Sunday, August 8, 2010

Weathercraft by Jim Woodring

Guest Review by Robert Dayton (Fantagraphics)Jim Woodring is the greatest cartoonist of this era. There. I mean that.

I first saw his work when I was a teen, one of his comics was staring out at me from the shelf of my small town used bookstore. It was issue one of Jim. And there it stared for a few weeks. I was scared and intrigued but I wound up buying it. I just had to. I’d never seen anything like it. That was it, man. I was gone! The only thing that had such a similar effect on me was discovering The Sun City Girls a couple years later.
I started writing fan letters and ordering all the crazy stuff from his mail order catalogue (I never ordered the poisoned pup sponge, tho).
Jim Woodring was the first hero I ever met when I made a pilgrimage to see him a couple years later. Whoever said, ”Never meet your heroes” had the wrong heroes.
Much time has passed. His work just kept getting better and better. It feels like years since Jim Woodring has done new comics work. Vinyl toys and paintings, sure, but comic work? Seems like forever. And I don’t think he’s ever done a full-length graphic novel until now. This just might be his longest story yet! And it still achieves that strong impact.
For several years now, Woodring has been doing layered, unconventional moral tales of a sort that feature a cartoon cat named Frank. Being a  master of language, Woodring makes these sequential comics without any words. I do really like the way Woodring works with the English language, but these stories are meant to be beyond words, words can pigeon-hole, they are much too fumbly for this completely visual communication.
Weathercraft only features Frank The Cat in a supporting role, the central figure is Manhog, normally the antagonist in such adventures. This adventure is without words as well. Actually, there are hidden words on each page. I’ve struggled to find them but I can’t find the words. But, yeah, it’s basically wordless, making it accessible for all with sight. That doesn’t mean that this is a breezy read, one can go at any pace but easily return again and again to glean gorgeous details and new meanings. One can even stare at a page for days on end.
Comics are a bastard medium, two sides of the brain have to duke it out to read words and look at the pictures. Naturally, such mental conflict is less of an issue here. Thus, one can fall into this book much more easily. Weathercraft will most likely take you out of yourself and put you in a whole other state.
When it comes to atmospherics and shadow-play, Woodring has a polished and controlled inky vibrato creating lines that shimmer, even amidst torture and horror and unfathomable creatures.
Manhog is a pitiful creature. He is regularly abused, often he brings it upon himself. What a shock it is that he would be the one to achieve a form of spiritual enlightenment. Betty and Veronica are two bird-like hags that mysteriously propel the story from the sidelines through rituals that alter the weather and, in turn, alter Manhog’s course. A demon leaves through his mouth, later, another demon enters. Is demon number one what makes him feel a victim? When he gets bopped later on, without any demons inside, he simply smiles. Is this how enlightenment happens? Through the mouth? Will Manhog stay enlightened for the next book?

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