Frank (comics)

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Frank
Frank, from the cover of Frank in the River (Fantagraphics, 1992)
Publication information
Publisher

Fantagraphics Books

Tundra Publishing
First appearance JIM #4
Created by Jim Woodring
Frank
Cover to Frank #2 (Fantagraphics, 1996)
Series publication information
Schedule irregular
Genre Alternative comics
Publication date September 1996 – February 2001
Number of issues 4

Frank is a cartoon character created by American cartoonist Jim Woodring. He is a bipedal, bucktoothed animal of uncertain species with a short tail, described by Woodring as a "generic anthropomorph". When shown in color, his fur is purple. He has appeared primarily in a number of comic book stories and graphic novels, and also some animation.

Description[edit]

The Frank stories are almost entirely wordless (words very occasionally appear on signs or in other places, but the characters themselves never speak and there are very few sound effects), and are usually done in a distinctive black-and-white, pen-and-ink style, but are sometimes rendered in bright colors in paint, and occasionally computer colors. They follow Frank's adventures in an unusual world called "The Unifactor",[1] which is at once idyllic and full of grotesque dangers. Some of the stories are about violent slapstick conflicts with the unscrupulous Manhog (a creature who is literally part man and part hog, typified and described by Woodring as "a lamentable father figure") or the Satan-like Whim; in others, Frank encounters a strange object, place, or creature, and tries to determine the rules governing its behavior; a few more meditative stories simply follow Frank through his daily routine as explores the countryside and observes various happenings. Except for the occasional introduction of new characters – many of which, such as Frank's loyal pet Pupshaw, became regulars – there has been no overall continuity or chronology; both Frank and Manhog have been apparently killed several times, although they always return in the next story good as new.

On several occasions we have seen other, very Frank-like creatures, suggesting that we may not be following the same Frank through these stories. One creature strongly resembles Frank but travels on all fours and has long whiskers; this creature typically has sinister intent and appears in a strip entitled "Frank's Faux Pa," giving rise to the idea that it is an agent of Whim passing as Frank's father and attempting to lead him astray.

In one rather curious 5 page story (written & drawn in 1997), Frank finds other Franks at a bridge party and joins them. Another Frank leaves his seat, goes outside,and apparently replaces the Frank from the start of the story.

Woodring has described Frank's character as "naive but not innocent", and Frank does possess a childlike wonderment mixed with a capacity for sometimes astonishing cruelty. His demi-godling associate/pet, Pupshaw – a creature shaped like a house and sporting a striped tail – has occasionally exhibited godlike powers and her better judgment often saves Frank after he's gotten himself into trouble, but she also has a mischievous streak and, goaded on by her boyfriend Pushpaw, sometimes gets into serious trouble herself. In times of great stress Pupshaw has been known to birth a litter of smaller Pupshaw pups from her mouth, which she can then command to attack. Pupshaw has uttered the closest thing to dialogue in the strip, by growling "LLLLLL...".She has also shapeshifted to a tall powerful form to deal with a situation.

The characters of the Frank stories are generally morally ambiguous (even Manhog has his good side), but Whim is a genuinely evil character. He is generally depicted as a tall, reed-thin figure with a large, ever-grinning, mask like head, though he occasionally takes other forms. Whim has a palace filled with creepy gadgets, where he entices various characters to experiment with awesome forces, often leading to their death or disfigurement. Frank has been drawn into Whim's schemes several times, generally escaping long-term ill through Pupshaw's protection. Whim forces Manhog to work in a dank dungeon, and also has a lackey called Lucky who is a human-ish creature with a very, very long face.

Other inhabitants of the Frank universe include a group of geometrically-shaped wiseguy chickens called the Jerry Chickens, as well as many large, brightly colored, multi-eyed predators and various siren-like female creatures Frank has been smitten with. Also frequently appearing are the flying, spinning, top-like, and colorful Jivas, soul-creatures that are neither vaporous nor altogether benevolent.

