The Frank Book
by Jim Woodring
BW w/ colour, 344 pgs
$39.95 US / Higher in Canada
“I promise to spare you all my worst visions” – Jim Woodring
For someone who’s hip to the alternative comics scene, the name Woodring should ring many bells. After a critically acclaimed debut in the eighties with the self-published Jim — later to be picked up by Fantagraphics– Woodring paved his own path to notoriety. For a cartoonist who sought therapy and was refused consultation by a number of shrinks who read his feverish comics, it only seems fitting his work is a wondrous journey of self-realization looked through the beauty of stained glass.
I stumbled across Frank some years ago and was entranced with its grotesqueness and otherworldly renaissance. The stories void of word capture a strange and bizarre place filled with alien architecture and littered with equally wondrous residents. Frank, the anthropomorphic critter neither cat nor rodent, plays the prominent role, journeying through the surreal adventures Woodring lays out for him. Unlike Frank’s nemesis, Manhog, Frank usually walks away unscathed and rewarded. Poor Manhog’s life is plagued with misery.
Though the cast of Frank is surprising large, Frank and Manhog are the two main characters. Manhog is a wretched beast, an amalgamation between human being and gluttonous pig. He crawls around on all fours and cowers in the shadows, constantly searching for the perfect time to pull a fast one on Frank as much as he looks for a warm bed in which to sleep. He really is a pathetic creature at best, tugging and pulling at the reader’s emotions, unlocking some unknown subconscious relationship between him and humanity.
While Manhog dances on the reader’s dark side, the harmless looking Frank plays up the reader’s innate childlike curiousity and innocence. Frank has a connection with nature and his surroundings. From his small protective friend, Pupshaw, to his playfulness with the eternal Jivas, Frank finds comfort and solace in this primordial, cryptic world. He watches things like a peeping tom, sometimes aghast, sometimes reflective in the things he sees. And if you look really close, you might see something nasty in Frank; he’s not all perfume and roses.
This perfectly bound hardcover collects more than ten years of Woodring’s Frank comics and strips. This book really is the complete edition and has little extras like the first Frank comic that appeared in 1990 in Mark Landman’s comic book Buzz and includes illustrations, covers and short write ups in Frank’s Dramatis Personae. In the book’s afterword, Woodring states, “All of the Frank stories have straightforward meanings.” I could debate the validity of that statement; even Woodring admitted sometimes he didn’t realize what his strips were about until they were drawn and printed. But the questions surrounding Frank shouldn’t be about the stories’ meaning, but how it came to be and what it meant to the reader. If it were all black and white, the enjoyment of contemplation would surely diminish and one’s reflection on how brilliant Woodring must be would crumple.
Some cartoonists set the bar so high it’s almost impossible for other artists to come near them. Jim Woodring is one of these artists who stands out from the cartoonist fold. He must suffer in the lonely world he has created. From his psychedelic line work to his spherical design, Woodring easily makes some of the best comics in the business. His stories are chilling, humourous, spontaneous and unique. This collection is a masterpiece and anyone saying otherwise should be pelted with stones. (Dana Tillusz)