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GUIDE TO

INSIDE:

GOTYE

8-PAGE SPECIAL

WIDENING YOUR MIND'S EYE

SCOTT MCCLOUD

INSIDE THE WORLD OF COMICS

JIM WOODRING SPEAKING FRANKLY PLAID SOUNDTRACKING THE ANIMAZING


WELCOME TO THE DRUM MEDIA GUIDE TO GRAPHIC 2011 As recently as five years ago the idea of alternative, hipster and geek culture finding itself a home at the Sydney Opera House seemed absurd. The Opera House is for symphonies, operas, tourists, history says. And yet, as the national landmark approaches its 40th birthday, it’s gaining a new lease on life; these days you’re as likely to hear the music of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All as you are Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In the past three years alone, thanks to the likes of Sydney Festival and hip young events such as Vivid and Graphic, the Opera House has played host to filmmaker Kevin Smith and graphic novelist/author Neil Gaiman, let Belgian duo 2ManyDJs run a nightly club for a week, held the first-ever Australian shows of the little-known British outfit WU LYF, been privy to a mini-festival of noise bands and allowed its sails to become canvases for digital prints. Hell, it even holds debates with topics such as ‘Australia Is A Third Rate Country’ and ‘All Women Are Sluts’.

The Sydney Opera House, whether directly or indirectly (but largely the former) has given our city some of the most refreshing and innovative events in recent memory, and this year’s Graphic festival looks set to continue the trend. The festival, a celebration of graphic novels and comic books, video games and screen culture, and the fabric that joins the two together, launched last year with high profile headliners Smith and Gaiman. Whilst this year’s flagship event, an evening with cult cartoonist Robert Crumb, fell through at the last minute after some offensive drivel was published in a rival paper and Crumb pulled out, we can still boast a huge exclusive in Gotye’s animated album preview shows – in which the musician (real name Wally De Backer) will give a sneak peek at his next album, Making Mirrors. We’ll also be privy to the modern anime classic, Tekkon kinkreet, making a rare appearance on the big screen, with live soundtrack performed by its composers, Plaid; comic-making workshops; cartoonist Scott McCloud

in conversation about his craft; the legendary author/illustrator of Frank, Jim Woodring, in attendance; highlights from the Independent Games Festival in San Francisco (yes, you get to play them); a music and multimedia performance from Masaya Matsuura, creator of the classic PlayStation title, PaRappa The Rapper, and a special screening of Talking With Gods: A Grant Morrison Documentary, detailing the life of a man who’s drawn for the Superman, Batman, Fantastic Four and X-Men series, among others – it’ll screen with Neil Gaiman’s Amanda Palmerfeaturing short film, Statuesque.

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If you’ve even only the smallest interest in animation and digital worlds there’s something to be found at Graphic 2011. And hey, getting to hang out at the Opera House is always fun. Hopefully this guide will help make it a little easier to choose what you see! DANIEL CRICHTON-ROUSE

RED STATE

ON THE TOPIC OF ROBERT CRUMB NOT COMING TO AUSTRALIA... BY HELEN STRINGER.

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was wondering who had the authority to impose their own morality on the purely subjective practice of art, but then someone decided to accuse the seminal Robert Crumb of having a “sick mind” capable of producing “crude and perverted images” and the mystery was solved. But of course – it’s Hetty Johnston, the unwanted arbiter of artistic merit, gatecrashing the party once again. As an anti-child abuse campaigner Hetty’s done great work, but as an art critic? Not so much. It’s beyond me why anyone would listen to this clearly misguided woman who’s intent on inserting herself into issues she knows nothing about, but 67 year old Crumb was obviously concerned enough by Hetty’s comments to cancel his trip to Australia. Robert Crumb’s cartoons are not to everyone’s taste; they’re sexually explicit, disquieting and sometimes outright perverse. They don’t conform to what would conventionally be considered moral. But since when was art obligated to promote a conservative morality? In what year did we decide that art was to be valued according to its inoffensiveness? Well, 2008 according

