'Frank Finds Out': words-induced journeys - Public can look through the 'Peephole' for a glimpse into U-District artist's work

Transported through time and space into books, Jim Wood-ring's anthropomorphic character Frank ventures upon a hero's odyssey, the primeval ocean and ancient Egypt.

Inspired by books in the Seattle Public Library collection, cartoonist Woodring's animation consists of three silent, black-and-white shorts, each ranging between 90 to 120 seconds.

The animation is the sixth and final artwork in the Peephole Series, which is intended to generate discussion about the library's role in a democratic society.

The University District artist is best known for his alternative comic books, particularly his "Frank" stories. Among his fans is "Godfather" director Francis Ford Coppola, who wrote the foreword for the "The Frank Book," a compilation published last year by Fantagraphics Books.

In "Frank Finds Out," this comic character (around for 13 years) is hand-animated for the first time ever by the creator himself.

In "The Hero with 1,000 Excuses," Frank picks Joseph Campbell's 1972 book "The Hero with A Thousand Faces" off a library bookshelf and becomes acquainted with the steps in a hero's odyssey.

"The book's basic premise was brilliant and was expressed beautifully," Woodring said, referring to Campbell's concept of universal myths, which have influenced popular cultural icons such as "Star Wars."

For Frank's second adventure, Woodring chose Stephen Jay Gould's "Wonderful Life: the Burgess Shale and the Nature of History." In "Fossil Follies," Frank goes back half a billion years and encounters the weird and wonderful sea creatures of the Burgess Shale, a fossil quarry in the Canadian Rockies.

Along with Campbell's book, "Wonderful Life" is one of Wood-ring's favorite books because to its "profligacy of life" and "super over-abundance of everything."

The creature attached to a sponge in "Fossil Follies" is Woodring's "bit of trying to define what the Hallucigenia looks like." Halluci-genia has a "bizarre and dream-like appearance," with no way of knowing "which side is up, which end front and which back," Gould wrote.

David Silverman's 1997 encyclopedia "Ancient Egypt" requires the least interpretation on Woodring's part. In "Ankhs Aweigh," Frank is whisked away into Egyptian ruins and strolls amid the hieroglyphic inscriptions (such as an ankh) on the wall.

Woodring chose the ancient Egypt setting because he "finds it interesting."

Frank is not the only one who undergoes journeys catalyzed by books. Woodring said he moved from California to Seattle because of Betty MacDonald's "The Egg and I," set in a poultry farm in Washington.

In Seattle, he works as a full-time cartoonist, drawing comics for The Stranger, Fantagraphics Books and his Japanese publisher, Presspop.

When he heard about the Peephole Series, he applied for the grant, proposing to create an animation.

The panelists - a library staff member, an artist and a public-art expert - were intrigued by Woodring's proposal, project manager Lisa Richmond said.

"The animated and interactive feature of his proposed artwork is what appealed to the panelists most," she explained.

It is in a format that "many people can access" over the Internet, said Kelly Davidson, of the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs.

Further, it is "particularly interesting to youths and young adults," the audience which is not represented as much in the other five artworks, Richmond said.

Woodring's artwork operates on "so many different levels," engages "children and adults" and "people of different cultures," Davidson said.

For "Frank Finds Out," Woodring spent four "long, painful" months on meticulous layouts; draw each frame with pen, ink and markers; scan the drawings; and run the animation in Flash. Except for a few computer effects, the animation was done solely by hand.

"Handmade cartoons - one little thing made by one person - is becoming even more rare," he said.

A particular challenge in animating Frank, Woodring said, is "to make him walk and move like in a trance without being deadpan."

Woodring saw Frank as "a catalyst [who is] mildly curious about everything and never learns from anything." Compared to his other works, "Frank Finds Out" is "very mainstream" and "straightforward" without anything subversive, he said.

Library spokesperson Caroline Ullmann said that the Peephole Series had successfully generated discussion on the library's role and raised public attention in the development of the new Downtowm Library.

Among those who faithfully embark on words-induced journeys would be Woodring, who said that the Seattle Public Library has a "wonderful picture reference" section.[[In-content Ad]]