Review by Ian Keogh
Produced shortly after Weathercraft, Congress of the Animals is a second graphic novel from Jim Woodring after almost an entire career producing shorter form comics. Featuring Woodring’s regular cast of oddities and amazing constructions, it can be seen as a reflection of Weathercraft. That book featured the Manhog transformed from irredeemable villain into victim, this sees irredeemable prankster Frank forced to take on responsibility.
The list of graphic novels where everything is set in motion by a tragic croquet accident is presumably limited to Congress of the Animals, but so it is. Having lost his house Frank is provided with a new one, but paying for it entails taking a job in the nearby factory. As with all Woodring’s stories, there’s a nightmare element, and Frank’s job involves grinding baby chicks to paste, at least before the industrial accident that sets him and a colleague free.
In most of Frank’s previous stories he’s seen wandering from place to place reacting to what he encounters, and to an extent that’s the plot here, but it’s one with greater purpose, a trip where he’s guided by assorted passions.
As ever, though, Frank’s journey isn’t the significant aspect, which is the wonder generated by Woodring’s clear visions of another world, one where curves and decorations inform random architecture and where hallucinogenic creatures abound. Companions and enemies fall by the wayside, each intricately designed and finely rendered in pen and ink, and as ever, Woodring’s pages are wordless, requiring a formidable facility with visual expression. There isn’t a moment where this isn’t conveyed, be it the strange sight of Frank in love, or the more familiar casual cruelty exhibited when coming across an earlier victim.
Woodring’s world isn’t one accessible to all, but to the besotted any new offering is a delight.