to Hetty. This was about the time she had some success pillorying Bill Henson, the much-lauded artist who dared to take photographs of naked teenagers. Beautiful, evocative photographs that turned the prudish stomachs of Hetty and her Bravehearts. In Hetty’s world teenagers don’t get naked and they certainly don’t do so in front of cameras (obviously she’s unaware of Disney stars with a hankering for publicity), and if they do get naked and have photos taken it’s without their consent which makes it CHILD PORNOGRAPHY. And herein lies the problem with Hetty: she uses unarguable facts and absolute righteousness to obscure illogical thinking. Did Henson take photos of teenagers while they were completely naked? Yes. Were they old enough to consent? No. Are Crumb’s comics depraved? Yes. Are they sexually explicit? Yes. All of these answers are true, but they don’t add up to the conclusion that Hetty leaps to: that this makes them bad. Hetty thinks that because she doesn’t like something – photographs of adolescents or cartoons of sex-happy cats for instance – it must be wrong. She thinks she’s making a leap of logic,

but what she’s really making is a leap of faith. I’m not sure what Hetty’s theistic leanings are – although I reckon I could make a pretty accurate guess – but she also has near-religious faith in her most laudable cause: child protection. This woman walks through the world searching for instances of sexual exploitation and lo and behold, shock and horror, she finds them everywhere. Show her a photograph of a toddler holding a banana and she’d scream “Pornography!”. So of course when shown a picture of a cat fondling a woman she screamed “Pervert!”. What she forgot was that Crumb’s cartoons are meant for adults who are capable of making the decision to not look at them, and they’re capable of doing so without some uninformed, unqualified, irrelevant caped crusader imposing her own stringent moral paradigm upon them and screaming “pervert” over their shoulders. Given Hetty’s own fixations, I think we should be more concerned about the state of her mind than Crumb’s or even Henson’s. Robert Crumb is no longer appearing at Graphic


DRAWN TOGETHER MUSICIAN WALLY DE BACKER AKA GOTYE WILL BE GIVING GRAPHIC AUDIENCES A SNEAK PEAK OF HIS NEW ALBUM, MAKING MIRRORS, COMPLETE WITH SPECTACULAR VISUAL SHOW. HE EXPLAINS IT ALL TO LIZ GIUFFRE.

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hen that strange longlegged creature first came down from the Moon to walk Earth in the opening frames of the film clip for Hearts A Mess, it was hard not to be drawn closer to the screen. The music is majestic, unusual, eerie and beautiful at once, but it’s made all the better by the animated video by director/animator Brendan Cook. Since then Wally De Backer AKA Gotye has continued to release fabulous music coupled with gorgeous animated imagery, messing with music video and live staging to bring the show back into the business and create rare but well worth the wait experiences. “The truth is,” he says candidly, “I don’t really want to play that much – the touring isn’t something I enjoy that much; as in, I would prefer to spend a month making a really interesting, ambitious show and performing a small number of shows really well, rather than having to rush to do a show or come up with more unique types of shows which doesn’t allow me to be as creative, and is just doing a hundred shows every year. “I don’t do lots of shows more just because of the reality of the fact that it just takes a bloody long time and a lot of money and effort to get a show with this level of ambition together. I can only do it in certain venues and I can only do it once certain people are all committed to help me bring it all together, and I suppose also only once there’s an audience of a certain size so that I can sell enough tickets to make it happen.” His next performance is at Sydney Opera House’s Graphic festival. The show is being called “an animated album preview” for the upcoming Making Mirrors, and it was commissioned as a way to strengthen the bridge De Backer’s already started to build between sound and

animation. “Graphic festival and the Opera House approached me, and I wasn’t aware of Graphic festival up until that point, but it all seemed like a perfect way to make visuals for this show,” he admits. “And to, you know, get to perform in the Opera House, that isn’t the kind of thing you get offered every day. So I went, ‘Yeah, great, this will be the starting point, let’s start with that.’” With Graphic, De Backer’s been able to change his working practices, more than anything because this has meant he has something of a budget up front to explore his options rather than taking a previous hope-for-thebest indie approach. “For me, what’s been most interesting in navigating that change, from not having any money at all to offer people, making contact going, ‘I make this music and I really like what you do but I don’t have any money but I think you’re awesome,’ to being in a position where you know, I have the inverse problem where I’ve had a bit of success and I sometimes feel like it’s a position where I feel like people go, ‘Oh, you’ve got a bit of profile, sure, you can afford forty grand for a music video,’ and I’m like, ‘Well, I have more money than I had before, but I still can’t afford that much!” he says, laughing. “And it’s really hard to find what the middle zone is between really wanting to pay talented people that I want to work with – and pay them well – but also not taking myself to the cleaners, because I’m trying to put a lot of content together for this project. I’m trying to finish four film clips for this album so far, so it’s been a bit of a juggle financially at the moment. “I want to give people a good budget so they’re not spending everything on the actual costs of making stuff and not end up with anything in their

pocket, but then I also really want to keep track of not blowing the money in my bank account before I see how the record goes and see if there’s any income, etc. “It’s been a bit of balance, but I’m still here. I would say that the budget is still set by what the extent of the idea is.” If the first film clip, Somebody That You Used To Know (directed by Natasha Pincus), is anything to go by, the Gotye show will be a mixture of real and animated action which takes the themes of the music to their literal extremes. Just like the bodies move and expand in this clip to fit the strange journeys of the music, it seems we can expect more of De Backer’s audio/visual exploration to fill up the Graphic stage. Are these creations still coming from the musician’s head only, or are animators now getting the ball rolling? “So far I still have to go looking for people whose work I admire and respect and who I think will be in my reach in terms of budget and time. And then have them pitch an idea to me and then flesh it out together and then get started on it. But it would be great if my work kicks out wide enough that there are crazily amazing, talented, ambitious people who want to contact me and say, ‘Check out this idea’ – then that would be amazing.” WHAT: Gotye: An Animated Album Preview WHERE & WHEN: Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House Saturday 20 August and Sunday 21


GREAT SCOTT!

HE’S SIGNFICANTLY THINNER, ARGUABLY MORE SUCCESSFUL, AND HAS NEVER KIDNAPPED XENA, BUT SCOTT MCCLOUD IS A REAL LIFE ‘COMIC BOOK GUY’, AS DAVE DRAYTON DISCOVERS.

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e’s been called ‘the smartest guy in comics’ and ‘the Aristotle of comics’ and it only takes under two minutes of conversation with comic theorist and cartoonist Scott McCloud to discover why. On the phone from America in his new apartment, a delay in the phone line makes for some awkward introductions. I suggest we talk about the dichotomy between the endless possibility afforded to comics with the use of digital and online platforms and the current lack of effective ways to produce money from such platforms, two Mississippis later, when McCloud hears the question a beaming and almost giddy response comes back down the line. “Sure! One of my favourite topics!” And it begins. “Understanding Comics” seems like a rather broad and ambitious topic to cover in a single presentation, though if ever there was someone to do it, it’s McCloud. Since publishing his first series, the sci-fi superhero Zot! at age 24, McCloud has enjoyed a career in the world of comics prolific enough to warrant a tab labelled ‘Inventions’ on his personal website. FYI the inventions include the 24 Hour Comic, spawned from a dare the challenge has since been taken up worldwide and The Big Triangle, an idea from his 1993 comic book

about comic books called – you guessed it – Understanding Comics, that has ‘implications beyond comics’. So, a stable platform for both artists and readers to manage comics online? “I became fascinated by comics and digital media all the way back in the mid-’90s and I thought by 2011 I might not be doing print at all. Right now we’re beginning to understand that you can’t force the market; you can’t prohibit or punish file sharing. Except very randomly and very unfairly. I think we have to accept that whatever market will emerge is going to be a market of willing sellers and willing buyers. People who have chosen to engage in that exchange, not who were forced to. I don’t mind that world, I’m optimistic now,” says McCloud. His optimism is relatively recent, spurred on in part by the work of the next generation of cartoonists he is currently enjoying. “Just recently, in this last year, I’ve been directing a lot of my attention to the all ages market here in the States,” he says. “I’m fascinated by cartoonists, many of them young, many of them women, who are doing comics aimed at teenagers or even younger readers. People like Raina Telgemeier or Vera Brosgol or Kazu Kibuishi.” Though before this, McCloud’s advocacy of webcomics was met with some resistance, and he in turn faced more than a few struggles. “I put my head out no the chopping

