Peanutbutter & Jeremy’s Best Book Ever!, by James Kochalka
Alternative Comics, 2003, £8.14, 273pp
ISBN 1891867466

This review first appeared in The Alien Online

Ahh, finally a comic book with the emphasis on the ‘comic’ – it makes something of a nice change from graphic novels with the emphasis on the ‘graphic’!

Peanutbutter is a cute little cat who wears a smart hat and respectable tie and lives with her ‘boss’. She has an ongoing fantasy that she works in an office, working on the ‘Flumdummer account’, the ‘Flibbledibble file’ and the ‘Fleebleflop report’, none of which, of course, ever get done. Peanutbutter’s not terribly bright, but she’s hard not to love. Jeremy is a tyrannical, scheming and untrustworthy crow who lives just outside Peanutbutter’s ‘office’. He’s a dedicated materialist with a strange love of hats and an irrepressible urge to better himself. Somehow these two become, and manage to remain, friends.

Peanutbutter & Jeremy’s Best Book Ever! consists of a series of short tales about the lives of our eponymous feathered and feline friends. For instance, ‘The Fleebleflop Report’ sees Jeremy sadly comparing his collection of two hats with that of his legendary grandfather, who had over 172. Cut to Peanutbutter who has an important letter to be delivered and, donning her hat, sets off to the mailbox; but she’s ‘hat attacked’ by Jeremy in a daring raid that goes hilariously wrong when Jeremy gets concussed and, now believing himself to be Peanutbutter, turns up at her ‘work’ dressed in smart hat and respectable tie. Jeremy then ‘fires’ Peanutbutter before being chased out by a broom-wielding boss.

So you see, realism is perhaps not Peanutbutter & Jeremy’s Best Book Ever!’s forte. What is the book’s forte is a clutch of wonderful childlike (but not childish) stories all strongly seasoned with a sense of humour guaranteed to make fans of surreal comedy such as Father Ted laugh out loud. It might sound a bit twee, and occasionally it is, but the writer and artist, James Kochalka, walks a fine line very carefully indeed, perfectly balancing endearing cuteness with hilarious cruelty.

I enjoyed Peanutbutter & Jeremy’s Best Book Ever! so very, very much – it’s a wonderful book that should be guaranteed to melt some of the hardest hearts. And it should work as a book for grown-ups and a children’s book. I haven’t actually tested this theory yet having no tame children around with which to do so, but it seems to me that while the kids can enjoy the central stories about cute animals having adventures the adults can appreciate the absurdity of the situations and the characters – thanks largely to the subtleties of the artwork. Kochalka’s drawings are quite primitive black and white pen work; however the deceptively simple appearance masks an astonishing range, quality and, most importantly, subtlety of expressions. Take a closer look at the way Kochalka manages to impart feelings to Peanutbutter and Jeremy using seemingly slapdash blobs and lines of ink – it’s a master class in emotional shorthand. I think you know you’re onto a winner when the simple movement of Jeremy’s eyes, hanging upside-down out of a tree for a whole six-panel page at the start of ‘The Birthday Party’, can make you laugh out loud during a stiflingly hot rush-hour bus journey.

One final added selling point of Peanutbutter & Jeremy’s Best Book Ever! (as if you needed one) for those of you still too embarrassed to be seen reading, god forbid!, a comic in public, is that in size, heft and appearance it vaguely resembles one of those trendy oversize paperbacks; so unless the literature police actually manage to sneak a peek at the pictures inside you might just convince them that you’re still one of them – until they see you laughing, that is.

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