To say Jim Woodring’s Frank series is “compulsively readable” might be misleading, since, apart from titles and the occasional word-box, there’s no real reading involved with this comic. It is hard to put down though, and hard to get enough of. After reading The Portable Frank and Congress of the Animals, I now want very badly to track down every Frank comic.
The series is drawn in a Steamboat Willie/ Harveytoons fashion that blends in a modest amount of the underground comix style of Robert Crumb. The idea of combining together two such visual extremes is as brilliant as it is weird. Indeed, as you read the series, you’ll sometimes be assaulted by its weirdness. There’s no shortage of big reveals where you’ll turn the page and suddenly see Frank’s head quadruple in size or change shape in the sort of wild metamorphosis you might expect from Ovid.
The stories, ranging from five pages to fifty, read like bizarre allegories. Some feature Frank venturing out into the woods with his pet Pupshaw, who looks like a cross between the Cheshire Cat and an attache case, then running into a recurring character that’s a pig-man hybrid, then will inexplicably encounter an impish villain whose face resembles a crescent moon, followed by a few more twists and turns, yet by the end of it, you’ll look back and slowly realize “Oh, that was a story about the danger of materialistic thinking” or something along those lines.
There’s definitely an instructional value to Frank. The morals that appear in the average Frank story are frequently more pronounced and more important than most of the morals I might find in novels (although I usually don’t look for morals right away). The best part is, Frank is too goofy to be condescending.
Frank is published by Fantagraphics Books. If you haven’t heard of the company, I’d summarize it by saying Fantagraphics is to comics what Criterion is to film. They publish some of the artsiest and most thought provoking comics from all over the world. Unfortunately, like Criterion, their products are often very pricey. Congress of the Animals in hardcover is $75.00. The Portable Frank though is sized down and available at the nicely affordable price of $16.99. If you have a library near your house, I’d look there for the other Frank books.
—-I have recently self-published a book of fiction titled A Rapturous Occasion. It’s a comedy of errors that’s set in motion by a middle-aged couple’s fear of the End of Times. If this sounds like something you might want to read, please go to the product page where it’s available for $0.99 as an ebook and for $8.64 in paperback.