Monday, 7 May 2007

Mr Punch, by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean

So many layers of meaning, this one: Mr Punch, a graphic novel written by Neil Gaiman and drawn by Dave McKean; read as part of the Once Upon a Time Challenge, under the Folklore category. (The reason it is placed in this category is explained here.)

I think most people know of the Punch and Judy show, famous figures of popular culture. I know the stories and when I read them in the comic, I can remember them, but I don't recall where or when I saw the shows. I know I've always been afraid of Punch and Judy and I've always avoided watching them in any form in the media. I believe I've been fortunate enough to have never watched any Punch and Judy shows in real life, but then maybe my memory is faulty, because how else would I know the stories? I even remember Mr Punch flirting with his girlfriend when his wife wasn't around!

This is the basis of the comic, Mr Punch: it is about memories, blurred and unreliable, of disturbing and incomprehensible experiences etched into the mind but never really fully grasped.

Mr Punch is told from the point of view of an unnamed narrator, recounting his memories of a brief childhood stay at his grandfather's seaside house. His grandfather owned an arcade near the sea side and the narrator's days were filled with frightening Punch and Judy shows, and encounters with
his dwarfish, hunch-backed uncle Morton; the Punch and Judy puppeter, the bottler, who collects money for the Punch and Judy shows; and the shivering mermaid in a tank.

Like the horrific Punch and Judy show, where Punch throws the baby out the window and kills or beats with a stick everyone he encounters, Mr Punch, the graphic novel, tells of family secrets, horrors and dysfunctions. You could even read parallels between Mr Punch the puppet and the various men in the comic - there are very telling motifs and references which are easy to pick up. But who really is Mr Punch? Mr Punch the puppet and the parallel human Mr Punch - evil sinister little man (or men) - who is he, or who are they?

A graphic novel - you could finish it quickly or you could take ages reading it. I always spend alot of time over a comic, especially if it is well-drawn. Always staring at the pictures - so much information in each frame. I can never fathom the amount of work that goes into drawing a comic. I am filled with awe by this one. The artwork by Dave McKean is gorgeous. Very dark and moody, tinged with a deep melancholy, fitting for the disturbing story. The juxtaposition of real and stylised images in the frames, mirror the blurring of reality and memory. This is an excellent book, which leaves you thinking and wondering. I might need to get a copy of this book for keeps. It will not disappoint any Neil Gaiman or Dave McKean fan.


Chris said...

Great review! I love Gaiman/McKean collaborations. Isn't McKean's stuff amazing? He's one of my favorite artists.

Nymeth said...

It really is an excellent book. Great review!

Quixotic said...

Great review, I love Mr Punch. McKean's artwork really is awesome.

jean pierre said...

cool review! thanks!

it sounds a lot like violent cases... if you haven't read it then i recommend it. its also by gaiman/mckean and it also has to do with memory and all that blurring stuff.