This is a quickie review of an old Neil Gaiman graphic novel that I just recently got around to reading. Mr. Punch tells the tale of a man remembering his childhood, spent at a bleak seaside town where his grandfather operated an indoor arcade. Through hazy remembrances, he confronts dark family secrets, nightmares, and a mysterious Punch and Judy man. Now, as many of you already know, I’m a big Gaiman fan, however (and I know this may sound like blasphemy) I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Dave McKean’s art. I appreciate his work, but it doesn’t move me or speak to me as other artists’ work does. So this direct collaboration between the two was a mixed bag for me. Overall, this was a well written, solid effort from Gaiman, but being one of his earlier books, it lacks some of the charm that his later works weave so well into the narrative. It did get me interested in the history and culture of Punch and Judy shows, though, and sent me off to do a bit of reading on the subject at Wikipedia.
Gaiman and McKean collaborate quite well together, as you would expect. Using puppets (instead of illustrations) to tell a story dealing with puppet shows makes sense, and McKean is eminently qualified for the job. The standout moments to me were the sequence where the author recalls a hazy memory of a conversation (which McKean depicts by placing the maquettes of the characters behind soft gauze), and the emotionally brutal confrontation between the protagonist’s grandfather and a “mermaid”. If you’re a fan of either creator, you know what to expect and won’t be disappointed, but I found this particular outing a bit too dry and bleak for my tastes. Again, your mileage will vary.