Most comedians tell traditional jokes in three parts, with two parts setup and the third element containing the punch line. Nicholas Gurewitch mastered this technique in a different medium with the popular webcomic The Perry Bible Fellowship, and Dark Horse has put together a second collection of material culled from the comic’s lifespan (which ended in 2008) in Almanack.
Most of Gurewitch’s strips come in three or four panels. He uses the first two or three to create expectation, and the final strip turns that expectation on its head, thus delivering the punch line.
Gurewitch often does this in one of two ways. The first is perspective. Many of Perry Bible Fellowship’s jokes revolve around the reader getting a limited, zoomed-in view that leads him to believe one thing, only to have a wider view in the final panel prove him wrong in a hilarious manner.
The other technique has a lot to do with his art style and sick sense of humor. Perry Bible Fellowship is often a very bright affair, bursting with rainbow colors. This serves to juxtapose the oftentimes morbid payoffs, such as a suicidal man who cannot seem to get hit by the train in “fantasy world,” a butterfly that leads a pyromaniac to gasoline, or unicorns that come to the violent rescue of a guy wearing a decidedly “gay” T-shirt.
It may sound a bit formula, but it is more along the lines of a total understanding and execution of a craft. Gurewitch is creative enough to keep things interesting, with his twisted take on human experiences and what might be called childhood innocence if the jokes weren’t so often focused on sex, violence, and religion.
The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack is beautifully bound with a bright, raised cover and includes a preface by Gurewitch and a foreward by writer Diablo Cody. And after 224 pages of material from the site, Gurewitch also tosses in more than 20 pages of “Lost Strips” with commentary and sketches. If it weren’t for the interview excerpts from a chat with David Malki (Wondermark), in which Malki tries to explain Gurewitch more than he gives Gurewitch a chance to explain himself, the collection would be nearly perfect. But the interview is really just another bonus, and Almanack provides enough material to satisfy any fan of The Perry Bible Fellowship.
Reviewed by William Jones on March 25, 2009
The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack