Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Portable Frank by Jim Woodring (2008)


While this black and white collection includes stories mostly (if not entirely) the same as those collected in the previous (color) Frank volume I read, Frank is always worth a second look.

Frank's world seems wholly organic, as if every structure grew as naturally as every tree. Which may help explain the weirdly sexual aspect of almost every object in Frank's world. Woodring's brand of weird here is closely related to Gary Panter's Jimbo and Brad Teare's Cypher, but is probably the greatest of its type.

One thing that makes Frank the best is its near wordlessness. No character talks and there are few words of any wort anywhere --- with the exception of "House of the Dead" (where there are content-bearing notes), this world appears to be utterly without language. And without words to tell us what to think, what we think becomes a close reflection of who I am. So when I dexcribe this book to you, be aware that your interpretation may vary, and greatly. And the distance between our interpretations may well tell us a great deal about ourselves.

The Unifactor (the name of Frank's world, though you can't find it in the comics themselves, of course) is a truly Hobbesian realm, a place where characters act on their instincts, occasionally noble, sometimes neutral, often base. It is a world of casual cruelty, where the line between human and animal is uncertain and in constant flux. A surreal world where the interior life and the exterior life have no certain boundary. This is a world utterly bizarre and all the more familiar because of it. Horrible and beautiful in equal measures.

This is Frank.

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