Trade Post: Weathercraft

WEATHERCRAFT (Fantagraphics)
Written & drawn by Jim Woodring

Thanks to a pretty fantastic sale on Thwipster last weekend and some surprisingly fast shipping, I found myself reading–or more likely experiencing–my very first Jim Woodring comic yesterday. I’ve heard a lot of Woodring from friends like Sean T. Collins (check out his review of the book, which I haven’t read or any other review yet because I don’t want it to color my experience just yet).

I’m not exactly sure how to explain Weathercraft. It’s technically a Frank comic, as it says on the comic, though the real star and main character of the book is Manhog, a bumbling force of nature who finds himself in all kinds of terrible, dangerous and sometimes heroic situations. While the artwork and the character of Manhog might seem kind of cartoony, Woodring takes the somewhat familiar scenes from Loony Tunes shorts and takes them a few steps further with some squirm-inducing scenes, that had me shifting in my seat.

The art is really the key to my enjoyment of this book–and I did quite enjoy it–and Woodring does not disappoint. I had seen samples of his artwork online and was impressed, but Weatercraft impressed from the very beginning. I’m talking about the image on the cover underneath the dust jacket and then on the inside front and back covers. Holy crap, this dude can draw. You can tell he takes a lot of time and care to put his panels together. The figures might remind you of familiar characters from childhood, but there’s a few dangerous elements of reality in there that you feel more than see. And hot damn can he draw monsters, which this book is chockablock full of. While not visually similar really, he reminds me of Kevin Huizenga (who I love, mostly) with the intense details and uninhibited, freeflowing transference of ideas from the brain to paper.

I don’t usually get this deep when reviewing books, but I kind of see Manhog as a metaphor for America, or at least Americans against the backdrop of international politics and travel. Manhog bumbles through his reality, seemingly through strange places he’s unfamiliar with, sometimes screwing things up for someone, sometimes helping someone, but never asking questions and always imposing his will on the people, things and monsters around him. He doesn’t come through unscathed (his tail!) but seems pretty okay with himself by the end of the book, though someone else had to come through and save his bacon. I have absolutely no idea what Woodring’s politics are or if this was something intended, but that’s what I got to thinking about while reading through this silent comic.

As I mentioned, I’ve never read a Woordring or a Frank comic, so this was a whole new world to me, yet I had no problem understanding what was going on–as far as I think I could have understood such a surreal and fantastical story–meaning it’s pretty good for new readers. I still have no idea what the deal with Frank or his weird pets are or even if Manhog is an established character, but, really, that’s not the point. Weathercraft feels like a day-in-the-life story. It’s a weird and wild one, but you don’t have to know anything going on, you just experience it. It actually reminded me of how I felt about stories in college: the details can be interesting, even if there’s not a typical arc or whatever. Don’t get me wrong, Weathercraft has an arc and a story and all that, but it’s probably not exactly what you’d think if you’re more used to traditional comics. Still, it’s a great piece of fiction to pick up and really experience, especially if you can get a good deal on it!

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