“I grabbed a boat and I went abroad and in Baden Germany asked Sigmund Freud”
I like how across the top of the cover it reads “Graphic Freud.” Like the entire book features full-frontal Freud nudity! Fret not, people, as Frink & Freud is much more about the “Frink” part of the title than the “Freud” part! This book is published by SelfMadeHero, and it’s written by Pierre Péju and drawn by Lionel Richerand. Edward Gauvin, translator to the stars, brings us the English version, and it even has a “textual consultant,” Nick de Somogyi. It’s so fancy!
The book is oddly named, as Frink is the main character, with Freud relegated to a crucial supporting character, but that’s all. I suppose Freud’s name is better known, so putting his name in the title and featuring him so prominently on the cover might help it sell, but, I mean, it’s a biography of a largely-forgotten proponent of Freud’s theories and one of his American apostles, so it’s not like it’s appealing to a mass audience anyway. If they had called it “Frink & Billie Eilish” and put her on the cover, then I might get it. But I doubt if Freud moves units. The title does have a nice ring to it, though.
The book does begin with Freud, writing in 1928 about his trip to America in 1909, when he met Horace Frink. We get a sense of Freud’s disdain for America, but he also recognizes that he needs America, given its size and burgeoning importance on the world scene, and eventually he decides that Frink would be a good representative for psychiatry in the States (a poor decision, as it turns out). Péju then turns to Frink, and the book becomes more of a standard biography, moving chronologically through Frink’s life from his childhood to death in 1936 at the age of 53. The biography is interesting, because it’s really an indictment of early psychiatry, both of Freud’s methods and of the entire ouevre, as Freud can’t see past his own prejudices when he diagnoses Frink, who’s clearly bipolar, and the profession itself seems like a place where socially awkward, unattractive men can take advantage of attractive females, as Frink does in the book and others do in the early years of psychiatry (Jung and Ferenczi, for instance, both of whom accompanied Freud on his American tour), which Péju manages to make both creepy and a natural consequence of such intimacy (although he doesn’t condone it, either). Frink is a deeply troubled person, and Freud does him no favors, even if we accept that Freud was a positive good in the history of humanity. Péju does a good job showing the current of anti-analytics running through American society back then (and it’s not too big a stretch to transpose that to today, as it still exists) while also showing that some people desperately need this kind of analysis. Péju also manages to bring in the anti-woman strain in both American society and early psychiatry, which is something else that is all to relevant today. Frink’s mother is treated as a possession by his father, whose business is wiped out when Frink is a child and who leaves with his mother to start again “out West” – abandoning his children and forcing his mother to do the same (and later abandoning her, as well). Frink marries the only girl who ever showed any kindness to him, and the sense is that he doesn’t really love her, he just didn’t want to be alone. He leaves her for his patient, a woman who is treated poorly by her husband, another sociopathic plutocrat much like Frink’s father. Angelica, who desperately needs proper treatment, doesn’t get it from Frink, who puts her on a pedestal immediately and never lets her off, even after he starts having sex with her. Frink abandons her, too, although, as I noted, it’s clear he’s mentally ill and isn’t too responsible for his actions. The book is interesting because Péju, it’s clear, doesn’t denigrate psychiatry, just the arrogance of those who practice it. Freud can’t admit he’s wrong, and although Frink is wracked with self-doubt, he never lets that stand in his way of treating the women in his life poorly.
Péju doesn’t simply condemn Frink, though. He does a very nice job of showing us Frink’s disorder and how it influenced him. He was a sad child who got nothing but scorn from his father and wishi-washiness from his mother. Doris, his first wife, simply decides his direction in life, and although it’s clear he might simply drift if she doesn’t do it for him, it’s still not his choice. Angelica comes onto him extremely strongly, and Frink, as we’ve seen with Doris, doesn’t know how to handle an aggressive woman. Even when he finds some measure of peace, his undiagnosed illness torments him, and his life ends rather sadly. There’s a tragic inevitability to Frink’s life – he obviously couldn’t handle the real world, yet he had no outlet for his desires, as his artistic talent was drummed out of him at an early age. Frink might not do better today, but at least we know a bit more about the brain today than we did a hundred years ago. Péju doesn’t really condemn the times or Freud, simply show that someone like Frink – and even someone like Angelica, who’s not quite as bad off as Frink is – was beyond the comprehension of the people of the era. Such is life.
Richerand’s art is terrific, giving us a nice sense of the time period and the turmoil in Frink’s soul. He has a delicate line that’s very precise, one he can soften just a bit to add a bit of nuance to the drawings, and he has to create a lot of different characters, both real and imagined, and he does a very good job with it. When Freud comes to New York, there’s a marvelous sense of the grandeur of the place, so unlike Vienna, but also the chaos of it all, which bothers Freud. When Frink visits Europe, Richerand does an excellent job having the long history of the place bear down on him, almost to the point of suffocation. When Frink goes out West or into the wilderness, Richerand opens up the vistas more and gives us a good sense of why Frink would gravitate toward those places. He also does an excellent job showing how Frink sees the world, with people blending together, monsters crawling through windows, Egpytian deities speaking to him, and other odd things that make his world far scarier than those around him can understand. Richerand uses thick inks in many places to add weight to his thin lines, but he also does it because often he doesn’t erase pencil lines, so they show up as “ghost” images, almost, adding to the unreality of Frink’s visions. His grayscale work is superb, too, adding some heft to the drawings and making it less of Freud’s black-and-white world and more of Frink’s morally ambiguous world. Even some of his “regular” people are scary – he draws both Frink’s father and Angelica’s husband as slightly unreal monsters, as Frink probably perceives them, making their objections to his line of work more sinister. It’s a really beautiful book.
This is a good comic, although at times it does feel like a simple recitation of events and at other times it feels like Péju skips over some important stuff. It’s a bit unwieldy, therefore, but it’s still a gripping read, wonderfully drawn. Give it a look!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