Frank

When I started drawing my webcomic, I was a terrible artist. I'd never had much talent for freehand drawing, but when I switched to digital art I didn't really understand how the programs I wanted to use worked, so what came out looked even worse than what I'd done on paper. I figured that if I worked hard at it I would slowly improve. And I did, for a while. I learned how to use gradients, and eventually I got the hang of some filters that added texture... But I hit a wall at some point. I never got the hang of simulating motion, so everything looked stiff, and I never learned to do portraits that were in half positions, so every figure had to either be seen head on or in profile. I was better than when I started, but I still wasn't very good.

After awhile I started to become self conscious of how my comic must have looked to the outside world. I spent years drawing literally thousands of strips, most of them about arcane or bizarre things like minotaur dongs, told via childishly rendered art, to an audience of basically no one... If you changed a few of those variables - made it more of a lark, or made the material a little more conventional, or if it had found a bit of an audience - it would have been a little more justifiable. But instead I was worried that I was going to die a complete flop, only to be posthumously resurrected by people who saw me as a total outsider art weirdo like Henry Darger.

I say all this because it's helpful background for understanding why I connected with Frank so much. This movie is about a young man named Jon who wants to be a songwriter, but he's having trouble even finishing a single verse. One day Jon accidentally backs into being the keyboardist for a touring band led by a man named Frank, a singer you almost can't hear because he wears a cartoonish head 24/7. At first Jon can't figure out what to make out of Frank, who is obviously sort of crazy, but eventually he sees just how much of a musical genius Frank is, and from there things only get more complicated. Before it's over Jon re-evaluates how he feels about his own art, what he thinks about madness, and he changes his opinion about the unstable Frank multiple times.

There's a lot of good material in Frank, which is a coming of age story, a character study of an eccentric man, a comedy and a drama, but the aspect that spoke to me the most was Jon's grappling with the discrepancy between his talent and Frank's. It isn't a simple binary: Frank's music is more compelling on some level because it's more out there, but Frank's life is also much harder than Jon's because madness is more of an obstacle to happiness than mere weirdness. (I should add that the film treats mental illness quite delicately, and even goes out of it's way to make it clear that the musical ability came before the madness; this isn't a stereotypical bullshit story of a tortured artist.)

Because Frank is such a specific character it's a slightly less universal take on the fine line between genius and journeyman than in Amadeus, but similar issues abound. Would you still want to be a great artist if it meant you had to be an outsider? Because it can be very cold outside. Frank believes in what he's doing, but he also knows that very few other people do.

I'll probably never know a Frank in real life - few of us will probably ever know a guy who lives his entire life in a fiberglass head - but this movie still provided me the same sort of catharsis that Jon got from his time as a member of Frank's band. This movie reminded me that despite all of my insecurities no one would ever confuse me for an actual madman; my comics might not have been very good on a technical level, but it was clear what I was trying to do. I might eventually rise to the level of an artistic journeyman, but I'll probably never be seen as any sort of genius - but at least I'll never have to spend my days and nights in a fiberglass head, so at least I have that going for me.

 

Winner: Me

Frank on IMDB