||[Mar. 4th, 2010|09:00 pm]
It's been months -- almost a year -- since the last time I posted one of these. I've been thinking about re-launching it in a different format, rope in co-writers, take it off lj, all kinds of things. I still might. In the meantime...
100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)
#40 FRANK – Jim Woodring
“Visit the palace of horrors.”
Jim Woodring’s Frank looks like a prototype for a cartoon character who escaped from the early-stage design pages of one of half-a-dozen more famous characters. He’s got the de rigeur white gloves along with buck teeth, round eyes and a tail, but he could just as easily be mouse, rabbit, cat or mole. The dialogue-free Frank comics take place in a very well-developed world, however, a vivid, fungal, sickly and psychedelic place full of flying objects that look like spinning-top chess-piece vases and Arabic architecture where almost everything has eyes.
Frank explores Woodring’s world with the child-like mix of curiosity, innocence and cruelty common to old-fashioned cartoons from the silent era. His reaction to many of the encounters he has is gum-baring horror, a constant rictus scream. Frank has a lot more in common with horror than children’s cartoons, with recurring characters like a grinning, moon-headed Devil who memorably tries to brainwash Frank into becoming an assassin and the greedy, corpulent Manhog who is always either eating or being eaten. Anything can turn out to be alive and sentient in Woodring’s wonderland, but rather than bursting into song even the fruit is likely to eat you before you eat it.
Most cartoon characters are infinitely stretchy, able to bounce back from being splatted flat or diced to pieces, but not Frank, Manhog or the rest. Although between stories they return to normal no matter what happened to them in the previous strip, during the stories they’re completely and distressingly vulnerable. Manhog receives a head wound while chasing a bird and then spends the rest of the strip in a druggy hallucination where he skins his own leg, perhaps to get at the bugs underneath, then limps along for the rest of the story until Frank puts him out of his misery by popping his head open with an oar. Frank suffers mutation, aging, cloning and beatings with regularity. Like the X-ray pictures that show how deformed Charlie Brown’s skeleton would look, Woodring’s surgical approach to cartoons has grotesque results, peeling back the skin of the bright world to show the nauseatingly pulsating, insectile organs underneath. After Frank, you won’t be able to look at Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse the same way again.