Friday, January 11, 2019

Book-A-Day 2018 #376: Poochytown by Jim Woodring

Here I go again, trying to eff the ineffable. I admit up front that it will either not work or be stupid for any one of a dozen reasons. But, if I'm reading books and writing about them, I need to do it even when it's doomed to fail.

Jim Woodring is a unique comics creator who makes wordless comics set in a world apparently called The Unifactor -- we know the names of many of his characters from his descriptions and occasional notes, but that's about it. Those worlds are full of nightmare-like transformations, full of organic forms growing and consuming and splitting and combining. I don't think anyone other than Woodring really understands any of it. I certainly don't.

I've written, badly, about Woodring books before: Fran and Weathercraft. And now I will write badly about his newest book, Poochytown.

From the flap copy -- supposedly a letter written to Woodring by "Walter Foxglove, The Smartest Artist" but I believe actually written by Woodring -- and from the odd subtitle "Discontinuing Congress of the Animals and Fran," I think Poochytown is something of a reboot. Woodring seems to be arguing that those two previous books were him trying to mold the story, and that the godlike Unifactor has since smacked him down in some way and forced him to tell the "real" story.

None of that actually makes much sense to me, but, then, neither does the actual story here, so that's fine.

So, two minor (unnamed?) characters have a squabble on the first few pages, which leads to various luggage being strewn across the landscape. Frank, the central character of the series, finds that luggage, along with his housemates/friends/pets Pupshaw and Pushpaw. Among the stuff is a tuba-like device that, when blown, generates an organic mass. The mass, for the first few blows, is interesting and falls to the ground to dissipate, but then one mighty breath makes it even larger, buoyant, and self-sustaining. That thing is filled with other creatures like Pupshaw and Pushpaw, and those two climb up into the thing to fly away with it. Frank, as happens so often, is left behind, alone.

Frank goes back to his house to find Manhog there, and initially drives him out before the two of them fight a horse-monster (?!) together and start to live in that house together. Manhog is a slob and Frank is randomly histrionically sad. They have some minor explorations together, and then find a steering wheel coming out of the ground (?!) and drive that (?!) into a crash (??!!!) which leads to some phantasmagorical stuff I can't even characterize.

Eventually, Frank finds and saves (?) Pupshaw and Pushpaw from the flying land of things like them, since they were being mutated/transformed by being there (?!). Everything goes back to the way it was in the end, and Manhog is kicked out of the house.

My sense is that Woodring's work is something like a classical allegory, based entirely in Woodring's own dream-logic and imagery: every character and object stands for something in his private schema, and each book presents a fable of how those elements of mind, or society, or life, interact in various ways, and provide positive or negative object lessons.

I've never managed to figure out the key to those allegories, though -- never quite figured out what Manhog or Frank or the tuba represent. So reading a Woodring book is like scanning a poem in an unfamiliar language -- well, more that it's like reading a language that re-uses all of the words from English but means entirely different things by those words.

There is no one else like Jim Woodring; his books are marvelous in their unique, inexplicable power. But I don't understand them, and I've never found anyone else whose understanding of them is explicable to me.

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