block. In the mid-’90s I started talking about things like micropayments and whatnot. I got my head well and truly chopped off then, about 2005, when I gave it a shot with a company called BitPass that tried a method where you could pay nickles and dimes – you know, small amounts of money – that you could pass back and forth. “The system was pretty good,” McCloud reflects, somewhat ruefully, “But I don’t think people were ready for a system like that at the time. I was unable to tip the rudder of that ship. I didn’t seem able as an individual to make much of a difference. It didn’t seem as if I had any solutions that were necessarily going to make a difference. But there is one thing I do know, and that’s how to make comics.” Testament to that, as McCloud waits optimistically for an online system that has ironed out the kinks, he is currently at work on a graphic novel that will go to print in a couple of years. “I’m working on a 460-page book for First Second [Books, New York]. We have a tentative title, The Sculptor. It’s written and laid out, only a small portion has finished art on it but I’m trundling along now. One of the nice things is that I learned so much about print by studying online comics,” says McCloud, suggesting his experiments in form and pioneering approach to webcomics have aided his own creative process too.

“By coming to understand the differences and the opportunities I think I was better able to stand the limitations of print. But also when you understand the limitations you can better struggle against them. I think it was good to have really given print some thought from a distance. “Online comics usually come in pages, but mine didn’t. A lot of them were just one big scroll or tunnelling through, panels within panels. I tended to think of them as one panel after another but not necessarily these rectangles that we call ‘pages’. But having jumped away from the page for a while I got to get a much better idea of the way the page operates. I think a lot of us in print, we are really influenced by that rectangle, by that page. We tend to compose for it, we tend to pace for it we make a lot of accommodations for it. Sometimes it’s good to not be too influenced by it,” says McCloud. Rapidly, or so it seems, our time is up. Such is the nature of conference call interviews, though you get the feeling McCloud could have continued for hours. He’s been in the game for years, his mind is in mint condition, though the rest will have to wait for the Graphic festival. WHAT: Understanding Comics with Scott McCloud: The Art of Visual Communication WHERE & WHEN: Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House Sunday 21 August


THIS WEEKEND!

SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE PRESENTS

A WEEKEND OF GRAPHIC STORYTELLING, ANIMATION & MUSIC

SILENT COMICS GOTYE, PLAID (WARP), SEEKAE,

FOURPLAY, CAPTAIN MATCHBOX, DARTH VEGAS 21 AUGUST / OPERA THEATRE

Original live scores performed to wordless comics.

TEKKON KINKREET PLAID (WARP),

FOURPLAY, SYNERGY 21 AUGUST / OPERA THEATRE

Cult anime with live music.

MASAYA MATSUURA PLAY, SOUND & VISION 20 AUGUST / PLAYHOUSE

The creator of PlayStation’s PaRappa the Rapper will play live music while showing his latest work.

SYDNEYOPERAHOUSE.COM/GRAPHIC 02 9250 7777

JOIN US AT ‘GRAPHIC’

20 & 21 AUG


PLAID IN FULL

A MODERN CLASSIC OF ANIME, TEKKON KINKREET TELLS THE STORY OF TWO YOUNG BROTHERS TAKING ON THE YAKUZA. AS PART OF GRAPHIC, THE FILM’S COMPOSERS PLAID WILL BE PERFORMING THEIR SCORE LIVE AT THE SCREENING. THE BRITISH DUO TALK TO ANTHONY CAREW.

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nglish electro duo Plaid are about to release their first straight-up album since 2003. Scintilli is out in September, on their longtime label, legendary English electro imprint Warp, the LP exploring “artificial acoustic sounds” – “it’s a developing realm within synthetic music, where you hear a sound and you’re not entirely sure whether it was generated acoustically and sounds synthetic, or if it was generated synthetically and sounds acoustic” – across its run-time. Ed Handley, who is half the duo with Andy Turner, kind of wishes Plaid hadn’t taken their time. “There can be a danger if you take so long that people who are into your music expect that it’s going to be brilliant and amazing,” he says. “After all, it’s taken this long for you to make it! In that way, it probably is better to just do one every two years, so you don’t raise unnecessary expectations from people.”

