Book Review: The Latest in Paper
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., March 5, 2004
Peanutbutter & Jeremy's Best Book Ever!by James Kochalka
Alternative Comics, 275 pp., $14.95 (paper)
James Kochalka, whose Monkey vs. Robot both a song and a comic book begat the award-winning animated film of the same name. Who started out self-publishing Xeroxed minicomics that were promoted in, among other places, the classic Eighties zine-about-zines Factsheet Five. Who renders his own quotidian life in three drawn panels each day, available for viewing online (www.americanelf.com) or via the handsomely printed volumes collected by Top Shelf Productions.
That man, the formerly self-styled James Kochalka Superstar, who is becoming at least in the world of comics something of an actual superstar, is also the creator of Peanutbutter and Jeremy.
Peanutbutter's a cat; Jeremy's a crow; they're best friends. The comics in which they appear are solid delights, not just for Kochalka's deceptively simple, unerring linework, but for the unforced beauty and wit of the tales. You couldn't really call these kiddie books, although even the youngest readers will enjoy them, doubtless reveling in the just-getting-through-the-day antics and verbal jousting (Peanutbutter's sweet, Jeremy's snarky) of this cross-species odd couple. Grownups, especially those who identify however tangentially with Jimmy Stewart's Elwood P. Dowd in the movie Harvey, or who like the wracked sincerity of Daniel Johnston songs, will appreciate these books just as much, perhaps even more, than graphically attuned members of the training-wheel set.
But now you one of those adults, probably, taking a cigarette break from your harrowing day job or whatever don't have to scour the back-issue racks of comic shops to get your initial taste of Peanutbutter & Jeremy, because Alternative Comics has just issued a collection: Peanutbutter & Jeremy's Best Book Ever! It's a perfect-bound eight-story volume that includes "The Birthday Party," in which Peanutbutter celebrates her natal anniversary, accompanied by dozens of feline friends friends based, shape and color and name, on the cats of Kochalka's readers. The canny artist had issued, months previous, an invitation through the comics press: Send me pictures of your cats, and some of them will appear as guests at P.B.'s party. And so they do.
If there's a birthday coming up soon even if it's your own this new Kochalka collection is the perfect gift. And if there's no birthday at all in the immediate vicinity, who cares? Peanutbutter & Jeremy's Best Book Ever! is, in itself, reason to celebrate.