Current Weather
The Spy FM

A Weird, And Wonderful, Cartoon ‘Congress’

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
June 22, 2011

First a bit of background: For years, in works like The Frank Book and Weathercraft, cartoonist Jim Woodring has been producing wordless, surreal, darkly beautiful comic book fables about …. Well, here’s where things get tricky. Because Woodring’s singular talent lies in creating vast, painstakingly rendered grotesqueries that resist tidy classification. His pen-and-ink landscapes — which look a bit like Rockwell Kent woodcuts had Kent eaten lots of peyote — are festooned with dark caves, scary jungles and mysterious minarets, each peopled with monsters who could be on work-release from Heironymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. Within this dreamscape — a world Woodring calls the Unifactor — he sets his stories.

In previous books, Woodring showed us the Unifactor’s hapless residents — Manhog (an aptly named anthropomorphic pig) and Frank (a cartoony cat who looks like he stepped out of a 1930s Disney short) enduring a hellish, unending existence. It turns out the Unifactor is a cruel, closed system that prevents those who live inside it from learning, growing or, in any meaningful sense of the term, changing.

Congress of the Animals finds the catlike Frank losing his home and forced into grueling labor. Just another day in the Unifactor, it would seem — until a series of unlikely events involving a strange amusement park (you’ll want to savor the two-page spread Woodring uses to show us the park’s gorgeous, terrifying scope) deposits Frank outside the Unifactor, where change — permanent change, for good or ill — awaits him.

Best not to share more of the plot, or my own pet theories about what the Unifactor represents, what that miniature version of Frank’s house that we glimpse inside another character’s house truly signifies, and why Frank’s ultimate fate is so satisfying.

Let it suffice that Congress of the Animals finds twisted fabulist Woodring at the top of his darkly delightful game: Open the book at random and the odds are very good that your gaze will alight upon something that stings, bites, drips, oozes or squelches. Tentacled plant-beasts threaten the unwary, factories powered by crushed blackbirds produce who-knows-what, slimy amphibians enact bizarre rituals and a tribe of naked, faceless men whom the jacket copy refers to as “blind gut-worshippers” — easily the most potent nightmare fuel Woodring has ever produced — drug passersby for mysterious purposes of their own.

You certainly won’t want to live inside the covers of Congress of the Animals, but it’s a fascinating and thrilling feat of imagination, and one hell of a place to visit. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

11AM to 12PM The Story

The Story

The Story with Dick Gordon brings the news home through first-person accounts. The live weekday program is passionate, personal, immediate and relevant to listeners, focusing on the news where it changes our lives, causes us to stop and rethink, inspires us.

Listen Live Now!

12PM to 1PM Fresh Air

Fresh Air

This one-hour program features Terry Gross' in-depth interviews with prominent cultural and entertainment figures, as well as distinguished experts on current affairs and news.

View the program guide!

1PM to 2PM Talk of the Nation

Talk of the Nation

Journalist Neal Conan leads a productive exchange of ideas and opinions on the issues that dominate the news landscape.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center