Austin's Reviews > The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch

The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch by Neil Gaiman
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Mar 06, 08

Recommended to Austin by: I Picked It Up On A Whim.
Recommended for: Neil Gaiman Fans.

In the late '80's / early-'90's, when the comics industry was going through another one of it's "growth spurts" that caused all sorts of chaos and speculation with regards to the future of the medium, everyone was scrambling for a way to take advantage of a market that suddenly had a lot of publicity but not much new product. Every publisher launched a number of new titles and developed many new ideas - often letting writers and artists go nuts - in an effort to be the first to have something new and edgy for audiences. It was during this kind of fervor that DC launched their Vertigo line of comics, while eschewed the historic "G" ratings that comics usually ran with, in favor of allowing "adult themes" to enter into stories. Most of the time, this involved the addition of characters swearing and talking about sex. Often, it also meant things got creepy.

Slipping under the radar at the time, Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean collaborated on this book together. Not quite a comic and not quite a book (it was published with odd, oversized trade binding that didn't match comics or novels, but evoked the feel of old newspapers), Mr. Punch was published to little or no fanfare, lost in a see of Vertigo Titles that have become classics among DC Fans in the years that have passed. In a way, it's easy to feel sorry for Mr. Punch.

To be honest, though, it is no wonder. It is not the best work Gaiman has produced, and while the story is compelling and interesting, his writing really only keeps the story moving, and reads as if the wind has been taken out of his sails with regards to the other writing chores he had at the time. The really impressive part of Mr. Punch is Dave McKean's brilliant art, which began to flourish in Sandman and reaches a dizzying scale of beauty here. His combinations of collage, photographs, painting, sculpture and - yes, even that - cartooning is impressive and beautiful to look at. I have often wished that there was no story, and that instead the book was just a collection of Dave's art.

Perhaps there will be a book like that someday, or there even is and I just haven't seen it. But if there is or were going to be, I'd recommend that first. Mr. Punch makes for a good lazy-afternoon reading, but nothing you need to run out and buy anytime soon.
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