Saturday, September 18, 2010


Here is the text of my acceptance speech, delivered at The Stranger Genius Awards upon receipt of the coveted porcelain head.

"THERE IS a controversy I have to address. I know some people feel that giving the Stranger Genius award for literature to the creator of comic books, and wordless comic books at that, is a travesty.

The redoubtable Charlie Krafft spoke for many when he posted the following on Facebook:

'I just read that Jim Woodring received a Stranger "Genius Award" for literature. Have any of the cartoon characters he draws ever uttered anything? Was it literature? Had I been a judge for this I would have given The Stranger "Genius" award for literature to a writer, maybe David Stoez or Doug Nufer, not to a guy who draws mutes. If I was Jim W. I would accept this prize then turn around and and give $1,000 each to five deserving local writers and poets. Five persons who toil away with words, not pictures. Those who think cartoonists who don't even use word balloons are entitled to cash awards for "literature" can un-friend me right now and go get in line for another tattoo. You've been so dumbed down by hipster culture you think Archie and Veronica is Crime and Punishment.'

Well, part of me agrees with this; after all, it's the default position. But the part of me that is more, oh, progressive thinks that the Stranger may be ahead of the curve here. They've gone and said that a wordless comic book can be rightfully considered literature, and it falls to you and me to prove otherwise. The question, obviously, is Does literature require words to exist?

Well, now that I think about it, no, I don't think it does. I would go so far as to say Milt Gross' 1930 wordless novel He Done Her Wrong is as much literature as the hackneyed melodramatic plot it tells in pictures. It never occurred to me to care whether He Done Her Wrong was literature before, but, now that you mention it, why not? Perhaps it's only literature in a theoretical or technical sense, like non-musical music or a printed painting. In which case, who cares?

But I don't think the Stranger is playing an elite prank here. I think they see that we are living in a transitional period where traditional categories are melting, blending together. Boundaries everywhere are being dissolved. A high school kid can choose to be either standard gender, or make up a new one. An utter dullard can be the life of the party online. Strictures that no longer need to exist are evaporating. Liberation and paralysis are merging.

Personally I don't think that it's a coincidence that the computer has emerged and become ubiquitous just at the moment when humanity has everything so mapped out and pinned down that the sense of a future has effectively vanished. I think the computer is training wheels for that unborn generation who will live outside the world and ultimately outside the computer, in a state of secular empathetic samadhi. The blurring of the line between the drawn image, the written word, the video and the game is disturbing, but nothing can stop it, and I salute the Stranger for their far-reaching and prophetic vision.

The question of whether I personally deserve this is open to debate. But I think I do, and I can sure use the money. Thank you."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said. Also, what makes one set of symbols more valid for telling a story than any other?

Also, personally I think that it takes a LOT more effort to tell a story and set a scene through hand-drawn pictures than through words. Conveying motion and the passage of time is easy in words. Writing through images is much more difficult, and also much more pure. They also predate the written word by millennia.

2:32 PM  
Anonymous gruff said...

Bless you sir.

2:34 PM  
Blogger  Robert Boyd said...

I just got the Library of America edition of the woodcut novels of Lynd Ward, and Art Spiegelman makes a similar argument. He says that comics in general, and Lynd Ward's woodcut stories in particular, inherently occupy a space between because like prose novels, but unlike paintings, they depict events in time.

I write this as a lover of prose novels and of poetry, so I don't have any bias one way or the other. I would prefer that comics be considered visual art and/or literary art. There are some who would prefer comics be considered neither.

3:58 PM  
Anonymous jeffk said...

I'll never understand how people can spend so much time arguing about which things fit into which arbitrary categories. It was a really nice gesture on The Stranger's part. Krafft should channel his insecurity into something more productive, like cable-news punditry or giving his children crippling self-esteem issues.

6:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Jim, I completely agree with you. I also think that The Stranger has done something in giving you this award that probably won't be fully accepted and understood for some time. That being said, I feel as though I have to play the devil's advocate here. I read an old (1993?) interview you did with The Comics Journal a couple of months ago, and I remember disagreeing with some of your opinions of the medium at that time- "And this also ties into a question that I've had for a long time about whether comics are capable of being as important and significant an art form as, say, literature. I guess I've come to the conclusion that they can't be." Also- "I think you couldn't do that with a comic strip because those words flowing through your mind trigger an internal revelation, and I think a picture connected to those would be self-limiting. You couldn't draw that as well as you can experience it in your mind, as deeply, It goes beyond images and it goes beyond even the words and I think that will never be drawn as well as it is conveyed in those words." (Referring to Les Miserables)
I don't know if I was angered by these comments because they were unsettlingly truthful or because I felt as if the form was capable of more... Experiencing your comics has rendered my opinion to be the latter. Am I to understand that you no longer hold these views, or am I completely missing your points? Thanks for reading and congrats!

