The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch, a graphic novel by the intensely weird and wonderful combination of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, is dark, dark, dark. I’ll be the first to admit that I am a bit frightened by Punch and Judy. I know they’re supposed to be light kid’s entertainment, a bit of fun on the beach, but to me… from the squeaky voices to the psychopathic baby-killing, the wife-beating, and the murderous laughter over the death of the devil, I’ve never really been able to get into it.
Which makes me the perfect reader for Mr. Punch. In this wonderful combination of mysterious drawings and photographs and inventive fonts that is McKean’s trademark style, Neil Gaiman presents the story of a small boy’s memories of beachside entertainment gone very wrong. Through the doubly distorting lens of memory and childhood, we learn about the boy’s grandfather, his hunchbacked uncle, a pregnant mermaid, and, of course. the indomitable Mr. Punch and his history. Mr. Punch always comes back.
This book is dark, not just because of its subject matter, and not just because of the drawing, but because it is perhaps a little too mysterious. We never find out the answers to some of the questions of the book, and the narrator gives us to understand that perhaps it’s just as well. I find that unsatisfying. Still, for a slim volume, it’s wonderful, and I learned maybe even more than I wanted to know about Punch and his co-conspirators. If this comes your way one dark night, I recommend it.