This week Fantagraphics will publish One Beautiful Spring Day, a swirling psychedelic epic from legendary Seattle comic Jim Woodring. The book promises to be a “400-page comics odyssey” linking together three earlier books—Congress of the Animals, Fran, and Poochytown—along with 100 new, mesmerizing pages focusing on the unusual life and times of Frank, a character whose stories he's downloaded straight from the heavens (and perhaps from other worlds) for the last 30 years.
In our interview, we talk about his new book, the sounds of silence, and that time I canceled his weekly comic for The Stranger back in the early aughts because, well…we were all so young.
In the early 2000s I did not understand your work at all. In fact, you might remember me canceling your longstanding weekly one-panel when I became The Stranger’s art director. You were gracious as ever. In the years since, I have done a major 180, and would like to start this interview with a humble apology.
Well, hell. You were the boss, you didn’t owe me anything, you didn’t like my feature, and you did let me run one final cartoon. Apology not necessary.
Again, with the graciousness! So, your stories are grounded in dense and totally relatable interpersonal dramas, while simultaneously adrift in some kind of surrealist hallucination. What amount of conscious effort goes towards balancing that duality?
As little as possible. The best Frank stories are the ones I think about the least. I injected my ideas into Congress of the Animals and things went so awry that I had to draw Fran just to set them right.
One Beautiful Spring Day is a compilation of three published works, in one surprisingly cohesive narrative sequence, with 100 pages of brand new content. Fantagraphics is calling it your Magnum Opus and one of the great novels of the 21st Century. What’s your take?
What turned out to be One Beautiful Spring Day was drawn over a span of ten years, in large chunks, which I had no idea would fit together into this final shape.
As I’ve always said, the Frank stories come to me as if from another mind; I don’t write them so much as receive them and transcribe them whether I know what they are about or not. They are a lot of work but very little struggle.
The three books OBSD is built on are not sequential. Fran’s title page says “Continuing and preceding Congress of the Animals.” Poochytown’s title page says “Discontinuing Congress of the Animals and Fran.” Those three books were anomalies because each one ended with an ongoing fluid situation. All previous Frank stories ended with a specific equilibrium restored.
The hundred pages of new material surrounded and recontextualized that uneasy three-book knot, giving them a relationship, shape and story structure they didn’t have before. The gross error I made with Congress became something sweet, ethereal and poignant. I learned you could change the past. I learned a lot working on this project.
It’s incredible what you manage to say without using any words. Yet, interpersonally (and on stage) you are very articulate and have a definite command of language. Does that seem paradoxical to you in any way?
When the idea for the first Frank story presented itself it was wordless. It seemed entirely right, aesthetically, even spiritually, so that was that. If there were words they would be idiomatic 20th-Century English, and that didn’t seem right at all. I couldn’t imagine Frank screaming “Ye gods!” or anything like that. A bonus was that I didn’t have to do hand-lettering. Also no translation problems.
Convenient! Another aspect of wordlessness is that my brain fills up the space with an imagined score. Are you hearing music when you are planning or inking these stories?
Not music, but landscape noises, animal sounds. I can hear those frogs droning.
The singularity of your creative voice is really impressive—especially considering your 30-year run—and I struggle to imagine what influences or inspires you. Can you share anything you’re reading, admiring, or compelled by?
The thing that compels my interest more than anything else these days is the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. My mind is drawn to these concepts and loves to play with them. It’s also been recently drawn to the huge TASCHEN book of KRAZY KAT color Sunday pages, the Cardiacs’ album SING TO GOD, and a meticulous, swoon-inducing painting my wife recently completed of creatures and scenarios from her overheated dream journal.
That sounds amazing, will we get to see this swoon-inducing painting?
Well, I can send you a jpeg.
One Beautiful Spring Day
By Jim Woodring
Aug 16, 2022