Stranger Than Fiction 

Jim Woodring's Congress of the Animals

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Seattle cartoonist Jim Woodring has a style entirely his own. Working with ink lines so chubby they look like woodprints, Woodring evokes R. Crumb, Max Fleischer, and Salvador Dali while creating landscapes and characters that have no precedent. His newest graphic novel, Congress of the Animals, is among his most approachable and comprehensible works—a welcome change from last year's hallucinatory Weathercraft. Not that it's obvious what the hell Woodring is on about; centered around recurring character Frank, Congress of the Animals is full of stream of consciousness and near-inscrutable symbolism, like L. Frank Baum rewriting the Upanishads while on serious amounts of peyote.

Synopsizing Congress of the Animals seems like an exercise in futility, but here goes: After a croquet game opens up a hole in the ground, Frank's house disappears beneath the earth's crust. He hires a contractor to build him a new one, but unable to pay for it, Frank is forced to take a job in a nightmarish factory. One day while playing hooky from work, he embarks on an amusement park ride, only for it to send him to a strange new land full of oddball creatures and a far-off temple in the distance, which seems to bear a vague resemblance to Frank. But the actual plots of Woodring's stories are not nearly as important as the way in which he tells them. He's a master of narrative momentum, relying entirely on wordless visuals to suck the reader into his bizarre fantasias. It's fully immersive work, categorically strange and breathtakingly beautiful.

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