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Christopher P. Reilly on Punch & Judy: SBC Q&A

Posted: Sunday, November 16
By: Tim O'Shea

Writer Christopher P. Reilly clearly is drawn to the world of Punch and Judy, as evidenced by his second effort with this creative landscape, Punch and Judy: A Grand Guignol, a new graphic novella from SLG Publishing (Mr. Reilly’s first spin was 2001’s The Comical Tragedy of Punch and Judy [also from SLG]). In this new work, as described by SLG “…since no one can have Christmas if he can't, Mr. Punch makes it his goal to ruin Christmas for the last two good children on earth.” Thanks to the assistance of CBEM Editor David LeBlanc, SBC was able to interview Reilly. In addition to the previously mentioned works, Reilly’s first comic series Rogue Satellite Comics was published by SLG from 1995-1998. In addition to visiting the Punch and Judy site, be sure to peruse SLG’s eight-page preview.

Tim O’Shea: In sci-fi writer Paul Di Filippo's intro to this latest work, he wrote: "By focusing on good ol' lovable Santa Claus and giving us more of Mister Punch's back-story... Reilly sets up a dynamic between these two myths that spirals off in unseen directions." Would you consider yourself a student of several different folklores? What inspired you to allow two wildly divergent myths like Punch and Santa to intersect?

Christopher P. Reilly: I like the idea of poaching ideas from as many different cultures and religions as possible. Especially religion, because it amazes me. It’s like ninety percent of the adult world has decided to slow down the progress of mankind by refusing to let go of childish notions like the existence of Über-spooks who send you to the furnace for eating pork, or checking out your neighbor’s wife.

I think myths, folktales and religion are great sources to pillage for fiction booty. I just like smashing things together.

Darron (Laessig) is much more the folk tale aficionado than I am. Jorge’s the cool Latino artist, and I’m the Puppet nerd.

TO: Who do you think has more fun inserting narrative easter eggs/surprises/homages in the work, you or Jorge Santillan?

CPR: Actually, I wrote this book full script, except for Darron’s 12 pages, so any Easter egg you find is something that I placed there. The bag of onions hanging in Santa’s office… everything is there for a reason. Jorge was a great sport about that.

The homage’s tend to be shared sentimentalities of all involved. (I.E. We all love Captain Marvel, so the Uncle Dudley nod was a no-brainer) I don’t think there were any surprises that I didn’t actually write. The book may at times seem stream of conscious, but it is was very methodical. Everything is there for a reason, and it all leads to the chilling conclusion.

TO: What value do the artists (Santillan and Laessig) add to the story in general, and/or what are his strongest storytelling assets?

CPR: Jorge pulls it all together. Fun and an eye for the tiniest detail are Jorge's stock-in-trade. His work manages to have a familiar feel and is eerily original. He’s becoming a crutch, because I don’t have to make scripts “artist proof” for him.

I think “eerily original” nails Darron’s work as well.

I am blessed. I have never worked with a bad artist.

TO: What is the appeal to dabbling in the world of Punch & Judy a second time?

CPR: I had another story to tell. Originally it was a much longer story; I had to cut out 30 pages. There was actually a scene where Punch, dressed as the elf “Svakmajer” shows up at Hector’s door, and is shot in the face by Hector’s cougar phobic robot “The Lemmon.” Punch cons Hector into letting him borrow a dirigible and he (Punch) and the Lemon have a mini balloon adventure en route to Santa’s workshop. Punch eventually tires of the Lemons “cougar” paranoia and chucks him out of the balloon. To Punch’s surprise, the Lemon is immediately beset by cougars. It was a fun segment, but it was detrimental to the pacing, taking the reader too far away from the core story.

It would make a great back-up feature for a TPB; A Grand Guignol: The lost chapter.

Also, I really wanted to do a Rankin-Bass sort of Christmas story, and our Punch world seemed like as natural a place as any to set one.

TO: How does your theater work influence your writing, if at all?

CPR: I don’t have any solid theatre experience, shy of high school; I lied in my bio. The bio at the Punch site is actually Russell Crowe’s with names and dates changed.

Everything affects the work though. Politics, movies, music, books, the daily grind, even the weather. Anything that affects my mood affects my work. If I’m in a great relationship my work will be much more hopeful; less jaded. I think that you need to put a lot of yourself into your work, which translates to character first, plot second.

There was originally a militant Moslem Elf in GG, named Muhammad Al. He was the third elf in Santa’s work shop. I wanted to represent some other religions besides Christianity in my version of Christmas (I’m not Christian but I love Christmas).

I really liked Mohamed Al; I thought he was a riot. Then Bush’s egocentric “War on Terror” started and the anti Islamic sentiment became so strong in the US, that I felt as though Mohamed Al as a stereotype would be as appropriate as adding a penny pinching Jewish banker character during WW2. I’m not racist at all, and I don’t want anyone to think I’m basking in the same foxhole as bigoted toilets like Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly. Suddenly Mohamed Al just didn’t seem funny.

