By Sean T. Collins
Even if you've never read a webcomic, chances are someone you know has sent you a link to Nicholas Gurewitch's The Perry Bible Fellowship with a statement along the lines of "ALKSJDF;LAKJDS;FL YOU HAVE TO READ THIS SO FUNNY!!!!!1!!!!" With a candyland color palette; a cast of deceptively cute characters; a healthy sprinkling of violence, sex and sci-fi shenanigans; and the best out-of-left-field punchlines in the business, Gurewitch's strip is an absurdist masterpiece. That its long hiatus may soon come to an end is just one of the revelations and insights Gurewitch offered when he talked to Marvel.com about his contribution to STRANGE TALES.
As the Chip Kidd-designed hardcover hits stores today, we picked Gurewitch's brain about the appeal of Wolverine and the Hulk, analyzed how super heroes are like Greek myths and dug deep into gag strips on an atomic level.
Marvel.com: Why did you pick the Hulk and Wolverine to work with?
Nick Gurewitch: I'm not sure why I picked them, but I can take a guess. Wolverine and the Hulk had been picked by other authors too, which goes to show that there is something interesting about them when it comes to making them funny. They're angry! I was able to, as I often do, make characters look foolish while they're angry.
Marvel.com: Well, looking at the Wolverine strip, I was struck by how he goes from zero to homicidal in under five seconds.
Nick Gurewitch: Yeah! [Laughs] I love that.
Marvel.com: A gag strip isn't the kind of format people are used to seeing these characters in--they're used to longer adventures. Was your thought process in using these guys in a gag strip any different than doing one with characters of your own creation?
Nick Gurewitch: I've never written a really long story for super heroes, so I can't really compare it to that, but I liked being able to bring in a character that actually had a history because you can play up against it that much more.
Marvel.com: So you don't have to create everything from whole cloth...
Nick Gurewitch: You could, and the joke could still function, but I think it was helpful to have character histories in this instance. You can look at Wolverine and know that he has had a crush on Jean Grey, and that Jean Grey's affair with him is perhaps what's causing him to be skeptical about her faithfulness. Her fidelity's already in question going into that one--if you choose to see that woman as Jean Grey. I kinda pictured it as her. So maybe he's projecting his own experience with her onto Beast.
Nick Gurewitch's Wolverine story from the STRANGE TALES collection
Marvel.com: I believe it was Bono who said, "It's no secret that a liar won't believe in anyone else." Perhaps that principle applies here.
Nick Gurewitch: Wow, that's really well said, for Bono! Excellent!
Marvel.com: Coming back to the format, I'm accustomed to seeing you work in a traditional strip format--one tier of three or four panels. Did you have to do anything differently in working with a full page?
Nick Gurewitch: Not too much differently. It was actually a little easier because I could arrange the boxes however I liked. Not however I liked, but I had more flexibility. I didn't have to go explicitly left-to-right--it could bop down. I think you'll notice that the panels are a little bit more creative because of that.
Marvel.com: I was curious about that, because so much of the humor of The Perry Bible Fellowship comes from the economy of it--how you really use the bare minimum of beats to convey the joke.
Nick Gurewitch: I like that you used the term "beat." That's probably the base unit of measure for a comic strip. It's not "panel," it's probably "beat." There are certain single panels that can have two beats.
Marvel.com: Sure, because of what's being said or what's being done. I hadn't thought of it that way before. Now, how did you hook up with the project?
Nick Gurewitch: [Original editor] Aubrey Sitterson came to me many years ago because he knew the project was in development. After Aubrey, it fell under the direction of Jody [LeHeup], and he was equally enthused. I didn't think I was gonna do it for the longest time, but I had some time on my hands, and I had an idea, and I did it.
Marvel.com: Were you a Marvel fan going into it?
Nick Gurewitch: You mean in my youth? Yeah! I didn't even get into DC, really. I've been well-versed in the Silver Surfer and a few other super heroes going in. I think my first comic was a MARVEL FANFARE starring the Silver Surfer. I still feel like I know all the characters.
Marvel.com: I've always thought of it like a soap opera. I remember watching my mom's soaps with her when I was a little kid years ago, but today it probably wouldn't take her more than two minutes to catch me up. It sticks with you.
Nick Gurewitch: It's easy to stay on top of it, because the powers of all those involved are kind of relegated so they don't step on the toes of anyone else's powers. They can occupy a certain part of your mind the way characters in Greek mythology do. You can intuitively know that there's a woman who's really smart and has mental powers that has dudes falling in love with her...They're all mythic, so I feel you can just intuitively understand how they work and what they're up to.
