Vol. 3, Issue #3 February 8th - February 21st, 2008

Book Review: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto by Nicholas Gurewitch
Review By: G. Smith

Burn this book. Or at least place it on a high shelf.

If you’ve been a regular reader of this here rag, then you know exactly why you keep picking it up: the PBF. Nicholas Gurewitch’s “The Perry Bible Fellowship” has finally come to us in a topnotch, top shelf book. And I mean that, not only does this deserve to be on the top shelf, it should be out of hands’ reach to the little ones it looks to entice. There’s too much sugar here for youngsters.

I made the trek to the best comic shop in the metro area upon its release by Dark Horse Comics last November. Lo and behold, the genius behind the counter at the comic book store (you know the one, the one who knows everything about Manga, Image, old school and new) had never heard of it. Of course he could order it, but what’s the point? I could order it on Amazon myself. Or I could just get it from the NONfactory.

Most of the people I know have never heard of Nicholas Gurewitch. Most of those same people couldn’t tell you who Bill Watterson or Charles Schultz are, for that matter. Some might say, “Comics, people! Goddamn comics!” Some comics aren’t for everyone. Certainly most Americans can relate some aspect of their childhood to “Peanuts,” “But those are kids’ comics” is apt to be the reply of the book burners. I’m am fortunate to reflect that just a couple of years ago, when this alternative urban bi-monthly’s tiny blazing flame was just flickering along, a coworker of mine raised his nose from the pages with a smile on his face and asked, “Have read this fuckin’ comic strip?” I was fortunate again that I had.

Just Google “The Perry Bible Fellowship.” Wikipedia Nicholas Gurewitch. And why not? Its online presence has been overwhelming. Dark Horse Comics has given the fans something certainly unexpected. Gurewitch again, even with the title, gives us a sweet expectation and a bit of silly poo. The name isn’t what we expect, but just judge this book by its cover:

A war is on. The Chocolates have attacked Lollytown. The citizens of Lollytown have all gathered in the town square. A detailed acid dropped image of hundreds of cute and colorful candy citizens crowded in the town square. The art is soft, reminiscent of the children’s game Candy Land. All of Lollytown is gathered around Colonel Sweeto. A round yellow body, blind-folded and frowning, hands tied behind his back to a black and white candy cane stick. Near him a blue gummy bear, a purple lifesaver, and an orange something (generic Halloween candy?) are holding flaming lollipops. And the subtle punch line amidst the colorfully chaotic scene: a small pink Valentine heart with red text that reads, “Burn him.”

Ninety-six pages, glossy hardcover to hardcover. Designed like a children’s book, colorful and square, the spine reads “The Perry Bible Fellowship,” which is as misleading as the title. It even has a nice red tassel so you if your 10 year old son walked in the room, you could save your place before you returned it to out of arms’ reach. You wouldn’t give a Red Bull to a child would you? Hell, only in an experimental and observed setting, I’d imagine. Much like Dante’s Inferno on the inside, down the path to Lollytown, a sign bears a warning: “For Mature Readers.”

Flipping through the glossy pages, reflecting on the title, we are almost mislead. Don’t forget the And Other Stories part. This is a collection of the strips we have come to love. The Trial of Colonel Sweeto itself involves only the cover image, and one, I repeat one, strip. Four whole frames. There are two strips per page, and by the second strip Colonel Sweeto and the war is left only to speculation.

Much like his strips, his art changes throughout the book, some strips remain the same while others display different techniques. There’s a strip that I’ve seen before that’s styled like Japanese water coloring. There are apologetic tributes to Bil Kearne, Edward Gorey, Quentin Blake and R. Crumb. And if you’ve bought more DVDs lately than books, the end of the book contains some lost and unforgiving strips.

One strip that must be mentioned is “Book World.” The art is simple: three smiley round-headed youngsters staring up at a poster. It reads, “Enter a New World, Read a book.” On the poster, the image of a smiley round-headed youngster is jumping with a colorful rainbow into a large book in outer space. One of the three takes a book off a bookshelf. The book has black runic text on the spine and the cover has a black skull with spider legs growing out of it and two snakes twisted around it. Then the three look as if they were on the poster, jumping with a rainbow into the large space book. The final frame is very unpleasant, like something from the Necronomicon or all of those Catcher and the Rye lunatics.

Though Gurewitch doesn’t offer a lengthy voyage around one certain setting, his work is more “The Far Side” than “Calvin and Hobbes,” more “Family Circus” than “Willy Wonka.” There is more orneriness, and such themes as suicide, bestiality and desire take on a different role than one might expect. Damn, how many times can I say that even as a fan, this isn’t what I’d expect?

A few strips are child friendly. A year ago my ten-year-old cut out “Cave Explorer” and put it on the fridge. My favorite would have to be “Bunny Pit”—after all, tax season is here. This book is worthy of all of its attention, and more than worth a purchase. The art is sweet. The book itself is sweet. Cavities and tummy aches, my friends. A damn fine first collection. Again: keep out of reach of children.

Five out of five Painted Cakes.

• Hardcover: 96 pages
• Publisher: Dark Horse Comics (November 13, 2007)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 1593078447
• ISBN-13: 978-1593078447
• Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 8 x 0.5 inches

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