||[Sep. 22nd, 2008|11:52 am]
100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)
#70 THE PERRY BIBLE FELLOWSHIP – Nicholas Gurewitch
“I’m tired of living in this happy fantasy world.”
When the cartoon mice of Art Spiegelman’s Maus experience the horrors of the Holocaust we feel for them despite their cartoonishness; perhaps even more so because of it. We’re not expecting innocent cartoons to be shown burning in ovens or hanging from the ceiling like meat. Nicholas Gurewitch’s Perry Bible Fellowship strip plays on the same effect, the horror of child-like characters in pain – but it does so purely for laughs. It’s very black humour, baby-in-a-blender stuff, and it’s certainly not for everyone, but when it works it’s painfully effective. Knowing you shouldn’t laugh at something only makes you laugh harder.
The characters in The Perry Bible Fellowship, whether Gurewitch’s distinctively doughy people, sickeningly cutesy animals, 8-bit computer game sprites, anthropomorphic board-game pieces or transforming robots, are embodiments of innocence and childhood nostalgia. Many of the strips involve them saying or doing terrible things or suffering for our amusement. And they really do suffer horribly. They undergo needless surgery, are crushed into pulp, eaten by dinosaurs, stripped and paddled and transported to dimensions of unfathomable fear. It’s a little disturbing how funny it is to let loose the part of us that always wanted to see the Coyote catch the Road Runner and tear him into meaty pieces.
Gurewitch has an excellent sense of colour and he knows exactly when to burst someone in an explosion of red, rot them to sludgy yellow or leave them to wail in shades of grey while all the magic in the world races away in the shape of a purple flying pony they just wagered all their money on. He’s also a skilled imitator able to copy styles like those of The Family Circus, Atari games or cartoons from the ’80s, twisting them until they mesh with his sick sensibility. Only a strip in the style of Edward Gorey doesn’t subvert the original’s intent, instead homaging Gorey’s similarly morbid approach.
The Perry Bible Fellowship would grow stale if every joke was the same and there are plenty of strips that are simply cute or clever or creepy, getting their laughs via sexual innuendo or bizarre juxtapositions. The humour to be found in others’ pain is a deep well though, and Gurewitch draws it like nobody else.