Gurewitch on Perry Bible Fellowship "Almanack"

"The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack," a comprehensive collection of Nicholas Gurewitch's wickedly smart comic strips, is shipping now from Dark Horse Books. This edition, a follow-up to "The Trial of Colonel Sweeto," includes more than 200 pages of comics from PBF's origins in a college newspaper through its alt-weekly syndication and up to the most recent strip on Gurewitch's website. The book also features several "lost strips," sketches, a foreword by "Juno" screenwriter Diablo Cody, and an interview with Gurewitch conducted by "Wondermark" creator David Malki.

CBR News spoke with Gurewitch about the Almanack, the technique of "Perry Bible Fellowship," and what he's been working on since the strip ceased regular publication.

Throughout its run, "Perry Bible Fellowship" has been known for is its fairly simple setups, which then subvert reader expectations, often in a horrifying way. "I don't think it's necessarily the subject matter that I have an affinity for, I think what I like about PBF is its method of communication. Spiking the communication levels, either right at the end or upon a re-read is something that appeals to me," Gurewitch told CBR. "I usually accomplish that by making sure each comic has some powerful element and sexuality and violence definitely provide that. They're not exactly anything that I enjoy as a person--they come in handy when you're sneaking up on people with information."

Part of that communication involves leaving much to the reader's imagination, inviting the audience to participate in the strip's narrative by filling in what happens between panels. "I think that people love it when you do just enough to trigger understanding," Gurewitch said. "If you provide just enough to tip the scales of understanding, people seem to get really excited about that. It appears like a magic trick: you stop before you make yourself, or your intentions, apparent. So the understanding happens inside someone, and they feel that inside themselves. It does feel like a magic trick, and I think that makes people giddy."

This, he said, also contributes to PBF's ability to retain humor on repeated readings, since in many ways it's never the same joke twice.

Another potential cause of giddiness may be the juxtaposition of cuteness with terror, or with sexuality. Two such strips would be "Scorpy the Tree Friend," in which a band of woodland animals comes to harm during a game of "tail-touch" with their scorpion pal, or "Not Today Little One," where a bunny propositions a young girl. "I think cuteness and cute things are simply what in this society, or perhaps in this reality, register the most one-dimensional impression of things," Gurewitch said. "There's nothing saying a cute thing can't be a bad thing. It's often that we'll overlook that fact. Maybe that's too obvious a statement to make, but I think I start with that aspect that seems to a veneer, and then try to look underneath that. I guess cuteness is the #1 thing to do that with."

Visually, the artistic style of PBF varies widely, from simple blob people to very elaborate and intricate illustrations, not to mention homages to artists like Edward Gorey. "Sometimes it takes me three days of practice and a few years of curiosity" to develop a new style of art, Gurewitch said, "but I constantly draw so I'm constantly looking for new ways of drawing, new ways of looking at the world. I think the curiosity to trying new styles comes from that very thing, which, hopefully I can say without flattering myself, I explore in the comics."

Other than the direct influences on his art, Gurewitch said he also takes inspiration from mythology, and is currently reading Joseph Campbell. "I like his idea that stories are much more than stories--they're reality, in a way," Gurewitch said. "If they can trigger something in a person, they become real. There's a reason why we like them, and that should be looked at, and I appreciate that he does so."

The PBF Almanack contains several strips that Gurewitch had previously chosen not to offer on the website. His reasons for hiding the comics vary, but it largely comes down to quality control, according to notes in the collection. "I think publishing them along with the disclaimer that I've made them scarce elsewhere makes them a little easier to digest, makes them a little bit more acceptable," the cartoonist said. "They're not necessarily better, but having that context might allow more to be perceived in them. Crossing my fingers about that."

Though originally produced for publication in several alternative weekly newspapers, many readers will be most familiar with "Perry Bible Fellowship" as archived on Gurewitch's website, www.pbfcomics.com. Despite the online edition's ability to attract new fans, the author ultimately sees PBF as a print comic "because it simply looks best in print." The strips as presented in the Almanack do, in fact, appear to take advantage of a wider and brighter color palette than is seen on the website. "Instead of seeing pixelated areas when you squint, you can kind of make out the bleeding of ink. Or a tiny detail that you wouldn't see online. The book is definitely the most preferred format," Gurewitch said.

Even with higher-quality presentation, there may be some question as to why fans might be willing to pay $25 for material that is available for free online -- the success of the previous PBF collection, "The Trial of Colonel Sweeto," demonstrates the demand is there. But what is the appeal? "I think the venue, in this day and age, for something you can share with your friends right in your living room that doesn't necessarily overpower the mood of the room is very much desired," Gurewitch said. "A book is perfect for that because you're not necessarily engulfing everyone's attention with a kind of sparkling presentation--people can take it as they need it, leave it as they want to. I think those things are rare, and I hope the Almanack can offer that."

It has been more than a year since Gurewitch slowed down production of "Perry Bible Fellowship" to focus on other projects. Though this has often been characterized as a retirement from the strip, there have been occasional new cartoons on the website since Gurewitch stopped weekly publication in February 2008, and the strip's creator is reluctant to declare PBF as finished. "I don't see any reason to walk away. Why should you ever hang up your job at any point in your life?" he said. "There's no reason Michael Jordan has to stop playing basketball. Not that I'm Michael Jordan. But it doesn't really require an announcement."

Nicholas Gurewitch's current projects have been focused on film and television. "Channel 4 commissioned a script for a sketch show that I presented in London some time ago," the cartoonist revealed. "It was a script that I wrote with my friends and it came out very funny, and apparently they liked it. And BBC is taking a look at it, too. I don't know if somebody's just making me feel better, but they said that because of the economic times they couldn't make a decision just yet. So as I'm waiting for that, I'm writing some feature films with some friends of mine, and we're very excited about what we have."

While the show will be more humor driven than the films, Gurewitch said, "I think it's safe to say that any film that's really, really funny has a strong dramatic bent, as well."

As to the possibility of new comics other than "Perry Bible Fellowship," Gurewitch is again keeping the door open. "I've got an extended story that I've drawn up a rough draft for. I might finish that soon and publish it, assuming I get a kick out of it when I read it through."

"The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack" is on sale now from Dark Horse Books.

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