It used to be you could go into a comic shop any given week and find a new single issue by any of your favorite alternative cartoonists. While they may not have been regular on an individual basis, the sheer amount of titles made it possible to find something by varying cartoonists of an eclectic background.
My personal favorite period for this started around the mid-eighties, saw a rise in the early nineties and unfortunately died out right around the turn of the millennium.
Within weeks of each other you could find the Hernandez Brothers’ Love & Rockets, Daniel Clowes’ Eightball, David Mazzuchelli’s Rubber Blanket, Peter Bagge’s Hate, Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve and, most relevant to this particular post, Jim Woodring’s Jim and, later on, Frank.
Each title – and many others I’ll kick myself for not mentioning - was similar in their anthological structure alone. Besides this they couldn’t be more different from each other, in some cases from their own issues.
I’d say above all Woodring’s was the most consistent. Some might balk at the notion, but I maintain it’s true. By being one of the most surreal cartoonists of our time, I knew I could never expect what he’d bring to the page. It’s this feeling of the unknown which made him so consistent to me. That may be an odd logic to follow, but then again, this is Woodring we’re talking about.
As I mentioned before, this heyday of single-issue one-person anthologies has certainly fallen from its previous glory. However, each cartoonist continues to work. I wrote recently about Clowes’ brilliant OGN Wilson, Peter Bagge still puts out the occasional Hate annual and I imagine Tomine’s next project is right around the corner. If you haven’t read Mazzuchelli’s brilliant Asterios Polyp, stop what you’re doing and go grab a copy.
Woodring has joined Clowes and Mazzuchelli in specific with skipping the serialized anthology format and creating his very first graphic novel, Weathercraft, by far his longest work to date. It happens to also feature his most famous creation, Frank, in a story that remains consistently surreal.
Giving a straight plot synopsis would be a little tough. Like a lot of Woodring’s work, it’s really left up to the reader to decide what it’s all about. Also like a lot of Woodring’s work, it’s done without a single line of dialogue. There’s no grand exposition spelling everything out for you.
With Woodring’s skill, I never found myself confused, at least, more than you’re supposed to be. I’ve never read a statement by Woodring saying this, but I always got the impression he wanted you to work for the meaning behind his stories. Even if it’s not the case, I highly enjoy the process. In one graphic novel, I got what I think may have been a love story, a treatise on spiritual enlightenment and sometimes just a whole lot of fun.
The times and format may change, but one thing remains true: Woodring’s a great cartoonist. After reading Weathercraft, I’m highly looking forward to whatever comes next, in whatever form it takes.