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The Frank Book
Jim Woodring
Fantagraphic hardcover $39.95

review by Amy Harlib

I am very excited to share information about and my opinions of The Frank Book a showcase for the astonishing work of Jim Woodring, an award-winning American cartoonist (with animation experience). Here he gets all the adventures of one of his well-known and most loved fantasy creations gathered together in one large, 351 page, high quality, glossy, coffee-table hardcover that does justice to the brilliant artwork within. This volume, graced with an introduction by admirer Francis Ford Coppola, collects 37 stories, a significant proportion rendered in full glorious, jewel-like, painterly colours, the rest drawn in black and white, woodcut-like, intricately detailed pen and ink.
   Frank, Jim Woodring's character and subject of the book, is an anthropomorphic critter with big round eyes; huge exaggerated cheeks; buck teeth; little rounded ears; a purple and white tuxedo-like body colouration; white Mickey Mouse type gloves; white booties; a slightly tubby torso, and a small stubby tail. This being looks like a playful animator's doodle, like an odd cross between a beaver and a cat - intentionally conceived as an embodiment of whimsy who stands for all of us. Frank represents an every-person who, with wide-eyed innocence and no goal other than experiencing life, gets put through Woodring's paces in these remarkable sequences and who experiences every emotional dimension and vicissitude of existence.
   In the book's definitive compilation of material previously scattered in various publications and partially collected in Frank (1996, reprinted 2000) and Frank Volume 2 (1997), we get blessed with the entire oeuvre to date and never before gathered all in one place. Deceptively easy to view, (being nearly 'silent', without word balloons), Woodring's imagery offers rich deeply complex nuances of feeling in dream-like hallucinogenic visuals filled with quirky humour, pathos, and Zen-like philosophical charm. Frank's escapades thus can be relished by people of all ages but adults will appreciate the layers of meanings and the slyly satirical, warped subtleties of the artist's unique visions.
   Perusing the volume's contents, the viewer becomes immediately struck by Woodring's incredibly playful imagination. Whether painted in gorgeous, vibrant, subtly shaded colours or drawn in lushly delineated, highly contrasted black and white inked lines, Woodring's invented world in which Frank's adventures take place, comes filled with baroquely curved, ornate Arabian Nights-like buildings; fecund, blooming trees and plants; and Dr Seuss-like objects and tools. Frank also shares his environs with oddly shaped fauna and fishes and other beings, some of which resemble him and still others such as the cone-shaped chickens and the delightful house cats formed like miniature houses with faces and thick striped tails.
   One creature in particular, serving in the role of a sort of nemesis, the vile and repulsive Manhog (sporting a pig's face and tail on a rotund, bristly-haired, naked man's body with human hands and feet but who locomotes on all fours), frequently appears in the tales to confront Frank. Another recurring character, the bright blue, quixotic, power-craving Whim, resembles a spindly stick figure with a devilish tail, a horned head and a face much like that of a Jack-in-the-box. These entities' interactions with Frank merely precipitate interesting events however, and are not the centre of the protagonist's existence.
   When looking at the Frank tales, the overall effect is whimsical and dreamlike with Woodring's distinctive artistic style filling every panel and every page with vibrant, quivering energy and beautifully balanced yet dynamic compositions distinguished by the flow of rounded and curved shapes. The stories, all imbued with their own internally consistent yet warped system of images, illustrate, in their allegorical and visionary way, everything we experience: birth, death, holiness, sense of self, change, love, struggle, play, evil, greed, enslavement, freedom, thoughtfulness, travel, loneliness, friendship, kindness and transcendence. Yet the bizarre, otherworldly settings and characters also paradoxically seem alien, at least they do on the surface, but underneath, they resonate on profound, affecting levels and help us to look at life with a sense of wonder that penetrates the blasé, jaded weariness of our mundane, daily routines.
   Woodring's creation is the stuff of dreams, penetrating deep into the visceral and the unconscious, touching the realm of pure playful imagination - the contents sometimes defying rational comprehension with their surreal visuals. Nevertheless, they utterly delight and enthral with their absolute clarity and the astonishing creativity of the artist's conceptions. The Frank Book is frankly amazing and deserves to be savoured for, like all the best works of art and fantasy, there will always be something fresh to be found there while Frank the character finds a place to be loved in your heart forever. For such endlessly satisfying wonderment, The Frank Book, a beautifully produced, sturdy hardcover volume will prove well worth its price.
The Frank Book

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