Marvel.com: I think in the best cases, the designs are strong enough that you're instantly put in mind of the concept behind the character just by looking at a silhouette or the costume or a couple of telltale characteristics.
Nick Gurewitch: Like a strong sense of leadership is marked by the vision of Cyclops, maybe because he has that strong representation of an eye. You can just tell he's a figurehead and a leader and has a vision for the team.
Marvel.com: Were you doing this kind of deep thinking when you were coming up with the strips, or were you just trying to be funny?
Nick Gurewitch: I had a really dumb idea with Cyclops emitting a laser from another part of his body that I gave up on. There was no thought put into it. [Laughs] I gave up on it pretty quickly.
Marvel.com: I'm gonna leave it to the imagination of our readers to determine what the other body part was.
Nick Gurewitch: It wasn't his finger.
Marvel.com: [Laughs] What else have you been up to lately?
Nick Gurewitch: Lots of writing. Oh, and I've been working on some animation for the past six months for the BBC. They commissioned some work after commissioning a pilot, and though that pilot is not produced, they want to try out my sense of humor with their audience, so I guess the animations will be a great way to do that.
Marvel.com: That's pretty amazing. Congratulations!
Nick Gurewitch: Yeah, you never know! The animations happened to come out pretty funny, so hopefully good things come. But I'm very interested in filmmaking. I think what I work on most are short films or scripts for feature films.
Marvel.com: How different is your approach to different media--webcomics, print comics, animation and so on?
Nick Gurewitch: I'd say the biggest difference is that you have to adjust the way you look at beats. With a comic strip, I can re-read it and read it through and know exactly how the beats are gonna hit. With something in motion, you have to understand that the action is going to provide the beats in a different way.
On one level, they're very similar because you simply have to watch and re-watch and make sure that the beats unfold in the proper way. But at the same time, you often have to reinvent an action or reinterpret something so that it becomes able to accommodate motion. You can't have someone do something in a comic strip that you can have them do in an animation and still have it work properly. You might have to adjust it so the action is more complex and not so simple.
As an example, I think you probably couldn't end an animation on someone putting their hand to their head and saying "OH!" or "D'OH!" or looking at the screen. You can't really have them look at the camera the way you can in a comic strip very easily. Charlie Brown can always look at the camera at the end of a comic strip. You can't always do that in animation. You have to find a way to close the book on the story in a different way.
Marvel.com: It's funny to hear you talk about filmmaking and animation, because I've always thought of The Perry Bible Fellowship along the lines of something like "Fawlty Towers"--just a short and sweet run, and then the creators move on to the next thing. It's interesting to hear how your interests have developed and changed since you've put PBF to bed.
Nick Gurewitch: I don't think that they've ever changed, though. I've always wanted to do films. The comic was always more of a distraction on the side because I didn't have the money to, y'know, do films with dinosaurs in them and stuff. And for the record, I haven't put PBF to bed--I just haven't had time to do any more comics. I've got some that I've got poised and ready to go.
Marvel.com: That's great news!
Nick Gurewitch: Yeah, and maybe it'll help sell the book a little more, too!
Marvel.com: Are you going to be doing any more Marvel work?
Nick Gurewitch: Yeah! I wanted to do a Galactus strip, but I think I'm a little behind schedule. I have to give Jody a call and see if it's okay if I get an extension.
Marvel.com: For the Eater of Worlds, I think they'll accommodate you.
Nick Gurewitch: Hopefully! I like the idea. I'm gonna have Galactus recruit Magneto for what appears to be a heraldship, but I think it might end with Magneto being placed on a fridge, maybe holding up Galactus's kid's report card. I gotta finish it.
Marvel.com: That's a team-up in the Mighty Marvel Manner if ever I've heard one.
Nick Gurewitch: I'm really excited to color it, because I think they might be the same hue of purple. I'll see what kind of purple capabilities I have.
Marvel.com: There really are a surprisingly wide array of purple villains.
Nick Gurewitch: What's up with that? I think maybe because it's not a primary color, it seems like it's skewed.
Marvel.com: I remember reading some place about how common it is for heroes to be the primary colors, red and blue and yellow, while the villains are orange and purple and green.
Nick Gurewitch: Yeah, they're mixed! That says a lot. I think most villains in real life have conflicting sources of inspiration. [Pause] Sorry, that's too deep for an interview.
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