There are a few uniquely gifted and driven comics creators who simply defy categorisation or even description. Arguably at the top of that distinguished heap of graphic glitterati is Jim Woodring. His work has always been challenging, funny, spiritual, grotesque, philosophical, heartbreaking, beautiful and extremely scary.

This superbly sumptuous oversized (292 x 228mm) hardcover compilation (also available digitally) gathers earlier formative and breakthrough efforts in colour and monochrome, strips lacking an alternative home and completed between 1980 and 1996. It updates the earlier Book of Jim in a more lavish format with extra content.

Also presented is a new 24-page strip starring the artist’s hulking, bewhiskered, aggressively paranoid, dream-plagued family man/cartoonist alter ego. It cements his reputation as a master of subconscious exploration, surreal self-expression and slyly ironic comedic excoriation, and it’s still almost impossible to describe.

The furtive fruits of Woodring’s ever-present dream-recording “autojournal” are prefaced by a beguiling and informative ‘Author’s Note’ before the wonderment begins with the complete contents of his very first self-published fanzine from 1980.

A master of silent expressive cartooning, Woodring’s playfully inventive fascination with and love of words and tale-making shines through. It’s in such laboriously hand-lettered, illustrated epigrammatic vignettes as ‘Lozenge’ and ‘Jim Today’, as well as witty iconographic concoctions like ‘Tales of Bears’ and ‘Troutcapper Hats’. The premier strip saga details a doomed fishing trip in ‘Seafood Platter from Hell’, and a moment of early silent psychedelia reveals how ‘Two Children Inadvertently Kill an Agent of the Devil Through an Excess of Youthful High Spirits’.

Subsequent strips swerve through dream recollection, hallucinations and autobiography, with cats playing a large part in these early strips. ‘Big Red’ is probably the cutest bloody-clawed, conscienceless killer you’ll ever meet, but most notable is Woodring’s phenomenal recollection of dreams, and the vivid occurrence of what he refers to as apparitions. Strips detailing their disturbing nature are plentiful, horrific and thought-provoking. Other material covers a wide spread of interests, and it’s only toward the end of the collection that Woodring’s later spiritual and graphic signature creatures slowly began to appear in his strips.

To pick one prophetic and timely inclusion, ‘This House’ explains how you can live life without ever going outside again.

Woodring’s work is not to everyone’s taste or sensibilities and, as ever, these astounding drawings have the perilous propensity of repeating like cucumber and making one jump back into the consciousness long after the book has been put away. The artist is an undisputed master of graphic narrative and an affirmed innovator always making new art to challenge us and himself. He makes us love it and leaves us hungry for more, and these early offerings provide the perfect starter course for a full-bodied feast of fantasy. And why not watch Woodring discussing this compilation here.

Are you feeling peckish yet…?