(Jim Woodring reads at University Book Store tomorrow night at 7 pm. The reading is free.)
- KYLE JOHNSON
Stranger Genius of literature Jim Woodring is best known for his series of books starring Frank, a cartoon character who lives in a dreamlike world called the Unifactor. In these books, Frank—a “holy fool,” to use Woodring’s description, who resembles a mouse, a cat, a dog, or a perverted miscegenation between Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny depending on which way you squint—bumbles through adventures often involving nightmarish menaces who come to the Unifactor and threaten to upturn the placidity of Frank’s life. They’re entirely wordless; Frank is a Chaplinesque mute, and the vocabulary of the Unifactor is either pre- or post-literate, depending on whether you suspect Woodring considers his characters to embody a vocabulary of their own, spelling out a mysterious grammar on the page.
So the most surprising thing for fans of Woodring’s work when they open up a copy of Jim: Jim Woodring’s Notorious Autojournal (Fantagraphics Books, $29.99) is that it’s packed full of text. There are words everywhere, filling word balloons and thought balloons, packed into pages of Woodring’s cramped handwriting so densely that if you stare at the letters for too long, they almost seem to crawl and pulse in front of you. It’s a little jarring at first, a corruption of the familiar, like hearing a wordless TV theme song (Star Trek, The Office) performed with lyrics.