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The considerable talents of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean come together in this delightfully macabre telling of Punch and Judy, using the front of a tale of childhood memory to give us something very dark and riveting. At times, McKean's artwork is difficult to take in, as is the script type and wording used from Gaiman, but it's supposed to make you take your time and digest the whole thing fully. It's not an easy one to stomach, and traditional glossy comic book lovers will find this a whole different kettle of fish.
The narrator recounts a small period of time from his childhood, remembering his grandfather's arcade of amusements, including a Punch and Judy stall from a mysterious character. Tales of his family that are kept from him, sinister comings and goings, the tale of Punch and Judy itself and a strange mermaid attraction all combine as intricate parts of the story, with the wide eyed innocence of youth able to look past the otherwise obvious dodgy and undesirable goings on.
I have long admired Gaiman's writing. I think the way his mind works is brilliant, taking what is dark and making it not necessarily scary but just accessible and intriguing. Whether it be a book, film or graphic novel, he seems to hit the nail on the head, and his collaborative colleagues always bring out the best in him, as does he with them. Here, Dave McKean's art shows why he is the go to guy when it comes to the less run of the mill and tricky to take in artwork, and I think it works perfectly here. I recently read something praising his work on Arkham Asylum, which was very pencilly and made it less easy to see what was going on. It was the intricacy of making something look very slapdash and rough that stood out, and here it's the very same. Elements look as if they're photos as opposed to art, although I'm still not sure. Those bits that are recognisable as his work are excellent.
I can't say this is something I 'enjoyed' as such - indeed I don't think it's the sort of thing that is meant to be enjoyed. I certainly appreciated it, but its macabre and sinister plot and characters prevent it from being enjoyed. It's just too eerie and scary in parts for this to be possible, and the characters within the Punch and Judy specific elements do make it rather hard to stomach, boggle eyes and hook noses sitting and resting in your mind long after you've put it down.
I was thoroughly impressed by this, and would highly recommend it. The whole thing is well put together, and I sincerely hope these two do more together. I continue to be a big Gaiman fan, and the way McKean is going I'm starting to recognise his style of work and really appreciate it. Highly recommend.
A young boy stumbles across a Punch and Judy show at the pier one day and thus enters a world of extraordinary magic. A story unfolds in which the boy is forced to confront family secrets, strange puppets and a nightmarish world of violence and betrayal in this dark fable of childhood and growing up.