Jim Woodring’s lastest book, Weathercraft, recently arrived in stores from Fantagraphics. Continuing to explore the complexities of life through surreal journeys and complex interactions, Woodring breaks down and rebuilds Manhog, the sometime antagonist of The Frank Book.
Newsarama discussed Weathercraft with Woodring, including the differences between Manhog and Frank, silent comics, and the mindset to creating those amazing surrealist images.
Newsarama: Your profile has really skyrocketed over the past few years, with incredible acclaim for The Frank Book. How has the experience been for you?
Jim Woodring: Well, I am of course grateful when people like my work. I wish I were better at things like keeping up with correspondence, keeping in touch with friends. I’m perhaps too focused on my work.
Nrama: Does the increased profile affect your approach to the work or add any pressure?
Woodring: You mean, do I try to draw better now that I have something to live up to? If I could draw better I'd be doing it by now. I suppose it does create pressure of a sort but it's not much compared to the pressure I put on myself. And I avoid reading reviews.
Nrama: Weathercraft focuses mostly on Manhog, whose life seems to bottom out very early on. Yet when he hits bottom, he seems to lose all his cares. What drives this journey?
Woodring: I don’t think Manhog would ever commit suicide. He wants to live; he’s desperate to live in peace. He would be better if he could. Part of his problem is the way he looks. And he never learned how be exuberant without being obnoxious, so he’s gotten a lot of negative feedback.
Nrama: Despite being arguably your most famous character, Frank plays a fairly minor role in this book. Were you looking to do something different within his world, or is it simply a case of this particular story required a certain focus?
Woodring: This is Manhog’s book. He’s a more interesting character than Frank in a lot of ways. He’s deep, whereas Frank is bottomless.
Nrama: The hallucinatory designs and sequences, which have been a hallmark of your comics, are amazing in Weathercraft. How do you approach the graphic elements in combination with the themes of the story?
Woodring: It’s hard to describe how one does that. Having fun with the mind, mostly. Trying to think of visually fun objects that seem to have voices. Checking to see if what you’ve drawn has a charge, and erasing it if it doesn’t. Of course it only works if someone “remembers” it.
Nrama: Do you find certain advantages to working in pantomime rather than dialoguing the book?
Woodring: There is a certain purity in a pantomime comic, a nobility innate in the form. It has the virtue of requiring much more effort to draw, because you have to show everything. And of course no translation is necessary.
Nrama: Before beginning your career as a cartoonist, you worked in animation alongside comics legends Gil Kane and Jack Kirby. How did working alongside those creators influence your decision to move into cartooning full time?
Woodring: Not in the slightest. I was motivated by an offer to publish my comics if I would draw them. Besides, I was never into superhero comics. Gil and Jack drew like gods, it goes without saying, but I couldn’t entirely relate to what they were doing. And they didn’t like the new work I liked – the Hernandez Brothers, Pete Bagge, Clowes. This was in the mid 80s. But they were both great guys and I learned a lot about life from them.
Nrama: What are you working on now?
Woodring: A new 100-page Frank book called Congress of the Animals. Manhog does not appear in it.
Weathercraft is now available from Fantagraphics.