Review by Win Wiacek
There are a few uniquely gifted and driven comics creators who simply just defy categorisation or even description. There’s a pantheon of artisans: Kirby, Ditko, Hergé, Eisner, Clowes, Meskin, Millioniare and a few others who bring something utterly personal and universally effective to their work just beyond the reviewer’s skills to elucidate or encapsulate or convey. They are perfect in their own way and so emphatically wonderful that no collection of praise and analysis can do them justice. You just have to read their output yourself.
At the top of that distinguished heap of funnybook glitterati is Jim Woodring, a position he has maintained for years and clearly appears capable of holding for generations to come.
Woodring’s work is challenging, spiritual, grotesque, philosophical, heartbreaking, funny, beautiful and extremely scary. Moreover, even after reading that sentence you will have absolutely no idea of what awaits the first time you read any of his books.
Set in the general vicinity of Woodring’s wildly, warped universe, Fran is a time and relativity shredding adjunct which can be read before, after or even during his 2011 milestone Congress of the Animals.
Woodring grows rather than constructs solidly surreal, abstractly authentic, wildly rational, primal cartoon universes. In them his meticulous clean-lined, sturdily ethereal, mannered blend of woodblock prints, R. Crumb landscapes, expressionist Dreamscapes, religious art and monstrous phantasmagoria all live and play and often eat each other.
His stories follow a logical, progressional narrative – usually a non-stop chase from one insane invention to the next – layered with multiple levels of meaning but totally devoid of speech or words, boldly assuming the intense involvement of the reader will participate and complete the creative circuit.
Fran is another such vertiginous vehicle, but adds a cruel patina of lovelorn tragedy and loss to ongoing tribulations of dog-faced Frank and his regular crew of irregular pals and foes in a perilous perambulation of innocence lost. Here pride, arrogance, casual self-deceit, smug self-absorption and inflated ego leads to a shattering downfall. Put bluntly, Fran was his wonderful girlfriend and through mishap, misunderstanding, anger and intolerance Frank loses her. No matter what he does or wheresoever he wanders with his faithful sidekicks at his side, poor Frank just can’t make things right and perfect and good again.
Through madcap chases, introspective exploration and the inevitable direly dreadful meetings and menacings in innumerable alternate dimensions, True Love takes a kicking – and all without a single word of dialogue or description.
Of course Woodring’s work is not to everyone’s taste or sensibilities, and as ever, these astounding drawings have the perilous propensity of repeating like cucumber and making one jump long after the book has been put away. However, the artist is an undisputed master of graphic narrative and an affirmed innovator always making new art to challenge us and himself. And, of course, he makes us love it and leaves us hungry for more.
All art-forms need such creators and this glorious hardback monochrome chronicle of Forbidding Love could well change your reading habits for life.
Now aren’t you curious to take this trip…?
If so, you might prefer Fran collected with new pages as part of the One Beautiful Spring Day compilation.