The Illumination of Jim Woodring (2019)


This documentary by Chris Brandt explores the mystical and award-winning work of American comic book creator, cartoonist and painter Jim Woodring.

An artist who has astonished the world for three decades, he has also suffered from hallucinations and hyperrealistic visions since he was a child, eventually diagnosed as autism and prosopagnosia.

His dreamlike and surreal work, for which he is famous in the alternative comics world, has been praised and is part of the collections of cultural personalities such as actor Jeff Bridges, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.

The Illumination of Jim Woodring (2019)

This 97-minute film biography, made on a production budget of just $5000, was released in May 2019 and details the artist's tormented youth and his attempts to make sense of a world that seemed less real as he grappled with the challenges of his autism and his spiritual curiosities.

About the author (From Woodring's website)

Jim Woodring was born in Los Angeles in 1952 and enjoyed a childhood enlivened by an assortment of mental and psychological oddities that included paroniria, paranoia, paracusia, apparitions, hallucinations, and other assorted psychological and neurological dysfunctions among the snakes and tarantulas of the San Gabriel Mountains.
He eventually grew into a curious bear-like man who has enjoyed three exciting careers: garbage man, merry-go-round operator, and cartoonist. A self-taught artist, his first published works documented the disorienting hell of his salad days in an "illustrated self-diary" called JIM. This work was published by Fantagraphics Books and collected in 1992 as The Book of Jim.

He is best known for his series of wordless comics depicting the wacky antics of his character Frank, a generic cartoon anthropomorph whose adventures range from the sweet to the gruesome. A decade of these stories was collected in The Frank Book in 2004. In 2010, Frank Weathercarft 's story won The Stranger's Genius Award and was a finalist for that year's Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Frank's most recent book, Congress of Animals, was released in 2011.

Woodring is also known for his anecdotal charcoal drawings (a selection of which was collected in Seeing Things in 2005), and for the sculptures, vinyl figures, canvases and gallery installations that have been made from his designs. His multimedia collaborations with musician Bill Frisell earned him a United States Artists grant in 2006. He lives in Seattle with his family and residual phenomena.

-Walter Foxglove

The Illumination of Jim Woodring (2019)

Director's statement (Chris Brandt). Source.

I was introduced to Jim Woodring's cartoons and comics in 1993. I had just graduated from the University of Santa Cruz with a degree in sequential illustration and visual storytelling. The recreation of his dreams was a revelation to me. Just as he talks about his own influences in The Illumination of Jim Woodring, I saw in Jim's stories a kindred spirit. My own dreams were similar in nature and tone, and Jim's presentation of his dreams seemed to hint at an understanding that I was blindly striving for. I imagined that Jim was a man who had wrestled with the same existential demons that tormented me, and had won. That his ability to expose his past struggles with such skill and clarity showed that he had found a path to "Ultimate Knowledge": a living, modern-day Buddha.

As a comics (mini-comics) creator myself, I've had many opportunities to meet and talk with Jim over the years, most intimately for my 2008 documentary, Comic Book Independents, in which he was one of dozens of artists represented. In 2012, at the Small Press Expo in San Jose, Jim gave a slideshow presentation entitled Please Stand By. I was in the audience, videotaping for myself, as Jim revealed intimate details of his childhood, his psyche and his influences. A few days later, back at home, I emailed Jim to ask if I could share the video online. He asked me not to, but that was the beginning of the conversation that would lead to The Illumination of Jim Woodring.

In preparation for our days of lengthy interviews that would culminate in the documentary, Jim and I corresponded and phoned a lot, but I never divulged my definitive impression of him or my true reverence for his work. As my executive director, Miguel Cima, and I drifted on the ferry across the Puget Sound to Vashon Island, hot chocolate warming our hands against the late autumn Seattle morning fog, I felt the electric anticipation of finally being able to respectfully interrogate my revered guru.

did I find my answers there, in the wilderness of Vashon? Yes, I did. And once home in Los Angeles, after watching and cataloguing the five days of footage, I was struck with the feeling that I had gotten everything I needed from my experience. Meeting and interviewing Jim Woodring in depth, asking him all the questions that had plagued me for twenty years and that I had never dared to ask... that had been it for me. Watching the videos was like watching a home movie again, and the challenge of compressing the intimacy of the experience was... not daunting (though it certainly was), rather I felt no need to share it with anyone. I had gotten from it what I needed.

However, I had several friends who knew of my efforts, and their interest in Jim's revelations fueled my enthusiasm, allowing me to create a final product that compressed the thirty hours of storytelling into a digestible length for a wider audience. This documentary was really created for you, the audience. My needs were met when I returned to the mainland on the last day of filming in 2015. All the extra effort that went into making a documentary less than thirty hours long was for you and you alone. I hope you find it enlightening.

The Illumination of Jim Woodring (2019)

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