Woodring has written that many of Frank's attributes are inferred from feedback from his readers, such as "that he is 11 years old, covered with short, dense fur like a mole's, that he is innocent but not noble, and that he is mortal and must some day die."[2]

Though the stories are often described as "dreamlike", Woodring has said that they are his most consciously and deliberately created work. The characters of the Frank stories are rarely named within the stories themselves, but Woodring usually reveals their names in his responses to reader letters, in interviews, and elsewhere. A relatively full listing of the characters of the Frank world are given in The Frank Book, along with brief, somewhat confounding descriptions of their personalities and backgrounds.

Shapes play an important role in Frank's world—the reader will quickly notice how some shapes recur and often signify some kind of special rank or power. Eyes are also a ubiquitous presence.

In 2003 Woodring told The Comics Journal that comics just weren't lucrative enough to continue and he'd probably said all he needed to with the Frank stories. In that year The Frank Book was published, compiling all of the published material to date and concluding the unfinished "Frank's High Horse" storyline. However, in 2005 a new comic, The Lute String was published, and later Woodring's first full-length graphic novels were released, featuring the Frank characters: Weathercraft in 2010, followed by Congress of the Animals in 2011.

Publishing history[edit]

The first published drawing of Frank was the cover of Jim #4, and the first comic story featuring the character appeared in the Kitchen Sink Press-published comics anthology Hyena in 1990. Frank was a regular feature in the Tantalizing Stories series by Woodring and Mark Martin, and dominated that comic's inaugural special issue, Tantalizing Stories Presents Frank in the River. When Tantalizing Stories ended Frank became a recurring feature in Jim Volume II; in 1996 he got his own self-titled comic series which ran for four issues. A long Frank story titled Frank's Real Pa also appeared in 1994's The Millennium Whole Earth Catalog and was later released as a comic book. Two book collections of the Frank stories were released in 1994 and 1997. In 2003 The Frank Book collected nearly all of the previously published Frank stories as well as the conclusion of "Frank's High Horse", a serialized story that had been left unfinished at the end of the Frank comic book. In 2005 a standalone, limited-release comic The Lute String was released, and beginning in 2010 two full-length graphic novels featuring Frank were published.

Frank series[edit]

From 1996 until 2001, Fantagraphics put out four issues of Woodring's series Frank. All but the first issue included one color story. The ending to "Frank's High Horse"—the first two installments of which appeared in the last two issues of Frank—was only published when Fantagraphics put out the deluxe The Frank Book in 2003 (it was later included in The Portable Frank as well).

Issues of Frank
# Date Stories
1 Sept 1996
  • "High-Rise Hopper"
  • "Gentlemanhog"
2 Dec 1997
  • "Sprank" (color)
  • "Pushpaw"
  • untitled
3 March 2000
  • "Trosper" (color)
  • "Frank's High Horse" (part 1)
  • "Bliss"
4 Feb 2001
  • "Frank's High Horse" (part 2)
  • untitled (color)
Frank Graphic Novels
Title Date
Weathercraft June 2010
Congress of the Animals June 2011

Characters[edit]

The stories involving these characters occur in the surreal world Woodring calls the Unifactor.

Frank
A bipedal, bucktoothed animal of uncertain species with a short tail, described by Woodring as a "generic anthropomorph" and "naive but not innocent", "completely naive, capable of sinning by virtue of not knowing what he's really about."[3] The character design is reminiscent those of old American animated shorts from the 1920s and 1930s, such as from Fleischer Studios. Usually he appears in black and white, but when he appears in color his fur is purple.
Manhog
An "unholy hybrid of human ambivalence". Woodring says he sympathizes with Manhog: "He is very much at a disadvantage because of his looks and his weak character. He’d be good if he could, and when given a chance, he is good. But he has no discipline, no grit, no ability to select a better path and stick with it."[4] Earlier, however, Woodring had said he was "completely craven, incapable of a good act."[3]
Whim
Perpetually smiling, devilish character who inhabits a body with a moon-shaped head, "the spirit of politics".[4] When the body is destroyed, it turns out that Whim is actually a "tiny, malicious worm" that is able to crawl inside others (including Frank) and has the power of transformation. According to Woodring, "[h]e’s a conniver, a user. His body can be smashed, but he always gets a new one. Much in the same way that politicians are more or less interchangeable. They surrender their individuality to be part of that hideous game."
The Jerry Chickens
Mischievous chicken-like characters, each a different geometric shape
Pupshaw
A female[2] canine-like "godling" companion whom Frank bought from one of the Jerry Chickens in an early story. Faithful protector to Frank.
Pushpaw
Male counterpart to Pupshaw.

