Pulp Fictions: John Kerschbaum's Petey & Pussy and Lille Carré's The Lagoon
Petey & Pussy
The two title characters of John Kerschbaum's latest book (Fantagraphics) - Petey, a hefty beagle, and Pussy, an easily annoyed feline - aren't exactly animals. Like some hideous update of mythology's Minotaur, each pet sports the head and features of a balding, middle-aged man. And after doing the usual animal stuff, like chasing birds and mice, the pair likes to retire to a local bar. There they drink complimentary booze poured by its unseen owner, who they repay by defacing and burying the occasional body. Because scratching and digging is what cats and dogs do.
Pussy lives with an alcoholic elderly woman and her decrepit parrot, Bernie, who constantly begs the cat to either kill or uncage him. Trapped under several encyclopedia volumes while the lady cleans his cage, Bernie lets Pussy eggs him into pecking off his own leg. The gruesome amputation is a darkly comedic highlight of the book's 90-page lead story, which centers on the loss and retrieval of Pussy's glasses. A boa constrictor that appears to have escaped from a Tony Millionaire strip and Pussy's protracted battle with his local mouse, which taunts him by writing "loser" in droppings outside his hole, are involved as well.
As Petey & Pussy demonstrates page by cringe-inducing page, Kerschbaum has a slapstick star's genius for both comic-strip pacing and comedy timing. He gradually ups the ante of his jokes in small details and profane asides, and then knocks you off your chair with a punch line that rocks both the animal and human kingdoms. Petey and Pussy are simultaneously as funny as the coots in your corner bar and as creepy as the black squirrels peering into your apartment window.
For better or worse, there's nothing particularly amusing about Lilli Carré's The Lagoon (Fantagraphics), a rather earnest Southern gothic account of the effect a nocturnal creature's siren song has on a relatively happy household. Carré's book suggests a sonata of melodic lines and flowing-panel rhythms, with just a hint of sexual menace. It begins with a whistling grandpa, who relates to his granddaughter how the lagoon's rambling resident croons a song so entrancing that everyone within reach of its sound is compelled to stand knee-deep in water until it ends.
As lovely as it looks, The Lagoon never really grabbed me - or at least not as much as Carré's wonderful 2006 collection, Tales of Woodsman Pete, which chronicled the absurd adventures of Paul Bunyan-esque character and his removable beard. The Lagoon elegantly depicts the eternal sexual lure of music heard at night. In fact, it reminded me of one of the great musical sequences in movie history: "Isn't It Romantic?", from Raoul Mamoulian's magical 1932 musical, Love Me Tonight. After Maurice Chevalier begins singing the Rodgers and Hart tune in his Paris clothing shop, the tune is picked up and carried into the French countryside by a series of listeners (including a brigade of American soldiers), until a gypsy violinist finally delivers it to Jeanette MacDonald on the balcony of her chateau. Just as with Carré's night-creeping creature, Mamoulian's nocturnal siren song is a crepuscular come-hither worth wading for.