I wasn’t afraid of any sort of backlash for however Mohammad Al would inevitably be misinterpreted by fair and balanced readers, but I didn’t want him getting in the way of the story. Three years ago, Mohamed Al the Elf would have been a hoot.

So politics affected this book, resulting in the elimination of a central character that I was really fond of.

TO: Do you think your grasp of the Punch & Judy mythos/character dynamics improved between your first and second works?

CPR: Absolutely. Firstly, Punch’s gooney dialogue is something I can speak, or write very naturally now. It was a nightmare trying to keep his bizarre speech patterns consistent in the first book.

I also really felt like I was writing about an old friend this go around. The first time I was creating the character, this time I was following him on an adventure. We weren’t confined to an age old tale; we could do whatever we wanted this time out.

TO: This is far from your last endeavor with Punch, given that "The Legitimate Puppet Society ...will be given away by Elite Entertainment with a purchase of the next PUPHEDZ DVD" (as detailed here). Do you think the industry would be wise to try to do more multi-platform marketing like this, exposing consumers to comics in a different way?

CPR: I don’t know. This is something a bit different, and we haven’t seen the end results yet. The comic isn’t an adaptation of the film, and it guest stars a character who’s already established in comics (Mr. Punch). My hope is that because of the books quality that it will draw people in from each side of the fence, but what I hope, and what will be are two wholly different beasts.

Jorge, Steve Ahlquist and I, put a lot of work into "The Legitimate Puppet Society; I really hope it’s a success. It isn’t just an ad pamphlet with a pretty Jon Foster cover.

Also, Darron asked if I’d like to collaborate on a children’s book he’s working on called “Piccolo Punch.” This will be interpretations of folktales with Piccolo Punch as the protagonist. Darron’s already written one story, and it’s terrific.

I talked to Carl Mitsch about doing a Punch and Yeti story and he said “let’s do it.” I’m not sure he knew how serious I was. All I can say is that it would involve cryptozoology, world travel and the Yeti becoming a blundering Punch professor. It would be a killer book. Carl’s one of the great untapped resources in comics, and the world needs more Yeti.

TO: Do you think the market is more ripe for a story like Punch and Judy, thanks to the success of Willingham's Fables for Vertigo?

CPR: Not really. The first Punch book TCTOPAJ came out before Fables and did really well. Dollar wise the first Punch book has probably done as well as an issue of Fables. There wasn’t a jump in sales for the second book, post Fables ‘release. I did read the first Fables TPB and enjoyed it…

…Our books are night and day; apples and oranges. I’m doing Rankin-Bass, and Bill’s doing Oz Squad.

If Dave Cooper’s Dan & Larry and Doug Allen’s last Steven book had sold a millions of copies that would have made the market more ripe for a story like Punch and Judy.

There aren’t a lot of books that mine sit comfortably along side of. Good or bad, I don’t think anyone is doing anything similar to Punch in comics. I could be wrong, and if anyone has an example of something akin to Punch, please email me and let me know. I am always looking for other books to compare it to.

I think anyone who likes comics would like A Grand Guignol. It’s D.R. and Quinch meets the Smurfs, or Lobo meets the Snorks.

TO: In researching and discussing your work with you, it came up that you'd once been advertised as a contributor to one of the 9-11 benefit books, but instead your contribution was pulled from the book. What were the circumstances that prompted the story being pulled and how did you react to the decision?

CPR: Jeff Mason knew I’d lost a dear friend in the trade towers, and that I’d gone out of my way (days after the tragedy) to try and contribute something cautionary, and meaningful to his (and I stress ‘His’) anthology. We were all sad, and I knew too many artists would write about how they saw the towers fall from their Manhattan lofts

Which is (maybe) honest, but doesn’t really contribute anything helpful to the situation. The whole country was sad, and I don’t think anyone benefited from a comic artist’s take on sadness. I wanted to contribute something meaningful, because it was obvious that things were only going to get a lot worse.

I handed Jeff a story that demonstrated how irresponsible people could turn this tragedy into much more of tragedy; how people in power, along with people who just love trouble tend to use an incident like September 11th for egocentric purposes, and how we make really bad alliances which inevitably come back to haunt us. I think that our long alliances with Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein is proof of that.

Apparently Jeff’s ability to comprehend satire (my satire at least) seemed on par with that of a Numbat with Alzheimer’s. Instead of trying to understand, or at least respect my point of view, he chose to kick me in the nuts at a real bad time. What was meant to be a cautionary tale, was declared racist; Jingoistic by Mason. I didn’t think that it took a genius to fathom the intentions of a story called Xenofolie à Deux, and that it was meant to be satirical. His exact words were “There is no way I would ever publish this!” I found that odd; it was my understanding that this was a group effort of indy creators, not a “Jeff Mason” publication.

He had actually approved this story in script form, by the way. I guess he couldn’t understand it until it had pictures for him to follow.

How do I feel about not being in a book that advertised my work as being in it until the 23rd hour? I don’t think much of Jeff Mason as a person nor as a publisher.