is neither prolific nor a champion of prose, but he is one of the most disturbingly
creative comic artists in America. He has created an illustrated universe of childlike
simplicity in which the most serious of human questions about life and death, greed
and ethics, spirit and futility are exposed and transposed in such a way that both
naive youths and jaded adults are equally attracted and confused. The central
character in Woodring’s colorful dream universe is a purple and white
anthropomorphized beaver with Mickey Mouse shoes and the soul of a seeker
named Frank. With his loyal companion and demi-god Pupshaw, he travels in the
spaces between thoughts. Untarnished by exposure to the ugliness of the real
world, Frank is a silent yet deeply philosophical fictional being who often finds
himself perilously close to the will of God.
While Frank may possess the gentle
weakness that compels him to seek out excitement from the darker mysteries of
life, there are other beings in his universe that are far less pleasant to behold. The
worst of these is Manhog, a curiously despicable being with the body of a pig and
the limbs of a human. As such he is not unlike most people you’re likely to meet in
a stroll downtown. He usually acts with unthinking animal selfishness. But when he
realizes that he can use his human hands to mold and control things, then any
horrific event imaginable is likely to happen. There are many other weirdly subtle
characters in this dream world come brightly to life; but I will remain silent on them.
A belief in God and the soul is a
prerequisite for true enjoyment of this comic without text which takes hours to read.
The emphasis on the soul as a real thing may be the underlying reason for the
popularity of Frank among children. In one of his comics, which used watery
metaphors to probe the relationship between death and the meaning of life, an
early version of the story so saddened some children he showed it to that he
changed the end of the comic which, he says, makes children happy but makes
The Frank comics by Jim Woodring are
like a brightly colored Trojan hobby horse. Do you dare look under the cover? And
what happens if you don’t?