The Dark and Surreal World of Nicholas Gurewitch and the Perry Bible Fellowship, a Rebirth of the Comic Strip

Having been a huge fan of this particular site for a few years now, I was surprised to see that nobody has yet written on Nicholas Gurewitch’s wonderful Perry Bible Fellowship. Usually comprised of three to four panels each, Gurewitch’s comics characteristically juxtapose whimsical, clichéd imagery with something dark and unexpected (see below for an example).

Robin Hood

Naturally, this makes for some wickedly dark and surreal humour, often catching first-time readers off guard, what with the cartoonist’s use of vibrant colours and gentle illustrations.

Growing up in the 1990s I was a big fan of popular comics like Garfield, Calvin & Hobbes, and The Far Side, all of which possess a similarly cynical sense of humour. I was first acquainted with these cartoons while reading the Sunday comic strips in the newspaper; later on it was finding their books and anthologies at bookstores and garage sales. That was all a long time ago, but each cartoon has left a lasting impression on me, injecting my sense of humour with an unquenchable pessimistic cynicism.

Time Log

Indeed, Chapter 9 from our text “Of Comics and Men” details the success of Bill Watterson, Gary Larson, and Jim Davis, characterising the early ‘90s as “a period of surprising contrasts,” (98) a time when comics entered the general book market, to the detriment of specialty comics stores. This, of course, expanded beyond the popularity of newspaper comic strips, but the success of Watterson, Larson, and Davis was an  undeniable force behind the dawn of this new era in comics. This, however, is not the main topic of my entry, but the context of this lecture is needed to fuel my discussion. With 1993 long behind us, the entry of comics into the book market has more recently been replaced with their digitization. One could argue that with the impending doom of the newspaper and magazine, the comic strip, too, faces extinction.

With The Far Side and Calvin & Hobbes long since taken out of circulation, I spent years re-reading Far Side and Asterix. Post 2000, however, the Internet has exploded with comics. Without the constraints of publishers and print dimensions, cartoonists have been given an infinite canvas, so to speak, suggesting that the popularity of the webcomics of today are what the entry of comics into the book market in 1993 was. My foray into webcomics came somewhat late in 2006. I eagerly read through the entire Perry Bible Fellowship site after stumbling upon it once in grade 11. Gurewitch’s comics, as I had mentioned earlier, comprise of three to four horizontal panels- somewhat of a traditional comic strip approach, which appealed to me greatly. By the time I’d discovered Gurewitch and his ridiculous sense of humour, the cartoonist’s fame had already taken off, and in late 2007, Gurewitch released his first book, “The Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories.” Showcasing old favourites and never-before-seen comics, this book represented a rare moment in which one of the Internet’s most popular web cartoonists released an actual book of his own material. Unfortunately, since 2008, Gurewitch put the website on an indefinite hiatus to focus on individual projects, notably a collaboration with Hark A Vagrant’s Kate Beaton for the third issue of Strange Tales, a Marvel Comics initiative that showcases “the best and brightest talents working in independent comics today.”


Regardless of his busy schedule, Gurewitch still manages to throw a new comic strip onto the Perry Bible Fellowship every now and then; additionally, his second book, aptly titled “The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack,” was just released last week, a sure sign that the hunger of his audience shows no signs of slowing down! The bulk of his popularity, however, comes from the online circulation of his work, the books merely a collector’s item.

The aforementioned comics of my childhood represented an age in which comics were predominantly circulated through the paper mediums of newspaper comic strips and comic books; it seems as though the digital age has made short work of these mediums, as we’ve seen a mass migration of news and entertainment to the online world. Comic strips, as exemplified by Perry Bible Fellowship, has followed suit. This, of course, has not been to its detriment, as comics have reached a new level of popularity, ensuring their survival in a paper-free industry.


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5 Responses to The Dark and Surreal World of Nicholas Gurewitch and the Perry Bible Fellowship, a Rebirth of the Comic Strip

  1. samk says:

    I enjoyed your post, especially since I wasn’t familiar with PBF. I just checked out his website and it is really funny!
    Can we really claim that digitization will ensure the survival of these kinds of comics? I think it may be somewhat problematic to make that suggestion since websites like PBF only exist because the author was able to distribute his comics through newspapers like the Guardian. I think Gurewitch may not have been willing to share his comics for free if he wasn’t profiting off of his work in newspapers. Finally, sure he still occassionally writes some PBF comics, but he is more motivated by working for Marvel, where he is probably paid quite well in comparison to this project.

    I do enjoy web-comics, but it seems to me as though many of them are produced by hobbyists. This may be an area that will provide short, humorous, maybe even dark and cynical comics, but the quality is inconsistent.

  2. AshShan says:

    I would like to start by saying that I think this is a wonderfully written post about a subject that I was unfamiliar with. After reading through a few on the comics on the PBF website, I can see why you would like it so much! Very entertaining and well done, especially from an artistic standpoint. Hopefully Gurewitch will continue to create additional material for the series.

    Web-comics, as well as more easily accessible forms of media, are, as you pointed out, becoming increasingly popular. Which in my opinion, is a good thing. It allows for greater accessibility and provides an area of potential growth for the comics industry. The ways in which the internet is utilized in the near future, with regards to comics, will be very important for their livelihood. Here’s to hoping that more authors and publishers embrace this growing trend.

  3. Ryan Logan says:

    Yeah, PBF is by far one of my favourite webcomics. The art style has so much thought and effort, and he isn’t afraid to mix it up, both graphically and content wise. It’s one of the only webcomics I’ve actually bough the book from, but I believe the Almanack came out a few years ago. I haven’t heard much (aside from an occasional new post) Gurewitch in a while though. I’m not sure what he is up to right now.

  4. ericbailey says:

    I was really happy to see a post about The PBF. I think my favourite aspect of Gurewitch’s comics is his saccharine illustration style contrasted by the often dark and morbid humour. I’ve followed The PBF since high school and it has been disappointing to see his productivity sputter but I’m glad he continues to make comics. While I agree that webcomics are a very versatile and more easily accessible, a lot of webcomics struggle with their marketability. People either cannot dedicate the time required to update their content regularly enough to attract sufficient traffic to make it profitable. Many webcomics generate revenue by selling merchandise and can be financially successful but it is a small minority.

  5. jcdegner says:

    I really loved your post! I was not familiar with the Perry Bible Fellowship, but I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s extremely dark sense of humour in the various comics you showed. I also found your web comic topic interesting to read about. It is extremely intriguing how, despite the fact that we live in an electronic age, it is still a greater honor for an author to have their work published as a book, rather than as a web page. Why is this? In my opinion, it is due to the fact that books are simply more prestigious. Anyone can post something on the Internet, but very few individuals have the talent needed to publish an actual book. However, at the same time, it is extremely difficult for an artist to branch out into the web comic market. How would they gain popularity? How would they get readers to discover their website in the first place? I think that these problems are quite difficult for beginning artists to face on the web, which makes publishing comics on either the web or in an actual book quite challenging for any artist.

    -Julie Degner

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