Few if any webcomics have managed to maintain the nearly consistent hilarity of Nicholas Gurewitch’s Perry Bible Fellowship—hell, few strips in any form can claim such a feat, which goes a long way to explain why the title managed to wrangle up Ignatz awards, the last two years running.
Gurewitch has been producing PBF since 2001, when the author, now 24, launched the strip in Syracuse University’s The Daily Orange. Since then, the title has been picked up by papers like The New York Press, The Guardian, the UK and Czech versions of that bastion of absurdely over-the-top masculinity, Maxim, and will be available in an anthologized version from Darkhorse, this summer.
We spoke with Gurewitch about Teddy Roosevelt, Italian candle makers, and why The Perry Bible Fellowship is a mere pit stop on the road to infamy.
Let’s get the stupid question out of the way. Why the name?
The name is borrowed from an actual church, from a place called Perry, in Maine.
So it was a just a name that you liked?
Yeah, when it comes down to it. It was an interesting term—The Perry Bible Fellowship. It doesn’t strike me that those words really have a good cohesion, so it almost seems very striking.
Did you have a relationship with the church? Were you living in Maine?
I had a friend who must have stopped by there at one point, because he took from them a poster that advertised an event taking place there. The poster was hilarious, and we didn’t think much of using the name as the name of a comic.
Is there some siginificance to the religious aspect?
I think, when you’re a Freshman at college, you just want to do reckless things. It just seemed like something to do. I really didn’t consider it wisely.
So, you’ve lived to regret it?
I wouldn’t say ‘regret,’ but I will say that I didn’t think it through, when I first considered that as a name for the comic strip. Whether or not it’s a good title, I’m going to live with it, because it reminds me of a decision that I’ve made. It carries a lot of baggage, though. In addition to being provocative and interesting, it’s also extremely misleading, extremely long, and entirely inappropriate.
That’s in keeping with the theme of the strip, though, right?
Do you think the strip is inappropriate?
Sure, to the kind of person that would likely be offended by its name.
Yeah, so in that way, it’s probably a pretty good entrance test for people who might read the comic. All I can say is, maybe it’s a good title, maybe it’s not—we’ll find out someday.
You mentioned that you had started the strip as a Freshman in college. What were you studying?
I studied film.
Is that something that you’re still active in?
Yeah, I adore movies. I love reading about them, and enjoy watching them even more. And making them is probably superior to both of those. I make a lot of movies with friends. It’s been a while since I’ve done any quality film making. I did a lot in college, and have done some ‘professional’ script writing for Comedy Central, but nothing that’s been developed.
Do you have any names of potential Comedy Central shows that you can mention?
We worked for a while developing one called Daisy Garden Story Time.
It sounds like something of a skewed children’s program.
Unfortunately, yeah. The comedy wasn’t based on making a perverse children’s show, but it did have the guise of a children’s show.
That’s something a lot of people point out about your strip–this juxtaposition of the innocent with something sort of horrifying.
Brian, I tend to resent it when people have that outlook. I’d rather the comedy not be seen as just a perversion .
The trope is often there, however. There’s often something of an innocent set up, and a joke that comes out of left field. Is that not how you view the humor?
It always has that appearance, but I would really like to know that the comedy is deeper than that. That the comedy itself is much more grand.
Well, sure. If that were the sole source of comedy, it would have stopped being funny a long time ago. It’s obviously gone a bit deeper, since so many people have found it so lastingly funny.
I like to think that maybe, when those children go into the sewer, to find the Ninja Turtles, that the grotesque last frame represents bad decision making, or some bigger idea. I’m often offended by material that is just perverse. If I see a cartoon that sexualizes Pinocchio, I’m always offended.
[Continued in Pt. II. Yowza!]