I’m a sucker, a total sucker. I paid almost $25 for this book when I could venture over to the strip’s website and read all the material for free.
But, you know what, I already did. Well, not all of it, but a lot of it, more than enough to know that Nicholas Gurewitch’s Perry Bible Fellowship is not only hysterically funny, but often ingenious and frequently brilliant. I knew after venturing through only dozen of his strips, one day, months ago, that I needed the Perry Bible Fellowship on my bookshelf. For some reason, nothing legitimizes a comic strip, whether newspaper or on-line (and the PBF was both) like a proper collected edition, something you can hold in your hands, something you can stare at and appreciate for a long time without a screen saver popping up or bring to bed with you without the batteries dying.
If you’ve never read The Perry Bible Fellowship, well, there’s no time like the present to correct that mistake (just head over to the website and peruse). Of course, humour is very subjective, and a matter of personal taste, so it’s not like PBF will be for everyone. It’s certainly not all-ages friendly (sexuality and violence are frequent topics/punchlines), and so many of Gurewitch’s jokes require a moment of processing (on more than one occasion I found myself staring at the page, like those old maddening “magic eye” pictures, waiting for the joke to reveal itself), but each and every gag is rewarding, most in fact becoming more entertaining upon repeat visits, like any truly great pop-culture contribution.
Gurewitch mastered a number of different comedy techniques through his strips, ranging from the pull-back (starting in on a tight shot, and continuously pulling back to reveal more of the scene), the time jump (from panel three to panel four, a length of time passes) and the pop-culture reference (playing with inspirations like the Far Side, Muppets, Transformers or even Super Mario Bros.). Gurewitch is also a brilliant artist, varying his style with every cartoon, from simplistic, detail-free figure in a nominal setting, to incredibly ornate cartooning, to photo-realism, to comic book or pulp magazine textures. Though there’s a lack of uniformity to the visual flavour of PBF, the tone of its humour unifies the strips.
Beneath a textured cover, the hardcover “Almanack” collects the entirety of Gurewitch’s PBF strips, one-per-page, extra-sized, and in glorious colour reproduction. It also features incomplete strips, sketches and alternate takes, as well as highlighting with commentary some of the strips as they appeared differently between the web and newspaper. There’s also a fantastic interview with Gurewitch by David Malki discussing in depth Gurewitch’s style, inspiration and growth. These “added features” are great, but the beautiful presentation and the quality of the strips alone makes the collection worth owning… even in spite of it’s free availability elsewhere. Hell, at about $25 it still feels like a deal.