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).
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.
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.