A Bunch of Comics by John Kerschbaum

The Wiggly Reader #1-3, Petey & Pussy: The Strip Collection, Petey & Pussy #1

Excellent proof that there’s plenty of room for craft in the making of down and dirty humor comics, John Kerschbaum brings a smooth, attractive energy to everything strip he draws, even when he’s presenting the adventures of a mutant man-dog with a shoelace hanging out of his asshole, or delighting in the quiet jest of bloody dental surgery. Kerschbaum can be a sick fellow, but a slick one too. It’s too bad that you may not have heard of him, but now you have.

Go here. This is a huge online archive of Kerschbaum’s work, including 16 weekly strips featuring his leading stars: Petey and Pussy, a dog and a cat, only with strange human heads. These strips will quickly indicate whether you’ll respond well to Kerschbaum’s brand of humor, although some of his other material can get a bit rougher, nastier, with blood and laughs flying everywhere. Thus, in addendum, go here for a quintet of full-page comics that double as ads for Kerschbaum’s Xeric-fueled 1997-1999 solo series “The Wiggly Reader” (I liked this one the best); you’ll get a better sense of what to expect from that particular corner of his working world. Or hell, stop by here for a collection of kid-targeted educational strips. He’s also a regular contributor to “Nickelodeon Magazine”. Oh, wait. I’m also forgetting his minicomics work, usually more focused on a single narrative than a collection of gags...

As you can see, Kerschbaum has a wide variety of outlets for his humor, each one processing the effect in a slightly different way. The truly impressive thing that an awful lot of it is available in self-published volumes (including the 90-page omnibus “Junk Drawer”, which I haven’t read), at very attractive prices. Despite being 32 pages (b&w) with no ads, all three issues of “The Wiggly Reader” are available in a three-pack with a free minicomic for only $8 (and that’s including shipping). These three books, as well as the Petey & Pussy material, can be considered the ‘core’ output of his full-sized comics pamphlet focus.

Each issue of “The Wiggly Reader” has a variety of stories, most of them 4-12 pages long (although the longest story in issue #1 runs a big 24 pages). Curiously, there’s no table of contents, and rarely any titles or dividers; stories simply run into each other, but without connecting fabric or any sort of recurring characters. As a result, one gets the sense that all of this takes place in the same strange universe, and the author’s eye just can’t wait to glimpse another bizarre happening. And they are bizarre: a community is torn apart searching for the secret of the Talking Dogs of Hickleberry Hill, a pair of breasts launches a daring escape, a squirrel finds a special new home, and there’s this terrible story about a cranberry. There’s an ongoing motif of people being blissfully unaware of the often grotesque strangeness surrounding them, often to the ultimate detriment of somebody. The humor strongly connected to the body; lots of scatological gags, gory punchlines, and strange mutations. And yet, the art always remains appealing, like the friendliest newspaper strip you can imagine, which only intensifies the humor and the sense of reality betrayed.

The laffs aren’t any more highbrow in “Petey & Pussy”, but they’re much more character-driven. All of the material collected into “Petey & Pussy: The Strip Collection” is available online at the link I’ve provided above. Issue #3 of “The Wiggly Reader” also sports a short story starring the pair. But the sole existing issue of the comic book “Petey & Pussy”, released in 2000, offers a full-length 32-page story. The plot remains episodic, with the title duo more or less wandering from incident to incident, but there’s now a clear overarching storyline, as the pair conspire to save their beloved bar from going out of business, and Kerschbaum pulls all of the threads together with skill. It makes one hungry for more long(er) stories of this type from him. According to his site, a second issue of this title is planned for sometime later this year (some pencil/ink preview art here), so that’s reason to celebrate.

Humor is a tricky thing to recommend. Go through those online strips, see how you react. I love it. Far less tricky to recommend is excellent artwork, a firm grasp on craft. I think you’ll appreciate the level of visual quality in these comics. I love that too.