5 out of 5
I… will not be able to adequately describe this. Others have. Others are able to actually qualify a greater or lesser Jim Woodring work based on its themes, and I just don’t know if I’m Woodring-versed enough to do that. Concepts like the Unifactor (the realm in which many of Jim’s tales take place) and the repeated, belief-based iconography fly right over my dang head. I see general parables, via blank slate Frank, in all his Mickey Mouse glory, falling in to and out of schemes and problems and happenstances, but if you asked me for a direct analysis, I’d fail. For me, Jim very much functions on an all-or-nothing format: his wordless tales and linear, yet floaty, plotting either appeal or don’t, with “don’t” maybe being split into ‘meh’ and active dislike. So assuming you fall on the positive side of that split, it’s not clear to me how one things rates over another, as the unifying sensibilities of the Unifactor paint it all as one, long, ongoing story, snippets granted to us in Jim’s gorgeously, meticulously inked pages.
Congress of the Animals is a fantastic journey, one which may or may not extol the simple life, or may or may not praise or condemn ignorance. Frank gets a gift from nowhere which leads to the destruction of his home; he accepts the offer for his home to be rebuilt but doesn’t realize he’s supposed to pay for that; he gets conscripted into a job for settling that tab, and then somewhat conscripted into a rebellion. His escape / travels thereafter feature casual ruin, murder, torture, and terror, but all through the Woodring lens of obscurity, i.e. oddly structured goobledy gook monsters and landscapes. And then (maybe) he’s rewarded with the peacefulness of the mundane.
Frank, as he’s ought to do, finds his way back to a safe homestead, with his pets. But is there any enlightenment achieved – as he expressionlessly casts his eyes around on the final page – or will it be back to Frank as usual?
Don’t ask me. And though I might read this book countless more times, so in love am I with the look and feel and pace of the story, I doubt I’ll have an answer anytime soon.