The Portable Frank (Fantagraphics)

portablefrank-header.jpgA collection of 14 wordless, black-and-white adventures starring Jim Woodring’s Frank.  

200 pgs. B&W; $16.99 softcover

(W / A: Jim Woodring)


Last night I was trying to read The Portable Frank and I kept falling asleep. This wasn’t because it’s soporific, like, say, watching golf on TV, or the post-sex collapse, but because Frank is so very dream-like it has a way of encouraging dreams.

Frank, who looks like an extra-retarded version of Disney’s Goofy, has been having his wordless adventures for well over ten years now. In this new anthology of reprints, he, his strange little pet, Pupshaw, and his nemesis, the loutish Manhog, interact in a mad subconscious of curved forms, free-floating souls, and grotesque, undersea-like monsters. You will find a typical range of chasing and fleeing, laughing and crying, stabbing and killing, and a triangle-shaped chicken hosting a never-ending yard sale.

The cover to The Portable Frank by Jim Woodring. Click for a larger image.For those unfamiliar, a typical tale finds Frank and Pupshaw strolling through the woods. He finds a sort of low, woven, hut, and squeezes under the lip of it to crawl inside. There, he meets a stark-white version of himself with a bloated heard and a huge, sperm-like tale, who beckons him through a curtain. Through the curtain and two flights of stairs down, Frank emerges in a pool hall where four identical Franks are playing poker. They deal him in. One of the other Franks realizes that now he must leave. He emerges from the hut and continues through the woods with Pupshaw. His pet levels a suspicious gaze at Frank, aware that something is off, but not quite sure what. The End.

It’s a Freudian symbolist’s delight. There is a mystery man in the woods who gives entry to a subterranean netherworld where other selves gamble, and identity is a sinister game. The eccentric genius Jim Woodring probably didn’t plan it that way, but that’s why it works. Well, that, and his dependably marvelous art, meticulous and shadowy, reminiscent of old-world etchings with its everpresent hatching.

In Frank’s happy-go-grotesque world, characters get a real charge out of tormenting one another, and then suddenly they find themselves being eaten by monsters. Creatures belch forth their children, or split in two and become two, as in earthworms. It’s Bosch-like.

It’s also easy to see the influence of black and white cartoons here, especially Felix the Cat, who could unzip holes in the ground and drop into them, or stuff an infinite amount of stuff into his magically appearing sack. Except you knew things were always going to come out okay for Felix. With Frank, not always.

In fact, Frank stories seem to take on a soundtrack as you read them—something buoyant and goofy, maybe, with jolly brass accents, right up to the part when the shrieks of terror begin. | Byron Kerman

Click here for a preview of The Portable Frank, courtesy of Fantagraphics.

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