4 out of 5
“Discontinuing Congress of the Animals and Fran.” Apparently, Frank and Unifactor chronicler Jim Woodring was distressed by the direction his creations had taken in these prior tomes, with events streamlining and elements from beyond acting on the within; the Unifactor was no longer self-possessed but rather subject to narrative.
Poochytown is thus supposedly a corrective tale, once again insular in its focus on Frank and his innocent explorations, taking up with Manhog for some ribaldry when Pushpaw and Pupshaw get sucked up into – maybe – their own form of enlightenment. (But there’s a Garden of Eden snake smiling on, and their time in enlightenment seems to have literally twisted them after a while, so who knows what’s what.)
The usual Woodring moments of wonder are littered throughout the book: splash pages and sequences that have you studying every nuance of the art and sussing out Frank’s emotions. While the contents might be a purposeful return to “classic” Frank weirdness, the book seems somewhat distraught with that focus, straightening out momentarily for what might be a Unifactored version of a cartoonist’s creative process, or questioning that creative process, before the story goes completely herky-jerky insane with a scattered set of images of Frank and Manhog crashing into worse and worse wrecks of recklessness. It’s so herky-jerk at this point that I actually had to set the book down, as the usually fluid flow of Jim’s work is temporarily completely abandoned. This might be a purposeful “reset” in the book’s middle; the beginning and end seem to suggest things are the same as they ever were, so it might be fitting to blow it up somewhere inbetween.
But what happens from here? Regardless if Jim decides to again pursue the former whimsy of following Frank down a slightly more linear path, or if it will be hijinks as usual, we know it will be brilliant, and worthy of our readin’ time.