The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch is a graphic novel beyond par. It transports us to the childhood of the narrator, shuttling between the story of his family and that of Mr. Punch, a devious sock-puppet. The stories draw on melancholic and mysterious themes with its disjunctive artwork and unique narrative style.
Neil Gaiman is one of the reasons why I love to be a writer. His writing challenges everything we know, with regards to form, structure, rules, genres etc. The whole time I was reading this graphic novel, I kept wondering to myself, “WHAT IN THE WORLD AM I READING?”. And that’s simply because the entirety of this novel doesn’t follow the three act story progression structure. In fact, the narrator recounts anecdotes from his childhood at random, many of which leave us with an impression of how bereft he may have been as a child. The inclusion of the Punch & Judy show made for an interesting but worrisome story break. It made me feel like it was a commentary about familial neglect, because the kids, who were the audience of the show, were exposed to the devilish ways of Mr. Punch.
The artwork by Dave McKean, while dark and dreary, is all too compelling. In addition to sketches, there are some sepia-toned, ambiguous photographs that add to the strange vibes of the book. The color tones used in this graphic novel are black, reds and darker shades of blue-green. It is in no way a bright novel. After I finished reading it, I couldn’t process how I felt about it, for the longest time. And while I loved the narrative style, I’m somewhere in between the continuum of love and dislike for the content of the narration, i.e. the story. Mr. Punch is an annoying character. I also didn’t feel very happy reading about the parents and grandparents. All in all, it is classic Gaiman and I’d recommend it to all those who can stomach weird stories.
What do you get out of it? You get mind-boggled.
Ratings – I honestly can’t think of a rating that would be suitable to the sheer madness that is this book.