cover image Francis Rothbart!: The Tale of a Fastidious Feral

Francis Rothbart!: The Tale of a Fastidious Feral

Thomas Woodruff. Fantagraphics, $75 (300p) ISBN 978-1-68396-649-4

Painter Woodruff’s debut graphic novel is an ambitious, outré fever dream. Francis Rothbart is orphaned when lightning kills his parents after the family’s hot air balloon trip blows them into a weird wilderness (where the gorgeous parents have graphically drawn sex just before their doom). Vignettes—cinematically portrayed nightmares, eroticized child-animal encounters, lightning strikes that alter Francis’s body—unspool as he grows up with the help of foxes and magpies. Young twin sisters from the nearby town encounter him, dress him up like a doll, and apply makeup until they’re scared off by his sexual response. Egged on by rumors of a wild child, townspeople come to the wilderness in elaborate costumes that recall Bosch, which Francis outdoes with his own creations. Then, after a “teenaged toxic psycho-club” kills his wolf mother; Francis responds by summoning “spir’ling squads of varied pests” to attack them. As Francis mutates and grows, a piano falls from the sky, which he begins to play, entrancing visitors again for a spring dance extravaganza that pushes him to even more bizarre, murderous behavior. Woodruff’s storybook rhyming verse is written in distinctive calligraphy, and his art is undeniably stunning and equally disconcerting, fetishistic and wrought with imagery of jewels and thorns in closely crosshatched charcoal pencil with color interludes. This grotesque-erotic epic will call to curious and particular collectors, while raising eyebrows and questions about the boundaries of art publishing. (Sept.)