Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Sometimes I'll be walking down the street and I'll suddenly recall some unspeakable transgression of mine, and the shame and horror I feel will stop me dead in my tracks!"
Oh, that happens to me. All. The. Fucking. Time.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not neurotic: I'm deliriously happy at work and with most of the work that I've done, but we all have our doubts.
Jim Woodring's not neurotic, either. He's a thinker and a visionary and a craftsman with the visual skill and verbal dexterity to express his visions and, here, thoughts and dreams. He understands dream logic: its surreal segues, odd settings and reconfigured cast combinations. I have, before now, shared an apartment with our Mark, Jo Brand, Warren Worthington III (X-Men's Angel), an old flame and a couple of strangers we found in the bath.
Because Jim Woodring is best known for the silent FRANK fables (there are many volumes now, each extensively reviewed, so please pop "Jim Woodring" in our search engine) what you may be unaware of until now is that the man also has a way with words. Also, an obsession with frogs whose explanation is revealed in a rather dramatic anecdote in Jim's introduction which touches on his early experiences with Oz and the history of these earliest works in the magazine-sized JIM which Fantagraphics' Gary Groth had so much faith in that he published them for years at a loss. What Woodring doesn't do is explain the contents. You know, apart from that giant frog with its permanently arched eyebrow. Anyway, words:
"Once I had a little trust
"Its burnished head nattered at me in a voice as wild and sullen as my own and led me to walls that sulked and raged and trees that blared fantastic music.
"I stole something poor in those days and everyone cared, for every leaf was seen not merely as green, but all-fulfilling, peaceful, the soul that sustains the whole universe."
The images that accompany those words show Woodring playing with a puzzle in the countryside while being inspected by his ubiquitous (censorious? certainly serious) two-toed frog, one eye wide-open in judgement.
Woodring was Page 45's co-creator Mark Simpson's favourite comicbook craftsman. Both his imagination and introspection spoke to Mark, as well as - oh, how shall I put it? - the wonder of a reality as conceived and conveyed by its shaman. Along with the comics here you will find many a Jimland Novelty advertised in the back which Woodring hand-crafted and sold direct to the likes of our own visionary, Mark: recipes, recordings, sets of postcards and an Escaped Convict Weathervane with prices ranging from two bucks to two hundred dollars.
"One of the very worst nightmares on my entire life reproduced just as recorded on p.35 of my dream journal. Not recommended. Quickly but tellingly drawn. Tiny book, 12 pp. $3.00"
Thank god it wasn't page 45!
"Impromptu bedtime stories unspooled on demand for our two-and-a-half-year-old son, Maxfield. Sprawling sagas intended to bemuse and sedate, delivered in droning, fibreless voice. Some crying. Half-hour tape
There is the odd silent short included like Trosper, which lingered long with me and - I've just consulted - Dee. Painted in full colour (most of this book's black and white), it starred a baby elephant whose trunk was coiled up like a snail shell. He's happily absorbed in joyful, solitary play with a ball while protected by a three-eyed fellow whose skin is the colour of peach flesh (yellow with flecks of red towards its centre) and who wields a green scimitar bobbled with berry-like beads all shiny red. A hooded, would-be assassin in ornate robes strikes and Trosper flees in terror. The trauma's short-lived. Another ball presents itself.
You might have gathered by now that I too am declining to explain. I'm not being coy or evading the risk of being declared wrong because I am on most days the most opinionated bastard I know. But as I wrote on reviewing Jim's WEATHERCRAFT, these things are better left for readers to interpret for themselves (yourselves, I hope). You get out what you put in - what you bring to the table. Anything I say risks polluting your personal experience just like some music videos used to set in stone so much of a song which could have meant much more to you.
I will only add that the first comic offered in JIM, Seafood Platter From Hell, indicates that Woodring had first-hand knowledge of catching a skate or a ray as have I, for oh my god those devilish mouths and their prodigiously well-hung wangers!
Also, that Big Red will show you another side of your household cat you would rather not know.
Beyond that there are whimsical advertisements for the likes of Niffers which I am 100% positive Alan Moore must have encountered before emulating / adapting them - no doubt subconsciously - in his LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN comics. Niffers were otherworldly, invisible life forms you could invite into your household confident that they could be seen thanks to "a specially patented fluorescent dye-and-medication treatment" and which you could film in stop-motion to render their barely perceptible movements visible. And thereby lies a satori of sorts. "Proof Without Passion" it proudly declares.
Lastly, "Don't Hit Your Child!" screams a headline for an institution you instinctively suppose to be both benevolent as well as ahead of its day. But its proposed alternative for spoiled brats acting up and so infuriating their parents to their wits' ends is draconian, to say the least.
"Don't delay - send 'em away!"
Possibly effective if they're ever returned, or damaged beyond repair.