Jim Woodring’s Dorbel

Nearly a decade into Jim Woodring‘s underground comix career, the self-taught artist put pen-to-paper in 1989 and birthed what would become his signature character: an anthropomorphic critter of unspecified species, one that would later be named Frank. Refining that initial sketch of this buck-toothed beast for its public debut, which occurred on the fourth issue’s cover of Woodring’s “illustrated auto-journalJIM, it would be another two years before Frank’s fable-like escapades began being recounted in comic book form. Wordlessly interacting with the surreal inhabitants of his dreamscape homeworld, it was through one such tale that Woodring provided the barest glimpse of his “god lizard” Dorbel, its design destined to be the creator’s first art toy with a US-based company.

A Brief History of Jim Woodring’s Dorbel

Peering downward from its perch in an uppermost corner of the Frank Amok illustration, the Dorbel’s full-bodied visage wasn’t revealed until 2002’s Mysterio Simpatico, a multimedia collaboration with jazz guitarist Bill Frisell that was commissioned by St. Ann’s Warehouse. This latter appearance being the basis of a “vinyl effigy” sculptural rendition, attendees to 2003’s San Diego Comic-Con journeyed to the southwest corner of the hall, near the Art Auction area, to discover the so-called Strange Collective — STRANGEco — offering advance debut pieces from two of the Dorbel art toy editions that they produced. Coming in polybag containers with folded cardboard header cards atop, done in perfect aesthetic mimicry to Godzilla toy packaging of yore, Dorbel character-centric posters by Rick Altergott also accompanied these initial pieces.

Issued in six differently colored editions, purportedly limited to a total of 1500 copies between them, the Dorbel might not be the strangest-looking beast in Woodring’s art toy oeuvre but it is a perfect homage to Japanese movie monsters that bears the artist’s unmistakable style. Its name shared with the Scots language word for “anything that has an unseemly appearance,” the Dorbel has a tail that ends in a cycloptic head, this Ankylosaurus-like aspect’s mouth forever frozen in a grimacing cry. But the most memorable aspects are its playfully sly eyes and tightly pursed rows of pearly whites, the extra-wide grin of the Dorbel featuring forever fused-together teeth, eliciting thoughts similar to those of Woodring’s Frank character, those of a lifelong journey in silence.

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