’ve seen his progenitors in cartoons many times—this broad, villainous guy who’s played for laughs—but in Al’s comics, he’s legitimately terrifying. When he starts bringing knives into the house, and the parents are interested in the knives, and the children are terrified—I tell you, it makes my blood run cold. Al is such an intense guy. It’s interesting what personal authority will do for a work of art. If Kurt Vonnegut says he wonders what music is, that’s a much stronger statement than if somebody with a less probing intellect says they wonder what music is. When Al Columbia draws something he thinks is scary, it’s really scary, because it has this authority born of the intensity of his personality that just makes it different.

RUDICK: Do you think the same is true for you, that the apparitions you saw as a child have played into all of your work in some way?

I think it might be. More than the apparitions and the hallucinations and those things, there’s a sense in which life never quite gelled for me. It’s never become something I can take for granted. It never quite seems normal to me. I find myself—God, I don’t know how many times a day—pulling myself back and asking myself, What is this? What is going on here? When I was younger that sense of disorientation was more or less constant, and I’ve deliberately kept it alive. I’ve kept my mind from settling down and settling in and being comfortable because I think that whatever it is that’s happening here is something better examined than taken for granted. At times it’s a source of bliss for me to stand aside from life and experience the strangeness of it. I feel like I’m very close to something when that happens, and that’s the feeling I’ve worked to keep intact. Undoubtedly a lot of people feel that the world is strange and scary and alien when they’re younger, and they don’t have any reason to hang onto that perspective. They outgrow it as soon as they can so they can get down to the business of putting together a life that works. For me, it’s something I’ve always wanted to have and never wanted to lose. Being that way has probably made it so that being an artist is the only thing I could be. Hanging onto that sense of everything being alien and hard to understand made it so that I’m probably not fit for any other work.

RUDICK: You said that sometimes it’s bliss, but what about the other times?

WOODRING: Well, the other times it’s not. I have moments where things frighten me like everybody else. Occasionally, I’ll have neurological discharges—they don’t happen so often anymore—where I see something as it ordinarily would not look, and it really upsets me for just a few seconds. Sometimes I have dreams, like everybody does, that wake me up, and I’m so scared of the world that I don’t know how I’m going to get through the next few moments. Bliss is really the natural state of things. That’s accessible when you don’t allow yourself to become too worldly, perhaps.

RUDICK: You’ve said that the apparitions you saw as a child were constructs of your mind, but why do you think you began having them?

I don’t know. I think it’s allied to the same thing, whatever it is, that makes you dream. I think a lot of the time I was just dreaming while I was awake. Most of us have had the experience of falling asleep, and some really irrational thought or image flashes into your mind, and it’s so real that it startles you. I think it was basically that. I was less socialized than a lot of kids, and I had problems focusing on the world and seeing it for what it was. That might have made it so that it was easier for these things to slip through the cracks and into my consciousness. They happened regularly until maybe ten years ago. They started slowing down when I was in my twenties, and now, I think the last thing I saw was about two years ago.

RUDICK: Are they usually the same thing or similar things?

WOODRING: No, they’re always different. The last thing I saw was a guy standing upstairs in my hallway, standing bolt upright, with a leather harness on his face.

RUDICK: Does it frighten you to see those things?

WOODRING: That one was extremely frightening. At first, I thought it was my reflection in the mirror. Then I thought, There’s no mirror there. I saw this guy, just standing, wearing black pants and a white shirt, with his face in a leather harness with the number nine on leather tabs at every junction of the straps, and his mouth was open in a rictus. I could see his teeth, and his eyes were staring at me in this beseeching way. He left after a couple of seconds, but it was very vivid while it occurred.

Then a couple of years before that, I saw the Thompson Twins, Thomson and Thompson from Tintin. They were in black and white and were walking down the street with a full-color nine-foot streetwalker in fuchsia hot pants. That resolved into a woman and her two small children. Then the time before that, I was at the mall and my neighbor lady saw me and came up behind me and spoke my name, and when I turned around and looked at her, where her head should have been there was this eggshell of lint, which had the front pushed in, and there was a big gob of chewing gum or something sitting at the base of it. That was a frightening experience. I screamed when I saw that. That just scared the shit out of me.

