Nicholas Gurewitch

A weird thing happens when you read a Perry Bible Fellowship comic. Panel after brilliant panel leads the mind to a mildly obsessive state where one strip isn’t enough. The reader must have more, a perverse reaction to the succinct manner in which it’s created. Similarly, the same occurs when speaking to its creator, Nicholas Gurewitch. Sometimes his soft voice is like talking to a lucid Crispin Glover, but with a far saner head on his shoulders, and it should come as no surprise that Gurewitch is actually quite funny. You want to know more, and he obliges, often coursing the conversation to colourful areas. With a new book called The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories (Dark Horse) being released this fall, 25-year-old Gurewitch is poised to take on a new audience with his collection of comics old and new, each one as differently crafted as the one before it. So what makes a man like Gurewitch tick? Is he a crazed, holed-up artist, or just a regular guy? Well, he’s neither. But this works in his favour.

“We have a hot day here. I must admit I sweat when I don’t do much,” says Gurewitch over the phone from his Rochester, NY home. Right off the bat you know he’s either going to be unabashed and candid, or take you for a ride. Being that many know little about him, surely he’s done both during the course of this conversation.

Gurewitch has been doing art for years, and has only recently launched a permanent PBF website, the previous one hosted on that of a friend’s. Since then the PBF—he insists on “the”—has been featured in magazines and papers all over the world, including this shiny little number.

It’s been said that Gurewitch prefers Nick rather than Nicholas, except when it comes to women, “Nicholas is my name, but for the sake of brevity, Nick works. I think I dig [Nicholas] ‘cause it’s a sign you’re savouring the moment if you’re not rushing things.” Taking things slowly is something Gurewitch seems oft to do, especially when creating his strips. Despite an archive spanning some few years, he claims to have just under 240 comics, hardly enough for a desk calendar.

He even takes time out of each day to “dip into” the 4,000-some-odd books he inherited from his grandfather Morton Gurewitch, perhaps best known for his books on satire. “I’m not sure if he’s famous, but lots of people look up to him because he’s written a lot about satire and comedy. He’s got a lot of different theories on how comedy operates.”

The Syracuse University film grad is lucky to have had the PBF work out so well, as he doesn’t have a day job and just recently moved out of his family’s house, “I occasionally do illustrations for my local newspaper. But other than that I don’t really reach out to do other things. I have a hard enough time drawing one comic each week.” This doesn’t mean Gurewitch bides his time working solely on the PBF, “There are lots of priorities that override the comic, or override doing advertisements for people. I’ll do a poster for my buddy who’s putting on a concert or something. I guess it’s not commercial in the true sense of the term because he doesn’t pay me.”

That’s pretty nice of him. Surely his generosity and mad art skills rake in the ladies, “Does it? Maybe you could tell me.” I wouldn’t be unhappy if this was a line, but cheekiness aside I tell Gurewitch if the artist is good, then yes. “I guess if you’re bad, or if you’re not successful, maybe it has a whole bunch of really bad connotations,” says Gurewitch. “I notice a lot of people aren’t really impressed when I tell them I do comics. But if you tell them that it’s published in a magazine that they know, their eyebrows will raise and they’ll kind of get into it. The word ‘comic’ doesn’t evoke a lot of excitement for people.”

Fans of the PBF are always excited for his often-weekly installments, and they don’t even mind it when Gurewitch gets “occasionally” dirty, though this disturbs him a little. Still, he loves to see his imagination pour onto a page even if it doesn’t always translate, “Occasionally something will make me laugh my ass off, and then I’ll try to find a way to do it, or I’ll do it and I’ll look at it later and it’s just not quite coming across,” he says. “I love watercolours. I like watching the water do a lot of the work… It’s not always what you intend, but it gives you the opportunity to work with surprises a lot more.”

And it is no surprise Gurewitch has such an intense imagination; two of his favourite comics are Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side. Pinned together in a prison fight, who would win? “I think Bill Watterson has a stronger imagination, so I have a feeling he’d probably use his environment to outwit Gary Larson, who I assume to be slow and perhaps Neanderthal-like in his motions. Only because of his comics,” Gurewitch muses. “Maybe Larson could take a victory if it got down to using his fingernails and teeth. ‘Cause I think he knows a lot about animals and he seems like a pretty wild guy.”

“It’d be awesome to draw Calvin’s imagination,” Gurewitch says. “I’d love to visit his imagination and draw some more dinosaurs. I haven’t done a dinosaur comic in a while.” He also hasn’t done a film short in a while. Not long ago Gurewitch was slated to do an internet short called The Daisy Garden Story Time, but the deal fell through. “I guess the program was crafted to be eight minutes. They called the installments ‘webisodes’ or something funny like that…then the guys told me it had to be five minutes, and then they told me it had to be three. Then eventually they said the preferable time span for the program had to be between one and two minutes,” he says. “I really couldn’t get into that ‘cause I think it needed to be longer.” That’s not to say he won’t delve into “webisodes” in the future, but for now Gurewitch is busy enough with his first book on the horizon. The PBF should be a book of life lessons. Children would be all the better for it. “There are a lot of lessons in the comics that I think would have a lot of corrective effects on a child’s growth, but some of them I think would be too confusing to be worth their time,” says Gurewitch of the suggestion. He’s just being hard on himself. But the only real criticism he takes about his work is what’s useful, “I suppose when someone says it’s not funny. That makes me want to try harder.”

Gurewitch even checks on one of his several online communities once in a while, though he says the “comments are mostly negative.” He’s not wary of the Internet, but understands the difference between online popularity versus real-world popularity, “I think there’s a distinct type of person that feels the need to broadcast their feelings online. And the more I think, those people who want to make their opinions known, or who shout the loudest, are probably the ones you should listen to the least. In most cases.”

When he’s not on the Internet or drawing his comics, Gurewitch has hobbies just like you and I. His favourite film is 2001: A Space Odyssey, and counts Harry Belafonte and Patsy Cline among his favourite musicians. His most shameful CD is called Wizards, “There’s four really dorky-looking people on the cover and they play classical instruments. And it’s completely embarrassing but it’s actually all right.” I press him further. “Truly bad albums? I guess I like all my CDs.” Damn.

Gurewitch likes red wine on occasion, can grow a full beard in about a month’s time and loves meeting strangers, “And sometimes harassing or doing surprising things with them. That’s probably going to sound terrible. I love saying hello to strangers, let’s just say that.”

This may or may not include some of his fans, of which he describes as weird kids, “I got a letter the other day by what seemed like a young’un. He seemed to appreciate the comics about aliens. But I think he was sci-fi oriented. He sounded like a normal kid, but maybe he had a little bit of an affinity for the bizarre,” Gurewitch says. “I think that’s what the bizarre quality is of the comic; it’s what gets people interested in it internationally. There are a lot of weird people out there. They need art, too.” And on this drippingly hot August day in Rochester, which PBF comic would be suitable? “I think it’s the type of day for the comic about the guy who goes after the gopher. Just because, I don’t know, it’s a severe day.”

[The Perry Bible Fellowship Website]
Words: Patricia Matos

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