Tuesday 12 May 2015

Jim Woodring's Frank, Fran, Congress of the Animals, Weathercraft and The Lute String

Earlier this year, on one of my now infrequent trips up to London (as in, central London; I still get up to south London fairly regularly to see my family... not that that has any bearing on proceedings), I picked up a hardback (first edition, naturally) of Jim Woodring's graphic novel Fran, published by Fantagraphics in 2013. As both a sequel and a prequel to Woodring's 2011 graphic novel Congress of the Animals – how it can be both things defies explanation, like much of Woodring's work – and the third such full-length graphic novel Woodring has published in the last five years – the other being 2010's Weathercraft – it made for a nice addition to my bijou Woodring collection, which I subsequently retrieved from the loft – see also this post – and which basically comprises those three hardback books plus a 1998 L'Association anthology of Frank stories – titled simply Frank – and The Lute String, a slim but splendid Japanese graphic novel starring Frank, Pupshaw and Pushpaw and published by Presspop Gallery Publications in 2005.

I've no idea where I got The Lute String, but it's pretty scarce; I can only see one copy online at present, offered by an American seller for about thirty quid. I do know where I got the L'Association Frank though – in Super Heros in Paris, sometime in the early 2000s. It's a first printing, dated September 1998, but more importantly it has a numbered bookplate affixed to the title page, signed by Woodring:

Which brings me back to Fran, my copy of which also sports a signed – initials only – and numbered bookplate – unaffixed in this instance – courtesy of Gosh!, which is where I bought the book:

With its circular illogic – best appreciated in conjunction with Congress of the Animals (although that book seems to be out of print at the moment) – and the queasy, unsettling hold it exerts, Fran is typical of Jim Woodring's Frank comics – a remarkable and remarkably consistent body of work. Indeed, one could compare Fran with the stories collected in Frank, most of which are around twenty years old, and discern no real difference in either quality or style, although I suppose that shouldn't really come as a surprise given the hermetically sealed nature of the universe in which Frank exists. Even so, I think I would still point the Woodring/Frank neophyte to the story "Gentleman Manhog" – or "Gentilhomme porc" as the L'Association edition of Frank has it – as being the Frank story par excellence: a savagely ironic tale of degradation and enlightenment, one which evidently inspired Woodring enough that he reprised and expanded on it for Weathercraft.