on June 6, 2010
Jim Woodring has an imagination that no other cartoonist can match in strangeness, originality, and coherence. There may be a few who can produce weirder images meaningful only to themselves, but none who can turn such images into a story. A story set in a strange landscape that seems to make an alien sense but is never fully comprehensible, a story whose main characters often have humanlike personalities but interact easily with incomprehensible beings around them, but still a satisfying story. His early work was taken from his own nightmares and made me glad I wasn't him, but more recently he's concentrated on wordless tales of Frank and Pushpaw and Manhog. Weathercraft is several times longer than any previous story, and it's Woodring at the top of his form. If you have a taste for uneasy-making strangeness, you can't do better than this book. Look inside it and see for yourself.
on July 19, 2010
For those unfamiliar with the Frank series here's the basic idea...
The stories are wordless and take place in a dreamlike world inhabited by a cast of strange characters, each one being a unique archetype (see the back cover for a brief description of each). FRANK is a cat/mouse-like anthropomorph, who is typically the central character. In Weathercraft, Man Hog is the star and Frank is a background character....
I have long been a fan of this series and my appreciation for Jim Woodring's draftsmanship and depth of storytelling continues to grow. Before actually reading Weathercraft, I was lucky enough to attend a book signing event where Jim Woodring gave a slide show presentation on his art. In response to a question during the Q&A he spoke at length about the meaning of a scene in the middle of the story where Man Hog sees a series of weird visions (or tableaus). I won't go into detail on what he said, but what he demonstrated is that far more thought and meaning is embedded in this story than the casual observer will realize.
I have since bought and read Weathercraft. I read it closely and slowly. Then again.... and now three times, taking 45 minutes to an hour each reading. If you wanted to, you could read this story in ten minutes. But did you look at the creatures dressed as royalty, did you notice how their manipulations from afar affected Man Hog? Did you see that creature in the background? Did you notice the clues, the relationships, the recurring symbols, the causes and effects...?
Sure, there are plenty of funny and cute and simple scenes in Weathercraft, but much like the films of Stanley Kubrick or David Lynch, readers willing to really delve deep will find this to be a rich work, executed with meticulous technical skill.
on January 24, 2011
How on earth do you review a Jim Woodring book? I suppose it's safest to start with the physical object itself, which is a beautifully designed solid 100-page hardcover, in a green binding with embossed colour dustjacket, the interior pages of heavy paper stock that brings out the textured quality of Woodring's wavy dream-like black-and-white drawing style. (Woodring's colour work brings different other-worldly psychedelic qualities to his Frank universe, but his black-and-white work has a clarity of line that is beautiful to behold).
Despite the absence of its usual main character, Frank, from the larger part of the narrative (and thus a little unsatisfying for me personally), the switch to Manhog as the conduit for what is experienced in Jim Woodring's curious and somewhat disturbing dream-like world, actually seems - for a brief period at least - to give the strange place of Unifactor some kind of weird sense. While Frank is mainly just an innocent who goes with the flow of the strange events that take place, the unpleasant Manhog often finds his rather selfish desires are contrary to the way the universe works and it places him in conflict with it. Not so in Weathercraft, where, surprisingly, Manhog seems to be on the road to enlightenment and become at one with the world around him.
The path to enlightenment however is not an easy one, seeing the horrible part-man/part hog-like creature go the usual humiliations and beatings, but this time succeed in overcoming Whim, the sinister devil-like creature that tortures him and conducts experiments on the other denizens of the universe. Manhog's actions - guided perhaps in some way by the two strange Moebius-like figures who appear here for the first time and conduct a strange ritual? - have however other wider consequences that threaten the whole fabric of the Unifactor world.
A description of Woodring's narrative, silent with no word panels or dialogue, is however misleading and almost impossible to fully interpret, but all his work has a weird surreal rationale that seems to have resonance on some unconscious level that one is compelled to follow and try to make sense of, forcing you to want to re-read it and experience it again. Perhaps I'm projecting too much into it, but the two figures dubbed "Betty and Veronica" bear a resemblance to Bush and Blair, while the sadistic Whim could be a Saddam figure, whose destruction has a profound effect on the stability of the world.
Such literal interpretations however only go part of the way to describing the immense richness and multiplicity of readings that give Woodring's world a strange fascination. The artist seems to rather get in touch with his own inner world (I think I once read in a Comics Journal interview that this world is real and Woodring gets in touch with it and visualises it in detail in his dreams), and touches on a deep subconscious level in a way that is fascinating and a little unsettling. The notes and Q&A on the book's inner sleeve are helpful in pointing towards interpretations without giving away too much of its mystery, and consequently how much you get out of this will be down to the individual reader, but personally, Frank's intervention at the end of the story only emphasised for me how much I missed his usual interaction with the strange world this time around.
This is a really difficult book to try to describe to someone - on the surface the story is illustrated in traditional panels in a kind of Crumb-esque style and features no words, it's all pictures. But then you come to describe the pictures and falter. A Manhog - a human-like person who nonetheless has pig-like features. A cartoonish cat called Frank and his faithful box-like pets (dogs?). Two cackling hags who are probably witches but look like dragons and other things. A bad guy called Whim whose head is shaped like a crescent moon and is constantly smiling in a sinister rictus and experiments on odd looking animals. And that's just a handful of the inhabitants.