Of course, Plaid didn’t spend that interim time just dicking around. They released a collaborative DVD/CD piece with visual artist Bob Jaroc, Greedy Baby, which built visuals and soundtrack together from the ground up. They staged shows in collaboration with the Southbank Gamelan Players. They produced Mara Carlyle’s unspeakably-beautiful debut LP, 2004’s The Lovely, back when she and Turner were a couple, making the album, thus, a literal labour of love. And they

composed two scores for Michael Arias, a Tokyo-based American filmmaker. The first of these collaborations came with Tekkon kinkreet, a 2006 anime based on Taiyo Matsumoto’s manga. “It all started with an email we got in 2005 from Michael Arias,” recounts Handley. “He’d seen us play in Tokyo in 1998 or 2000, sometime around then. He’d remembered our gig and sort of said to himself that if he ever got to do a feature film he’d like us to do the soundtrack. He held onto that thought until years later, when he sent us some stills and animatics from Tekkon kinkreet, which hadn’t gone into production at that point. And we leapt at the chance.” Like any musicians, like, ever, Plaid had dreamt about working in cinema. “As electronic, mainly instrumental musicians, we’d always had the idea that we’d like to attempt it. And I guess a feature film is the dream, but not something that you’d dare hope for. Our approach to music has often been, at various cases, to create an imaginary world in sound. Not necessarily an alternate world, but just a different vision of this world. You could classify our music as escapist, because we were trying to create a place where we could feel more comfortable than we did in the real world. So, in some ways, we’ve always been making our own soundtracks.” Though Handley and Turner confess they

“weren’t obsessive manga fans”, they felt they were well-schooled in the kind of futurist dystopianism in which Tekkon kinkreet was dealing. Indeed, many of the works that inspired them in their youths were film scores depicting similar sounds and spirit. “The big film that influenced us and a lot of people who we know, was Blade Runner. Mostly because the film is so good. The soundtrack, when you really isolate it, is a bit up and down. But it used a lot of synthesisers and had this really futurist, dystopian aspect to it that was really appealing. And the early Hans Zimmer soundtracks when he was using a lot of electronic instruments were big for me. And I remember Sakomoto doing some scores, and John Carpenter, obviously, making his own scores with these very early, crude, charming, homemade synthesisers, has been a huge influence on everyone at Warp, for sure. For a lot of people, growing up in the ’70s or ’80s, their first exposure to electronic music was watching movies.” The story’s depiction of a pair of street orphans attempting to foil organised crime, big business and the combination thereof, inspired Plaid to pick out child-like sounds for their score. “We chose a lot of mallet-type sounds, either synthetic or real mallet sounds,” Handley explains. “It feels almost like a cliché of film music now, but at the time it wasn’t so much; there wasn’t such a

run of soundtracks using marimbas, vibraphones and xylophones. Because there was an emphasis on innocence and playfulness in the film, those instruments made sense. There’s a simpleness to a mallet being struck, and a xylophone can sound almost like a toy; and it’s often an instrument given to children, something you play with early on. You hit it with a mallet and that’s it, that’s the sound; it’s not like a string where there are so many levels of expression. It’s a tuned instrument, so there’s melody, but it has a very specific percussive attack, so there’s very clear, very defined

rhythms. Someone like Steve Reich is the master of that type of thing. Where you have these rhythmical things that you really want to get up and dance to, but that slowly evolve over time in very compositionally interesting ways.” Though Plaid’s score is easily good enough to stand out on its own, it was a painful succession of step-by-step ‘conversions’ of higher-ups, with plenty of requests for them to re-work things. “Because it was with Sony, there were a lot of negotiations,” Handley says, with comic understatement. “You have a chain of people that you have to please. Unlike doing our own album, where Warp sort

of gives us free rein to do whatever we want. Having to please a succession of producers can be really difficult, and dispiriting at times. Luckily, Michael had committed to us, not a particular sound. He didn’t know exactly what he wanted, he just knew that he wanted us.” WHAT: Tekkon kinkreet with live score by Plaid, Fourplay and Synergy WHERE & WHEN: Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House Sunday 21 August


PENETRATING THOUGHTS

BOHM

SAM HOBSON TALKS TO ILLUSTRATOR JIM WOODRING ABOUT HALLUCINATIONS, PIERCING THE VEIL AND SCREWING AROUND.