The thing these all have in common is that they’re not at all vague, they’re very crisp, and I retain memories of them with extraordinary vividness. I’ve drawn all these things out. They’re very sharp, almost more sharp than real life, in the same way that when people meditate and they see the white light—it’s obviously not light, it’s not photons, it’s something else, more vivid than light. Because you’re not seeing with your eyes, you’re seeing with your mind when these things happen, they have sharpness and an intensity that regular visual things don’t.


18 Responses to “The Mind of a Worldly Man Is Like a Fly”: A Jim Woodring Interview

  1. Pingback: Comics A.M. | Marvel’s ‘fathers of invention’; Gaiman, Tan win Locus Awards | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment

  2. Zak Sally says:

    holy shit does this man give good interview.

    i thank you.

  3. patrick ford says:

    Woodring is one of the most eloquent writers to have ever worked in the medium.

    His early text pieces in Jim are treasures, and everything he writes or says to this day sparkles.

    Yet his comics have been mostly silent pictures. Someone should ask him if he has suggestions for appropriate musical scores. There have been live shows accompanied by Bill Frisell.

  4. Andrew McIntosh says:

    If only Fantagraphics could manage to keep his books in print (The Book of Jim, The Frank Book), or bring some of his miscellaneous stuff out in book form (especially the non-Frank stuff from Jim Vol II).

  5. i always looved JW, but hearing him reference Kenneth Patchen, my favorite poet and an often overlooked genius, makes me warm all over.

  6. Bob Rini says:

    A wonderful, eye-opening interview from a true visionary cartoonist. Funny, too. The Congress of the Animals is one-of-a-kind.

  7. This really enabled me to resonate with the man behind the comics, thanks! Such an awesome interview!!

  8. Pingback: Carnival of souls: Jim Woodring interviews, various creepy and lovely images, more « Attentiondeficitdisorderly by Sean T. Collins

  9. michael L says:

    isn’t manhog’s encounter with the sophisticated shadow man not from Weathercraft, but an older, shorter story?

  10. S Hanselmann says:

    yeah. ‘Gentlemanhog’ in Frank issue one.

  11. Andrew McIntosh says:

    It’s a story called “Gentlemanhog”. You’re right, it’s not from Weathercraft, it’s from the 1990s.

  12. Kim Thompson says:

    THE BOOK OF FRANK will be back in print in two months, in both soft- and hardcover editions; we always intended to do that, but wanted to give demand the chance to grow a little. THE BOOK OF JIM has remained out of print for this long because Jim wants to make it more of a “super-edition” that includes, yes, the post-BOOK OF JIM “JIM” material and at least one new story — and for the last few years he’s wanted to focus on his new work like WEATHERCRAFT and CONGRESS OF THE ANIMALS. (In any event there’s at least a half-dozen copies of THE BOOK OF JIM available on Amazon.com at less than $20 a pop.)

  13. Jeff H says:

    I’ve read several previous interviews with Jim Woodring, but this is the best of the bunch. He seems to finally be describing the same comics that I have been reading these past several years, and there’s a lot of thought behind his answers this time around rewards the reader’s close scrutiny. In any event, thanks for publishing this one – Woodring’s work deserves much reflection and discussion, and this interview is a excellent contribution to the larger narrative.

  14. Pingback: Carnival of souls: Grant Morrison’s Watchmen sequel, Dave Kiersh, more Jim Woodring, more « Attentiondeficitdisorderly by Sean T. Collins

  15. Andrew McIntosh says:

    Well, that’s good news! Is the new story in the Book of Jim the one he talked about in this interview?

  16. ignus says:

    Very nice interview. I don’t know if this is the appropriate place to ask, so forgive me if I stray too far off-topic.

    These was a long Groth-Woodring interview in The Journal at the beginning of the ’90, it can be found in PDF format I think. At some point the mp3 file of the interview was available from TCJ website, and it was absolutely awesome. I lost it somewhere, and it disappeared from the net as well. Does anyone know if this can still be found somewhere? Does anyone have it?

  17. Pingback: The Comics Podcast Network » #293 Jim Woodring and the Sydney Graphic Festival

  18. Pingback: » #293 Jim Woodring and the Sydney Graphic FestivalDeconstructing Comics: A podcast about the craft of comics

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