This is my first Jim Woodring so his 20 year long career writing and drawing "Frank" is unknown to me but I enjoyed this book nonetheless. As we watch Manhog bumble around this surreal landscape getting into strange situations and escaping them, you feel like this is a hugely symbolic dream. The kind of story which, if had been produced in medieval times, would almost certainly have a number of conspiracy theories surrounding it as to what it meant and who authored it - a mad monk in league with dark forces? What does this scene mean? And this? Is there another world lurking beneath ours? Instead it's a creation of Jim Woodring's Unifactor world but you nevertheless feel there are layers here with hidden messages in the odd symbols. Or it could all be a completely mad vision/dream of Woodring's.
Whatever your interpretation of this well produced comic book, you'll definitely remember it long after you put it down. It's a compelling, mysterious, very strange and wonderful comic book about a weird place and fascinating creatures. If you're a comics adventurer, take a trip to Weathercraft and explore. It's a memorable place.
on April 2, 2011
This was really great, I loved everything about this book. This guy Woodring must be a genius, because for a comic with no words its pretty much just as good as any other comic that i loved. The imagery in this book is so stylish and original, plus the storytelling is impeccable. I am a big fan of good comics and this is one of the most creative comics i've ever read. I look forward to checking out other releases by Jim Woodring.
on June 23, 2014
Since the early nineties Jim Woodring has been keeping a record of the daily life of Frank, a 'generalized anthropomorph', his cartoonish physiognymy a hybrid: a cat, a chipmunk, and an otter, could, perhaps, be found playing in his genepool. His tubular limbs and three fingered hands, always hidden by familiar white gloves, betray the part of his genealogy contributed by Disney and Winsor McCay and countless other Master Cartoonists.
Frank and his world, The Unifactor, are essentially psychic real estate located in the dreaming mind of Woodring. The silent misadventures of Frank, his loyal pet godling Pupshaw, the repulsive and unpredictable Manhog, and diabolical slaver Whim, operate under rules of logic and causality that are understood only vaguely at first. It's as if we are slowly recollecting a childhood trip to a circus or local fair. Woodring is forcing the reader to approach his gorgeously rendered world, shifting from painted candy-colored palaces to forests of undulating black and white tones, as if we were dreaming it, not reading it. There are very few artists who understand the culture of the sleeping world like Woodring; David Lynch comes close, at times. Fellow cartoonists Charles Burns and Daniel Clowes are his stiffest competition. The comics page is better suited to relating dreams and nightmares than any other medium, including film. 'Weathercraft' was the first book-length Frank tale, but like all Frank stories, it can be read without any previous exposure. The black and white artwork is beautiful, and the story is a dense, baffling adventure that is just as great the second time around. Woodring followed 'Weathercraft' with 'Congress of the Animals', which is just as highly recommended; both volumes share a matching format and design scheme that is gorgeous. 'The Frank Book' remains the Woodring essential, however, a 350+ page oversized hardcover that includes the first decade or more of Frank stories, many of which are executed in the fully-painted glory for which he is famous... or should be famous. Whether working with ink, paint, charcoal or prose, Jim Woodring is one of the world's greatest living artists.
on February 8, 2015
Jim Woodring’s Weathercraft is a bizarre, psychedelic rip in the fabric of the reality of the Unifactor that pits Manhog against the seeming frustration of gaining one’s own comforts in the face of the bizarre and factional creations of Betty, Veronica, and Whim’s messing with the fate of all of the characters. This leads to a series bizarre enslavements, including that of Manhog, Frank, and a variety of other small characters who Manhog attempts to free regardless of the trouble it brings.
This was my first foray into the Unifactor, and from what I understand I chose somewhat of a high-concept book to start with as I have read this is one of the more difficult to process pieces. I loved it. It is wavy, the art is engaging and borders many different styles from the psychedelic to the cartoonish to the college dorm poster to currency illustration. It is as witty as it is terrifying, and what is most strange is how our own reality’s bizarre nature and reality is so beautifully rendered and reflected in the frames that at times border on the completely incomprehensible.
A gorgeous book in illustration, and Fantagraphic’s binding and presentation definitely add to the overall effect the book had on me. I really enjoyed it, and I look forward to many more experiences with the Uniform as I continue through the printed collections.
on May 16, 2011
This is one of my favorite comics of all time. Woodring's work isn't so weird as all that - only the FORMS have changed, the essence is the same as our reality, which is to say, the reality. It is another wrinkle in the mind of god. Whatever we can imagine must be. Weathercraft is at once entirely familiar and utterly alien, owing to Woodring's imaginative forms disguising things we would otherwise immediately recognize. Manhog goes through one cycle, hits the top, and returns to the beginning. What fun!
on June 11, 2010
If you buy this I promise the characters and landscapes will begin to work their way into your dreams.
You will understand it even if you don't think you do. Just wait a day or two...
on November 23, 2013
Woodring is magnificent, a treasure. Life as seen through another's eyes! This book is accomplished with nominal language, unsurpassed linework and visionary perspective!