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here’s something truly fantastic about the drawings of Seattle-based illustrator, toymaker and graphic-novel author Jim Woodring. His pictures, vomited forth from a lifetime’s tilted psyche house, uncannily blend the recognisable and the simultaneously alien. Wonderfully, they’re all him, all facets of his raw experience and chaotic emotions. Fierce, lonely, neurotic, cryptic and touching, he paints portraits of his inner self, but does so in a way that it’s still ourselves we see in his strange little visions. Imagine the kind of poppy, grit-snot animation of old Klasky Csupo toons, meets the frightening loudness of those old Mad magazine spoofs,

LIMBO

IT’S BLISS!

THE BEST OF THE INDEPENDENT GAMES FESTIVAL HAS BEEN QUIETLY HOUSED IN THE WESTERN FOYERS OF SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE SINCE LATE JULY, AND COMES TO AN END AT GRAPHIC. HERE ARE DANIEL CRICHTON-ROUSE’S TOP PICKS OF WHAT TO PLAY FIRST.

Over the past few years the annual Independent Games Festival’s profile has been on a steady rise as the likes of PlayStation network, Xbox Live Arcade and the App Store have made it much easier (and cheaper) for developers to release their video games. Therefore, more titles have been released, and the more titles being released the more chance of some absolute gems being found. The San Diego conference has made household names to gamers of titles such as Machinarium, Braid, Limbo and Minecraft – all titles you need to check out if you haven’t already. This year’s Graphic festival once again plays host to a selection of titles from the past few years and these are the ones you should be getting to the front of the queue for first.

MINECRAFT An open-world building game where the only limit is your imagination, and possibly graphics card. We first caught wind of Minecraft when videos started appearing on YouTube offering viewers a fly-through of their worlds. It’s pretty epic stuff – you kind of have to wonder how these players have so much time to dedicate to such worlds, or they just don’t sleep. It’s LEGO for the 21st Century.

LIMBO Rarely is a game looked upon with universal praise, but LIMBO is one such title. Released last year exclusively on Xbox Live Arcade, it’s finally been made available for PlayStation and PC for we non-Xbox-owning fans to enjoy. It’s incredibly tense stuff – who would’ve thought that simply running through a forest would be so unnerving? Thanks to its absolutely stunning graphics – think a dystopian Ferngully shot film noir style in all its black and white glory and soft focus lens – and seemingly easy but gloriously frustrating gameplay. It’s addictive as hell.

HELSING’S FIRE Sure, you could easily just buy this for your iDevice but WHAT IF YOU DON’T CONFORM TO THE APPLE? Like, what if you’ve a Samsung Galaxy, not an iPhone? This is brilliant fun and charming to look at. It’s Man vs Vampires in a Dickensian era game where you must fight off evil hoards of bloodsuckers and werewolves. With your torch you shine light upon all creatures on screen to wipe them out. Sound easy? Not so fast with your judgements, there. The cut scenes are delightful, too: full of dry British wit and resembling animations of yore.

BOHM For those who like their eye candy, Bohm is simple in its premise: grow a beautiful tree and then sit back and enjoy your creation. If you were delighted by the PlayStation game, Flower, in which you guided a flower through the air in a pseudo-meditative manner, here you grow a tree and reach zen-like tranquillity in the process. Available for Windows PC initially, we’re hoping it’ll eventually make its way to tablets for last-minute pre-sleepytime bliss.

