Fran (Continuing and Preceding Congress of the Animals)

By Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-661-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A beguiling glimpse on a different kind of party … 9/10

There are a few uniquely gifted and driven comics creators who simply just defy categorisation or even description. There’s a pantheon of artisans: Kirby, Ditko, Hergé, Eisner, Clowes, Meskin, Millioniare and a few others who bring something utterly personal and universal effective to their work just beyond the reviewer’s skills (mine certainly) to elucidate or encapsulate or convey. They are perfect in their own way and so emphatically wonderful that no collection of praise and analysis can do them justice.

You just have to read the stuff yourself.

At the top of that distinguished heap of funnybook glitterati is Jim Woodring: a position he has maintained for years and clearly appears capable of holding for generations to come.

Woodring’s work is challenging, spiritual, grotesque, philosophical, heartbreaking, funny, beautiful and extremely scary. Moreover, even after reading that sentence you will have absolutely no idea of what awaits the first time you read any of his books (or even if you’re a confirmed aficionado) – when opening a new silent peripatetic classic like Fran

Set in the general vicinity of Woodring’s wildly, warped universe, this is a time and relativity shredding adjunct which can be read before, after or even during his 2011 milestone Congress of the Animals..

Cartoonist, fine artist, toy-maker and artistic Renaissance man, Woodring’s eccentric output has delighted far too small an audience since his first mini-comics forays in 1980. Even though the reader may have avidly adored his groundbreaking Fantagraphics magazine series Jim (1986), its notional spin-off Frank (of which the volume Weathercraft won The Stranger 2010 Genius Award for Literature), maybe Tantalizing Stories, Seeing Things or the more mainstream features such as his Star Wars and Aliens tales for Dark Horse Comics, there is still never anything but surprise waiting when his next story appears…

Woodring grows rather than constructs solidly surreal, abstractly authentic, wildly rational, primal cartoon universes wherein his meticulous clean-lined, sturdily ethereal, mannered blend of woodblock prints, R. Crumb landscapes, expressionist Dreamscapes, religious art and monstrous phantasmagoria all live and play and often eat each other.

His stories follow a logical, progressional narrative – usually a non-stop chase from one insane invention to the next – layered with multiple levels of meaning but totally devoid of speech or words, boldly assuming the intense involvement of the reader will participate and complete the creative circuit.

Fran is another such vertiginous vehicle but adds a cruel patina of lovelorn tragedy and loss to ongoing tribulations of dog-faced Frank and his regular crew of irregular pals and foes in a perilous perambulation of innocence lost, where pride, arrogance, casual self-deceit, smug self-absorption and inflated ego leads to a shattering downfall.

Put bluntly, Fran was his wonderful girlfriend and through mishap, misunderstanding, anger and intolerance he loses her.

…And no matter what he does or wheresoever he wanders with his faithful sidekicks at his side, poor Frank just can’t make things right and perfect and good again…

Through madcap chases, introspective exploration and the inevitable direly dreadful meetings and menacings in innumerable alternate dimensions, True Love takes a kicking – and all without a single word of dialogue or description.

Here, the drawn image is always king, even if the queen has gone forever – or is it just a day?

Many Woodring regulars return, as both eponymous Krazy Kat-like ingénues work things out on the run through a myriad of strange uncanny places and there are absolute mountains of bizarre, devilish household appliances, writhy, clawing things, toothy tentacle things and the unspeakable Thingy-things inhabiting the distressingly logical traumic universe of his author’s fevered sensorium.

Of course Woodring’s work is not to everyone’s taste or sensibilities – otherwise why would you need me to plug his work so earnestly – and as ever, these astounding drawings have the perilous propensity of repeating like cucumber and making one jump long after the book has been put away, but the artist is an undisputed master of graphic narrative and an affirmed innovator always making new art to challenge us and himself. And, of course, he makes us love it and leaves us hungry for more…

All art-forms need such creators and this glorious hardback monochrome chronicle of Forbidding Love could well change your reading habits for life.

Now aren’t you curious to take this trip…?
© 2013 Jim Woodring. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.