Thursday, September 07, 2006

Mr. Punch

The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch
Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
Fiction, Graphic Novel

If one is to argue that graphic novels are a legitimate art form, one could do far worse than to use Mr. Punch as an example. This is a story that could not conceivably be told in another format - the art underscores the dark strangeness of memory, and allows the prose to be sparse and meandering without spending time describing the scene.

This is the story of one boy's visit to his grandfather, in conjunction with the Punch and Judy shows of years gone by. These violent puppet shows were a mainstay of the beach for generations, and the conjunction of the boy's memories of the visit with the progress of the show infuses the centuries' old tale with dark meaning. Instead of being a simple recounting of a few weeks on the beach, the symbolism of Mr. Punch leads the reader toward a fable of the human condition.

Of course, this is written in such a manner that the reader has to pick up on numerous little cues, without which the tale is somewhat mundane. After being frightened by a Punch and Judy show alone on the beach, the boy runs away - and looking back, the reader can see that the wind has blown the tent up far enough to show that there is no puppeteer hiding in the booth. Likewise, there is the simple symbology of the baby puppet falling to the ground, a repeated image, which takes on a horrible significance near the end.

This is a short book but not a quick read - one should read it through at least twice to get the foreshadowings and hints. And if you are at all interested in the true fairytales - the dark ones before they were cleaned up - then this is a book for you.


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