Some artists record the world, some interpret it, and some distort it. A few, like Jim Woodring and Marc Bell, create their own worlds. Woodring’s world, the Unifactor, features Frank, a cat-like cartoon naïf, whose pets, Pupshaw and Pushpaw, are his fearlessly loyal protectors. The other characters in the Unifactor form a moral universe, where mysterious jivas—a visible representation of a soul—intervene in the daily lives of the characters. All of this takes place in a dreamlike landscape with architecture that is a cross between orientalist fantasies and elaborate wedding cakes. Woodring’s art relies on an intense level of craft, and his love of nib penmanship lead him to craft a six-foot nib pen with the intent taking what is usually an intensely private act—drawing with pen and ink—and turning it into a public performance.
Marc Bell’s world-creation leaks freely between his comics and his paintings. Bell’s world is one where “people” and buildings are equally alive (and have feet), where visual information is densely stacked. His work seems to draw equally on Philip Guston and E.C. Segar (the creator of Popeye). His world is genial and inviting, but requires close attention. Bell’s art is the kind that demands the viewer stick her face right up next to it; details are as important (if not more so) as total pieces.
Woodring and Bell represent a certain strain in modern comics—a world of fantasy influenced by children’s books, pre-war newspaper comic strips and illustration, and contemporary art. They are artists who are as comfortable in the gallery as on the page. They are artists who happen to do comics.