7:04 PM  
Blogger Jim Woodring said...

Well, anonymous, my opinion then and now is not necessarily worth a goddam. That aside, what I meant in that interview was that comics couldn't attain the same heights as writing because writing is more internal and the effects it can generate are more subtle. But that's not the same as saying comics cannot BE literature.

8:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for responding Jim! (I tend to value your opinions by the way). At one time my thoughts regarding comics and traditional literature were along those lines as well, that is (ass kissing aside), until I came across The Book of Frank. I had some profound visual/metaphorical revelations while "reading" this book (which were internally generated, and "sparked" by the visual language) that were just as significant, subtle and valid as any revelation I've had via traditional literature(although this was only "my" experience). If I still held on to the opinion that graphic literature couldn't reach the "heights" of traditional literature, I would probably react much like Charlie Krafft and many others have to this issue. What The Stranger has done is validate that a wordless comic can not only be classified as literature, but that it can be classified as "great" literature. In the right hands, it's just as capable of reaching those heights.

8:53 PM  
Blogger Chad Woody said...

For starters, it sounds like Krafft just doesn't like comics, or at least has never been impressed by them. This makes him very commonplace and predictable. I'd be surprised if he's even read both "Archie and Veronica" and "Crime and Punishment."

Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of either opera or stage plays, possibly because they are fully realized only when performed, but I'm still gracious enough to grant them "literature" status. Just because I'm not intimate with their genres, doesn't make them lesser artforms. As for comics vs. poetry vs. fiction, I've taught and published all three and see no limits on what any of them can convey. Is this really just about WRITING=WORDS? If so, I pity Krafft's limited definition of "literature" as much as I respect the diplomacy of Jim's response.

But what I really want to know is, is that some kind of edible cartoon-custard pictured up top? Jim is shown cradling some amphibious tenderling... It looks like it has sprinkles in the crust, and well, lard almighty it looks tasty!

10:18 PM  
Blogger Jim Woodring said...

It's a cupcake!

11:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Jim,

Huge headache this morning because of the question and because of my bad english...

About comics and its rank among Beaux Arts, I will just refer to an extract published in L'Eprouvette (L'Association review) which is a kind of slogan written on an entire page (and sorry for the approximate translation) :

sequential art is a backward art
sequential art is a little DUMB
but Sequential art is THE ONE which is not DEAD

I like this one too (even if it is less pertinent to me) :

Sequential art may be the one which is full of SHIT
but, at least, it doesn't have postmodernism
Year, right... and have your hair done.

About "speechlessness", litterature is so much more than only words. It is also sense of narration, experience of imaginary, "spiritual" meeting between the reader and the author...

Wish I could contribute so much more but I feel frustrated by my poor english...
Briefly, in two words like in one thousand, "eat me" seems indeed to be the appropriate answer to Charlie Krafft...


2:42 AM  
Blogger bug lovin' fool said...

Jim, I think it is a very pleasing irony that you gave such an eloquent acceptance speech, given that the criticism of you receiving the award was because of your wordless narratives. It just underscored the fact that the reason you tell stories with pictures is by no means because you don't know how to tell them with words...

3:39 AM  
Blogger Richard Marchand said...

Great speech! It must have been tempting to go up and mime it.

11:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations to Mr. Woodring for this overdue recognition of his singular talents, I only wish it hadn't come packaged in such a briar of contentious blade-scraping. That he has to defend such an honor is quite unfair.
I'd suggest that the award's designation as Literature stems from the publishing industry's desire to market comic books as something other than, a campaign which has successfully embedded the terms Graphic Novel and Graphic Literature in our common lexicon. This usage has, I believe, created the specious notion that a comic book and a written novel are somehow competing disciplines, their respective authors drawing from the same pool of craft and inspiration, wielding duplicative tools. This, of course, isn't true. I think to suggest they are is disrespectful to each form of storytelling. Why must a great comic book need be considered literature in order to be taken seriously?
Rather than a bold move on the part of the awarding publication in question, it seems to me a weakening of intellectual reserve, if not a sad admission of an apparently learned individual's ignorance of a wonderful, and unique, narrative form – a form, by definition, that would really have been better misacknowledged as the winner of the Film category.

3:42 PM  
Blogger Bob Rini said...

A well-deserved prize! Let the Age of (cup)Cake begin!

