Seattle has spawned some weird things: grunge; the Space Needle; iced half-caf cappuccinos with a hint of mocha. But nothing is weirder than Jim Woodring’s art.
Woodring is best known for his surrealist comic Frank, about the dream world of a bearlike anthropomorph, and his autobiographical The Book of Jim. Jazz fans will know Woodring’s work from the CD covers of guitarist Bill Frisell’s 1998 album Gone, Just Like a Train and 2001’s Bill Frisell With Dave Holland and Elvin Jones. The two have teamed up again for Trosper, a children’s hardcover book that really shouldn’t be read by children: kidnapped babysitters don’t go over so well with the little ones. Adults with wide imaginations and brief attention spans will love it, however. Frisell provides a suitably moody soundtrack—all of six minutes long, which is longer than it takes to read Woodring’s wordless 18-page narrative. (The inflated page count is because all but one drawing is printed on its own page, with nothing on the back, giving the book an object d’art vibe.)
Trosper is about a little elephant in a country palace that likes to play with his beach ball. When the guard/babysitter watching Trosper is attacked and eaten (or something—it’s surreal, remember) by a masked assailant, the baby elephant drops his ball and runs away. But monsters of all sorts haunt the palace, and Trosper keeps crying and running into them in every room. It’s not until he stumbles upon his beloved ball that his tears abate and he’s happy again.
The whole project is like a Little Golden Book on acid. Frisell’s delay-laden guitar billows and builds upon itself, making for perfectly hazy accompaniment to Trosper’s tale. Woodring’s art is at once innocent and menacing, like if Dali drew tomes for tykes.