HOHOKUM Snake reimagined for the tablet era. Like looking into a bag of mixed candy, Hohokum is as colourful as Warhol’s pop art prints. Guide your snake through worlds reminiscent of children’s dreams after one too many red cordials and find yourself coming to hours later like you’ve been lulled into some sort of cushiony coma. It’s ridiculously awesome. WHAT: Best of the Independent Games Festival WHERE & WHEN: Western Foyers, Sydney Opera House until Sunday 21 August

meets the red-tinged sandscapes of Dalí, then add a dash of Giger, the dark kineticism of Dave Sim and the intelligent, dedication-to-the-naked-truth sensibilities of graphic novel autobiographers David B. and Marjane Satrapi, and you’ve got an (albeit convoluted) approximation of the man’s work and themes. To get a better grasp of what he’s all about, it’s put to him, in a reduced form, that he’s something of a comic surrealist, and here’s what he had to say. “You know, I’ve never managed to come up with a category to put it in. People call my work surreal, and even though it’s not really that, it’s close enough; it’s on the line. Most people don’t really have any vested interest in preserving and replaying and re-examining and milking all of the

pleasure that is to be had from bizarre experiences and neurological misfires. But I do, and I don’t know what you’d call that. It’s an infatuation with the mystery of life, I guess, more than anything else.” Having lived through alcoholism, life as a garbage man, his terrifying hallucinations as a child and a morbid, early-on obsession with death, the 58 year old’s lived a life ripe for the recounting. Interestingly, though, his comic work was never an outlet for these experiences; instead he views his work as embracing his fixations and oddities. “I’ve never felt the need for a catharsis, because I’ve come to terms with the things that are going on with me and I actually like them and want to preserve them. The few times that I have wanted to

expunge deep-rooted problems that I’ve had that were actually getting between me and my quality of life did not work out. So I’ve given up on the idea of catharsis; it’s all a matter of enjoying it.” Never tethered by practical, unimaginative solutions, he continues: “My interest in death [as a child] was not very pragmatic. It was simply another terrifying conundrum that I was trying to get my mind around. I never thought of death as being a sensation, but as being some large event that loomed on the horizon that would be a huge change. It disturbed me to think about it. “Now I’ve come to grips with it. I’m not as troubled by the concept of death, in fact I’m actually kind of looking forward to it. I have a theory that death is actually something very sweet and very wonderful, and that’s why there’s such a taboo against it.” As for his current fixations, and as he hinted at earlier in the conversation, it can all be boiled down to a pursuit of the greater truth, for the secret to the mystery of life. “I’m always focused on this sort of thing,” Woodring agrees. “The sense that we’re involved in a situation that is not what it seems and which is covered with a veil of illusion which is very thick, but which can be penetrated – is my constant focus.” “[And] I’ve seen signs that it can be penetrated,” he continues slowly, his words unfurling with caution. “I believe that other people have penetrated it, and I think that my mind is not really a very good tool for penetrating it because it’s too chaotic. I think that people who really manage to pierce the veil are the ones who’ve got remarkable powers of concentration and discipline, which I do not. I have a knack for picking up certain emanations, but I don’t have the mental toughness required to turn one’s self into a Veil Piercing Machine and go the distance.” His humour is dry, and sharp. He realises this sounds a little crazy, but there’s a core of profundity to it that keeps this thread of discussion taut. “The only people I can think of [who’ve done this] are spiritual exemplars – Sri Ramakrishna, people like that – great saints or holy men who have devoted their lives to penetrating this mystery.” His voice gets aggressive for the concluding cadence, “who haven’t wasted any time screwing around with art.” Most good artists, at some level, despise what they do. It’s put to him that perhaps art then is an imperfect path for such ascension. He’s refreshingly supportive of the plight. “I’m a religious person. And I’ve come to the conclusion that art… can be an adjunct to all of that. It can be one tool that you can use for it, but if you start indulging in it for its own sake, you get way off the track. You know, in the Vedantic tradition, they have images of Gods and Goddesses – like those lurid polychrome pictures of Krishna, Durga, Shiva – and those exist specifically for people who are meditating on those entities and want to have the vision of them; kin of like training-wheels for a vision. That’s a legitimate use of art in a spiritual context.” “[Ultimately,] I would say how perfect it is depends on how perfectly it’s used. It can be, if it’s used by a person with perfect understanding.” WHAT: Jim Woodring: Please Stand By WHERE & WHEN: Playhouse, Sydney Opera House Saturday 20 August



Drum Media Sydney Issue #1073