Influence and recognition[edit]

While the Frank stories have never been a mainstream success, they have attracted an avid cult following and have been extensively merchandised as t-shirts, action figures and other things. Many alternative cartoonists (Dave Cooper, for example) have cited the Frank stories as an inspiration, and mainstream comic book creators have also expressed their admiration, with Alan Moore including an image of Frank as part of an alternate universe in the pages of his superhero series 1963. Various artists have created short Frank animations based on Woodring's original tales, nine of which were collected on the 2007 DVD release, Visions of Frank: Short Films by Japan's Most Audacious Animators.

Woodring has won multiple Harvey Awards for his Frank stories, including the Best Single Issue or Story award for "Frank in the River" in 1993.[5] In 1999 The Comics Journal ranked the Frank stories #55 in its list of the 100 best comics of the century.[6]

Bibliography[edit]

Year Title Publisher ISBN Notes
1994 Frank Vol. 1 Fantagraphics Books 978-1-560-97153-5
1997 Frank Vol. 2 978-1-56097-279-2
2002 Trosper 1-56097-426-5 with music by Bill Frisell
2003 The Frank Book 1-56097-534-2 foreword by Francis Ford Coppola
2008 The Portable Frank 978-1-56097-978-4 foreword by Justin Green
2010 Weathercraft 978-1-60699-340-8
2011 Congress of the Animals 978-1-60699-437-5
2013 Fran 978-1-60699-661-4

Foreign editions[edit]

Translations
Language Title Publisher Year ISBN
French Frank l'Association 1998 2-84414-005-X
Frank, Tome 1 2001-07-13 978-2-844-14005-0
Frank, Tome 2 2006-09-11 978-2-844-14216-0
Frank's Real Pa: Suivi de Frank et la corde de luth 2007-01-20 978-2-844-14224-5
Japanese Pupshaw and Pushpaw Press Pop 2004 4-9900812-9-3
The Lute String
リュートの弦
Presspop Gallery 2005 978-4-90309-003-0
The Frank color stories 2006 978-4-90309-006-1
Weathercraft
Dutch Weersomstandigheden[7] De Bezige Bij 2009–11 978-9-054-92275-9
Norwegian Værverk[8] Jippi Comics 2009–11 978-8-292-22623-0
French Weathercraft l'Association 2010-01-09 978-2-844-14390-7
Italian Weathercraft Coconino Press 2010-07 978-8-876-18169-6
Congress of the Animals
French Frank et le congrès des bêtes l'Association 2011-04-29 978-2-844-14422-5
Norwegian Dei samlar seg, dyra[9] Jippi Comics 2011-05 978-8-292-22634-6

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Woodring Monitor: Springtime in the Unifactor
  2. ^ a b Woodring, Jim. 2003. The Frank Book, p. 351. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Press.
  3. ^ a b Reilly, Chris (March 25–31, 1993). "Jim Woodring: From Tantalus to Revelations?". Retrieved 2011-04-12. 
  4. ^ a b "The Words and Worlds of Jim Woodring". 2010-10-01. Retrieved 2010-04-12. 
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ "Top 100 Comics". The Comics Journal #210 (February 1999), 58.
  7. ^ Product page for Weersomstandigheden
  8. ^ Product page for Værverk (in Norwegian)
  9. ^ Product page for Dei samlar seg, dyra (in Norwegian)

External links[edit]