Graphic Novel Review: Jim Woodring’s Congress of the Animals


congress Congress of the Animals is a 104-page graphic novel , which is written and illustrated by Jim Woodring. The book is published by Fantagraphics Books, and was released on June 8th, 2011

Here’s the blurb:

Readers of the “Frank” stories know that the Unifactor is in control of everything that happens to the characters that abide there, and that however extreme the experiences they undergo may be, in the end nothing really changes. That goes treble for Frank himself, who is kept in a state of total ineducability by the unseen forces of that haunted realm. And so the question arises: what would happen if Frank were to leave the Unifactor?

That question is answered in Congress of the Animals, Jim Woodring’s much-anticipated second full-length graphic novel following 2010′s universally acclaimed Weathercraft, and first starring his signature character Frank. In this gripping saga an act of casual rudeness sets into motion a chain of events which propels Frank into a world where he is on his own at last; and like so many who leave home, Frank finds himself contending with realities of which he had no previous inkling.

In Congress of the Animals we are treated to the pitiful spectacle of Frank losing his house, taking a factory job, falling in with bad company, fleeing the results of sabotage, escaping the Unifactor in an amusement park ride, surviving a catastrophe at sea, traveling across hostile terrain toward a massive temple seemingly built in his image, being treated roughly by gut-faced men and intervening in an age-old battle in a meadow slathered in black and yellow blood. And when he finally knocks on opportunity’s door he finds… he finds…

Suffice to say he finds what most of us would like to find. Can he bring it back with him? Will the unifactor accept him as he has become? Are his sins forgiven? Is love real? Is this the end of Frank as we know him?


Congress of the Animals is Jim Woodring’s second full-length graphic novel, and the first to star his famous Frank character, as last year’s Weathercraft focused on another denizen of the Unifactor, Manhog. Congress of the Animals, much like all the previous Frank stories is a tale told completely without words.

While this story can be read perfectly well on its own, the story is definitely enriched by knowledge of Frank’s previous adventures, and the way in which the Unifactor controls everything that happens to its inhabitants. You see, Frank leads a carefree, almost charmed life, where nothing he does has any real consequences. Whatever happens to him during the course of  a story, everything is back to normal the next time we see him; in fact, I believe he’s even been killed a couple of times, but don’t worry, he got better! However, in Congress of the Animals Woodring give Frank a rude awakening, and shows him that the things that he does do indeed have consequences, and that his actions affect the world around him.

It all begins innocently enough, when Frank’s house is destroyed in a freak accident, a creature offers to rebuild it for him. Frank agrees to this, and sits back and relaxes in the sun, while he naively believes that the Unifactor is once again putting things right for him. Things don’t go quite as planned though, and upon completion of the project, the creature demands payment. Obviously Frank has no money, as he’s never needed any before, and so he’s put to work in a factory to pay off his debt. The factory is the epitome of all factories - where Frank is forced to endure mind-numbing, physically intense work, which seems to serve no real purpose. Frank can’t stand much of this, and so with a little encouragement from Quackly, he sabotages the operation, and the pair escape and take refuge in a fun fair. It’s at this fun fair where Frank’s life really begins to change, when a ride gone wrong ends up carrying him beyond the realms of the Unifactor, and leaves him stranded at sea. After an altercation with a strange sea monster, Frank becomes shipwrecked, and washes up on the shores of a strange land beyond the Unifactor.

While he’s no longer in the Unifactor, the world he now inhabits is far from normal, and he find himself a stranger in a strange land. Perhaps most strange of all though is the building which Frank spots on the horizon, which just happens to be shaped exactly like him! And so Frank begins his quest to discover the secret of this enigmatic structure. On the way there, Frank encounters many bizarre new sights, some wonderful, like the mysterious beauty that is denied him, and some horrific, like the gut worshiping men with hollow faces. Through it all though, he remains singular in his focus, and finally reaches his goal. What’s inside, you ask? Well, I’m not going to tell you that, but I will say that it’s something that will forever change Frank’s world.

There are many strange mysteries in Congress of the Animals, which reward repeat readings, and many of the things which Frank encounters beyond the Unifactor appear to  be metaphoric, with the meaning left open to the reader’s interpretation. But ultimately, I believe this story is about self-discovery - when Frank goes outside of his everyday world, he sets off on a quest that in a way ends with him finding himself, and by finding himself, he also discovers that what each of us wants most: Love.

Frank’s journey is brought to life by Woodring’s beautiful black & white artwork, which I could honestly stare at all day, and never get tired of. Frank himself is a rather simplistically drawn character, while the world around him, and the creatures that inhabit it are rather more complex looking. I believe this contrast helps to accentuate the naivety and innocence of the character, so that even when he’s doing bad things, you root for him because he looks like he could do no wrong.

Woodring’s illustration of the Unifactor and the world beyond it is something truly marvelous to behold. He uses a really interesting technique, where instead of using shading or crosshatching, he adds texture and definition to the landscape with differing densities of waving lines. This effect gives the story a dreamlike, almost hallucinatory quality. This feeling comes to its apex during the scene involving the gut worshipers, when they dangle a strange object in front of Frank’s face, which causes him to undergo a mind-altering journey through the twisted world of viscera. It’s a breathtaking scene, and is probably the closest thing you can get to going on a trip, without dropping a tab of Acid!

Congress of the Animals is a beautifully illustrated modern fable, which manages to say more without words, than most graphic novels can with hundreds of words. The tale rewards repeat readings, with each successive exposure to the story revealing new and interesting details that were not at first apparent. Woodring has really outdone himself here, and has created the finest work of his career. This is a strong contender for graphic novel of the year, if not the decade!

Related posts:

  1. Preview: Jim Woodring’s Congress of the Animals
  2. Fantagraphics Reveals the Cover to Jim Woodring’s Congress of the Animals
  3. Jim Woodring Goes on Book Tour in Support of Congress of the Animals
  4. Jim Woodring Brings Congress of the Animals to the Georgetown Carnival this Saturday!
  5. Graphic Novel Review: The Dark - by Chris Lynch & Rick Lundeen


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  1. [...] I’m running a day late this week, so sorry about that. However, I did get a HUGE review of Congress of the Animals up on Tuesday, so I think that excuses me Find that review here. [...]

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