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Petey & Pussy


Petey & PussyIn the clearly crazed mind of John Kerschbaum, household pets aren’t cute little critters. Oh no. Whether they’re cats, dogs or parrots, the pets in this deranged work of cartoon madness have the bodies of animals but the heads of old men.

This is a disturbing sight. Whether it’s suggesting that men are hairy, barely domesticated beasts, only a blink away from fighting and pissing in the streets; or that your average pet is no more cute and cuddly than a stinking, belching, flatulent old barfly, I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps it’s more than a bit of both. But while the book is strange and often ugly, it’s also hilarious, charming and brilliantly conceived.

The central dynamic is between Petey, a dog, and Pussy, a cat. These two are friends by association – like work colleagues. They happily pass the time of day together, they may even go out drinking together, but they probably wouldn’t stay in touch if their paths were separated. After all, one is a cat and the other a dog, and their interests are fundamentally different.

Petey & Pussy: BernieHowever, their lives remain intertwined as they’re both the pets of a senile old lady, clearly incapable of looking after herself, let alone her pets. There’s a fourth member of the household – a parrot called Bernie. Stuck in a cage the whole of his life, all he really wants to do is die, though nature’s survivalist instinct appears to play against his ability to commit suicide. He’s something of an irritation to the other two pets, constantly pleading with them to kill him.

Throughout the book, Pussy fights a constant but losing battle with the mice that live in the skirting board who, despite his oblivious beliefs to the contrary, are significantly more intelligent than he is. Petey likes to lick himself, take naps, watch TV and hang out at a local bar. If their lives stayed this simple, they’d probably live relatively content lives.

However, like any good situation comedy, a few characters are introduced to interact with the pets, both human and animal, and there are a few running gags that flow through the whole book. It sounds like it shouldn’t work but it does, and really well. While the pace of the story is mostly gentle, focusing on conversation or observation, there are pulses of intensity, often violent, which bring the reality of life as an animal home. The illustration is brutal – with painstaking attention to detail as Kerschbaum dresses his characters in the worst possible light, backs it up with their natural indifference to one another, yet still manages to create something that’s ultimately likable.

Despite the apparent contempt that Kerschbaum appears to have for man and beast, Petey and Pussy is a compulsive, entertaining read. Secretly he must care deeply about these characters, and we suspect that you will too. They’re finely crafted and well fleshed out, lifting it way beyond the limits you could be forgiven for assuming a talking animal story might be restrained by. Horribly wonderful stuff.

Story: 4 Art: 5 Overall: 4

Written by: John Kerschbaum
Art by: John Kerschbaum
Publisher: Fantagraphics
First published: 2008

Andy Shaw

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