By Jim Woodring
The last time I spoke Jim Woodring was soon after the inception of this site. The tone was a rather solemn one, despite the fact that the cartoonist was celebrating the release of a new book. There was a good deal (thanks almost certainly to prodding on my part) of lamenting the fact that, after more than a quarter-century, Woodring was still having difficulty making a living as a full-time cartoonist.
He had largely turned instead to paintings and charcoal drawings, the latter of which was the focus of his then newly released volume, Seeing Things. Save for the occasional shorter work, it sounded as though Woodring was set to essentially retire from comics, the latest casualty for a medium that is still not economically viable for the vast majority of its practitioners.
I’d being lying if I suggested that my immediate reaction wasn’t at least a little selfish. Surely a more thoughtful person would have been overwhelmed by empathy for Woodring’s position as a brilliant, yet struggling artist. I, on the other hand, was rather depressed at the prospect of living in a world with no new Frank books. It was clear, after all, that the cartoonist was far from finishing his exploration of the world of his naïve, bucktoothed protagonist.
Exploration, thankfully, is precisely what Weathercraft is all about. Woodring’s latest graphic novel is a deep exploration of Unifactor, through looking glasses, behind tears in the world’s fabric, under sea and into space, this time all experienced through the beady eyes of Frank’s principle antagonist, Manhog.
But this time out, Manhog is the perpetual victim of circumstance, an bottom feeder consistently at the whim of Unifactor’s ebbs and flows. Woodring is more than happy to run him through the ringer, chased by Pupshaw, shackled by Whim, and generally perplexed by Betty and Veronica.
But while the book jacket introduction exudes sympathy for the obese pig-man, Woodring insists on the rear, “don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you are privy to certain episodes in the grunter’s checkered past you know the extent of his perfidy. Manhog deserves absolutely everything he gets in this story and more.” That includes, one supposes, the moments of respite, some genuine instances of joy for the swine, and even a heroic moment or two.
Manhog’s pleasure and suffering both follow him through a number of dream worlds, Woodring never truly making clear which moments are exist within the confines of the Unifactor, and which are separate worlds unto themselves. And the result, ultimately, is sheer confusion for our unwitting tour guide.
It’s nearly maddening, these new levels to explore, as though loyal readers didn’t already possess enough reason to wish that Woodring could continue to unravel his infinite coil. But the good news is that, even though we may well have to wait some time for the next installment, there is exploration to be had in every wavy line of these hundred pages.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we’re not all hoping for Woodring to be back soon with the next fix.