Sunday, July 31, 2011

Punch & Judy: Modern Interpretations part 1

Punch and Judy by Carlo Giordano
I've long been enchanted by puppetry, and have a particular fondness for the classical Punch & Judy and their associates.  The history of Punch & Judy dates back to the 17th century, although the characters have roots in the Italian Commedia dell'Arte tradition which began as far back as the 16th century.

Unlike most modern children's entertainment, the Punch & Judy tale was quite dark, with Mr. Punch basically killing off all of the other puppets including The Baby, Judy, The Constable, and ultimately The Devil.  Mr. Punch was a thoroughly unlikeable character, selfish and mean, and yet he has attracted audiences and devotees throughout the centuries.

In 1992, Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean published "The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch".  Their interpretation highlights the darker, creepier aspects of Mr. Punch and the performers (carnies, hucksters) who have kept the beachside puppet show alive over the years.

The story follows a young boy who is sent to his grandparents' house near a beach, where he finds an old rundown puppet theater tent. There he experiences the terror of watching Mr. Punch throw the baby out the window for the first time.

Later he visits his grandfather's spooky, failing arcade a short ways from the beach, and meets a Professor (as the puppeteers refer to themselves) and his bottler (who collects the pennies and interacts with both puppets and audience).

The artwork is a blend of illustration, photography, and collage used to great effect.  It evokes feelings of age, dust, crookedness and defeat, and really captures the strangeness and inconsistency of adults as seen through the eyes of a child.

Gaiman and McKean are long-time collaborators and are perhaps best known for the Sandman series of graphic novels and, more recently, Coraline which was turned into a popular film.  This may be my favorite creation by them, though.  It's a great tale which is true to the tradition and history of Punch & Judy, and the execution of the story, text and artwork is beautiful.

Check back soon:  In the next edition of Punch & Judy: Modern Interpretations,  we will explore another contemporary publication, The Comical Tragedy of Punch and Judy by Christopher P. Reilly and Darron Laessig.

No comments:

Post a Comment