cover image THE FRANK BOOK


Jim Woodring, , intro. by Francis Ford Coppola. . Fantagraphics, $39.95 (351pp) ISBN 978-1-56097-534-2

Woodring, a modern master of hallucinatory cartoon fables, specializes in comics that look normal but aren't. Woodring's hallmarks are inventive, often bizarre creatures who inhabit otherworldly landscapes and dreamlike narratives. This book's hero, Frank, is a catlike anthropomorph who lives in a surreal, exotic world. Woodring uses cartoon grammar brilliantly: within a single panel, he captures the round, loose style of classic animated cartoons and conjures the best of early Disney, while simultaneously acting as master engraver, with a quality of line work and elegant shading reminiscent of Gustave Doré. Many of the stories are in b&w, but when color appears, the palette is a cheerful kaleidoscope. For director Coppola, Woodring's work is magical and "maliciously oblique." While innocent Frank is principally defined by his curiosity, he isn't without guile. The mostly wordless vignettes chronicling his misadventures are actually meditations on friendship, fear, consequence and cruelty, with a mixture of pathos, humor and gore that is often disquieting. His escapades also include a recurring parade of characters: Pushpaw, Frank's faithful pet; the repulsive Manhog, perennially unlucky liege of Whim (a sinister figure with a devilish barbed tail); Faux Pa and Real Pa; and the Jerry Chickens, geometrically shaped fowl who play cards. Woodring's talent is finally captured in a definitive collection that lives up to his genius. The production and design make it an outstanding gift for enthusiasts, and it assembles all the Frank material since the 1991 debut, including covers, illustrations, trading cards and ephemera for the completist. (June)