For a couple pics of the event, go to

6:12 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

so, his argument is that basically all visual art is not worthy ?
jim expresses himself and conveys great stories through his wonderful drawings. i cherish each jim woodring book that i own. i guess mr. kraftt would just as soon tear down the pyramids since there's no actual english literature on the walls but just these strange and silly drawings. what a peach of a guy.

6:42 AM  
Anonymous Tim Maloney said...

Jim, I find your incredible restraint remarkable. You found a way to address Mr. Krafft's arguments and opinions at the same time resisting the urge to tear him apart. That would be gratifying, but it's missing the point. I don't know that I would be able to do that - I'm far too driven by wrath in these cases! Thanks for putting this up!

11:50 AM  
Blogger Sean R said...


Congrats on your well-deserved award, and an excellent acceptance speech. I'm shocked to hear this has generated controversy in Seattle- I guess, like you, I assumed this city is culturally ahead of the curve. Like another commenter above, I have always found the contrast between your mute comics and verbal eloquence delicious. All the best to you, and congratulations again.

-Sean Robinson

3:23 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

There will always be losers aspiring to be phonies. But you, sir, are the genuine article. Literature is the act of communication raised to the level of art by concentrated effort and unique abilities, not merely words.

9:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Literature is the art of the word, as in written works. This is a wholly objective term. Please refer to any reputable dictionary for authentication of this.

I think where many of you are finding confusion is the secondary application of the word Literature, as it pertains to written works considered more worthy, in respect to their artistic merit. I believe this is the podium from which Charles Krafft speaks.

The Stranger's classification of Literature, however, speaks to the objective usage of the word, in conjunction with such categories as Film, Theater, Visual Art, etc. In this respect it is a misapplication, which speaks not to Jim Woodring's talent, rather to an editorial need for personal statement – in this instance an act much like a child looking to a flashing red hand and heading confidently into traffic.

Perhaps if they had encountered a DON'T WALK sign they might have hesitated and considered the wisdom of their path. Just a thought.

12:59 PM  
Blogger Jim Woodring said...

If you read Charlie's statement he is clearly objecting to the lack of words in my work, not its artistic merit.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Toby Goodshank said...


2:20 PM  
Anonymous Berfrois said...

Genius Literature Without Words

8:58 AM  
Blogger Octafish said...

Well, Jim, it seemed like he was objecting to the lack of words in your work under he broke down at the end with that "Betty and Veronica" comment. At that point he was slagging the entire medium.

We could make a similar argument as whatsisface by saying that comics is a superior medium to literature by comparing Poison River to, say, the latest Harlequin Romance. What a fun game!

8:54 PM  
Blogger Jim Woodring said...

Charlie Krafft, for those who don't know it, is a legendary Seattle fixture and a brilliant artist... one of the very few whose work I'll actually pay money to own.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Donovan S. Brain said...

It's a puzzler. You and your work definitely deserve respect and remuneration, but then on the other hand 'literature' is generally identified as text. Perhaps, as Anon suggests, they will give you the film prize next year followed by the poetry award.

7:10 AM  
Blogger Sean Craven said...

I think it's to the point that the best artists are always capable of straightforward observational drawing, and that you are capable of writing prose at a very respectable level.

In other words, you are capable of fitting the narrative to the form. If you are using pantomime comics, they will tell a story as deep and interesting as could be achieved in prose.

That said, this smacks of redefining the word 'literature' in order to give a gloss of cultural approval to your work, when its merits render those labels superfluous. I think of literature as specifically referring to written work -- that literary qualities are definitively of words. I can see value in redefining terms, but it always makes me nervous when a word shifts underfoot.

Did they actually state the definition of 'literature' they were applying?

I'm certainly glad you won, though. I thought Weathercraft was a tremendous work, and will certainly re-read it in the future.

3:51 PM  
Anonymous Spade Calavera said...

Graphic art and sensibility are poetry, and poetry is some kind of litterature. I understand the feeling of those people who just can see litterature where there are words, but not their wrath.

7:49 AM  
Blogger pappy d said...

Tell Charlie from me that was a crappy little bit of writing there. As a man of letters, he gets a C-.

12:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Woodring,

You work from a visual inventory of symbols, fix these characters into a readable syntax, and compartmentalize them into panels that function like sentences. Mr. Woodring, you've always been a writer! With the ease that images can be communicated via popular media people are amassing a visual vocabulary outstanding above any that has ever existed.

This is a transitional time!
I often hear people fret over the deterioration of language among the young, but language isn't dying, it's flourishing in graphic forms! Infact, I would go so far to say that in the future words will be delegated for exposition and visuals will be at the fore of narrative power.

But, I'm a crazy so take that with a grain of salt haha.



11:02 AM  

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