Saturday, 31 October 2015

The Frank Book by Jim Woodring Review

Jim Woodring’s Frank is a generic cat-like anthropomorph who lives in a fantastical land called the Unifactor. His adventures are silent and generally black and white though there are several comics in this edition that are full colour.

The stories in The Frank Book are easy to follow in a technical sense because Woodring is an excellent cartoonist who knows how to tell a story sequentially. His art too is superb and enormously creative. 

But content-wise? Woodring could take LSD on a trip - he could teach imagination a thing or two! Some stories are straightforward: Frank gets a job, earns money, buys a house albeit in an abstract way. And then some are… well, I’ll describe one story. 

Frank dreams of swimming in a well so he buys a rug but Pupshaw (his “dog” for want of a better word) senses the rug is evil and tries to throw it out. Frank takes it back, sleeps on it, and it gives him nightmares of dreaming a book underwater. He wakes up and Pupshaw burns the rug. Frank is angered and goes walking in the mountains where he discovers the well from his dreams in a room on the side of the mountain. A man with an enormous chin fills up a black jug from the well which his prisoner, Manhog, takes outside and then runs off. Frank then picks up the black jug out of which comes a black morphing figure that becomes the skinny moon-faced Whim who imprisons Frank in the mountain along with the recaptured Manhog. Frank discovers a hole in the floor that leads deep, deep down in the dark where he meets twin “dogs” and picks one to lead him to the well of his dreams. He dives into the well, nearly drowns, Pupshaw saves him, but Frank’s head is deformed and he now has eight eyes. Pupshaw forces Whim to save Frank’s life and they leave the cave happily ever after. 

Say whaaaat? 

The Frank Book is full of those kinds of stories. I like that they’re surreal and wonderfully bizarre but after reading story after story of these inscrutable vignettes they tend to wash over you without leaving much of an impression. “Eh, another zany story about Frank doing something weird and then something weirder happening.”

I got this as part of the recent Humble Bundle Banned Books Week and apparently The Frank Book was “challenged” though I can’t find details of what was objected to. It’s surreal and oftentimes grotesque but there are plenty of books like that that aren’t challenged. Maybe someone read this on hallucinogens, exploded their mind and their family campaigned to put a warning sign on the cover: “Do not read on ‘shrooms!”? Whim does genuinely creep me out though – why won’t he stop smiling!?!

The Frank Book, and anything by Jim Woodring for that matter, is an interesting read. He doesn’t have any comparisons – his work is unique. And if you enjoy indie comics with a surreal/abstract twist to them, you’ll definitely get something out of this one. For me though it was a bit too much whackiness in one go with too many unfathomable stories in the mix to enjoy more.

The Frank Book

1 comment:

  1. Jim Woodring is like a lighter version of Rick Griffin or Victor Moscoso from Zap Comics.

    If you get a chance, try reading Tony Millionaire's "Sock Monkey Treasury". It's surreal, but his stories have fun, coherent plots. A little dark and often quite humorous.