Has it been twenty years already?
I was already familiar with Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed work through his monthly Sandman series, published by DC Comics. Of course, the brilliant artist Dave McKean painted, sculpted, photographed, and photoshoped each of those covers, so I was quite familiar with his work as well.
But it was the hardcover graphic novel of Mr. Punch, first published in 1994, that opened my mind, even more broadly than it was, to the types of stories that sequential art – that comic book storytelling – could celebrate.
Follow me after the jump for a twenty-year continuation of that celebration.
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by: Dave McKean
Published by: Vertigo Comics
Mr. Punch, otherwise known as The Comical Tragedy or The Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch, was a brilliant story, so unlike all of the mainstream superhero, fantasy and science fiction tales that percolated through the comic book store shelves in the early nineteen nineties. When multiple covers and a plethora of sales gimmick were quickly destroying the comic book industry, Mr. Punch was a breath of fresh air.
Under the auspices of editor extraordinaire, Karen Berger, and published by Vertigo Comics (one of the few publishers who believed in a different storytelling sensibility and still had the means to bring that sensibility to a wide audience), Mr. Punch was, at its heart, a story about adolescence told from a very adult perspective.
Through an adult narrator, readers are transported to a Grandfather’s summer English seaside resort, where a young boy gets caught up in a mysterious Punch and Judy exhibit and the puppeteer who showcases it. Memory, and the unreliability of childhood recollection, is brought to the fore, as the adolescent is embroiled within the story of the stage show and real life family mysteries, half-truths, and violence.
Mr. Punch is a beautiful story, but it’s the fully painted artwork of Dave McKean that elevates such a good story into a piece of literature that transcends the confines of its format. The twentieth anniversary hardcover edition, released today, also includes sketches and prep work from McKean.
If you’ve already got a copy, re-read Mr. Punch and remember the magic you felt when you first turned those beautiful pages in your hands. If you don’t have one yet, make the run to your local comic book shop today, pick up Mr. Punch, and be part of the magical feeling that the rest of us have for such a wonderful story.