cover image The Portable Frank

The Portable Frank

Jim Woodring, . . Fantagraphics, $16.99 (198pp) ISBN 978-1-56097-978-4

As with so many works of near-genius, the first reaction to reading Woodring's perplexing, bewitching Frank is bafflement, followed not long after by wonder and delight. The kind of cartoonist other cartoonists rave about like love-struck bobby-soxers (Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes hyperbolically blurb this collection), Woodring presents in these 14 almost entirely wordless tales a strange sort of wisdom, spun out of low humor and harsh but simple truths. His none-too-bright protagonist is a Mickey Mouse–like character living in a world of magic surreality that resembles a Grimm fairy tale gone horribly awry. Buildings sprout like onion-domed planets, and nightmare creatures (usually either dumb or malevolent) wander a landscape that frequently molts into cross-dimensional traps. Curious Frank goes wandering, often drawn by the promise of greener grass, and usually pays for his greed or callow cruelty. Lessons are taught but often ignored, with Woodring leaving the occasional gnomic clue in the bottom of a frame (“His father was a great machine”). A calamitous comedy that reads like silence, this concise edition is an ideal entry into Woodring's unique universe. (Sept.)