Petey & Pussy: Cartoon Animals Gone Wild

Fri, November 7th, 2008 at 1:49pm PST | Updated: November 7th, 2008 at 1:59pm

Comic Books
Van Jensen, Guest Contributor

"Petey & Pussy" collection on sale now
John Kerschbaum is known mostly as an illustrator, his cartoony work appearing in Nickelodeon, Green Magazine, Newsday and the Wall Street Journal. Then there's "Petey & Pussy," Kerschbaum's graphic and obscene comic book about an unsavory cat and dog who happen to have the heads of balding middle-aged men.

A new "Petey & Pussy" collection from Fantagraphics takes readers along as the disgusting duo chase mice, drink heavily, joke about sex, eat poop and generally act like miscreants. Kerschbaum spoke to CBR News about the comics, how the collection came about, and how "Petey & Pussy" serves as an outlet from his more staid work.

CBR: First, an obvious question, but where did the characters of Petey and Pussy came from? They seem like the progeny of late-night doodling.

John Kerschbaum: In 1998, I was asked to contribute to the re-launch of a MAD-like humor magazine, the name of which I can’t remember. The editor told me I could do anything I wanted but that in no uncertain terms should I do any “people with animal heads” -- a peeve of his. So while trying to come up with something, it occurred to me to just do the opposite. Kind of in jest.

"Petey & Pussy" collection on sale now

I was looking through some old sketchbooks to jog my memory with regard to "P & P's" origins. (I'm old!) And I found the attached drawing, which as best as I can tell is the very first drawing of the characters. Pussy looks really different, but he didn't stay that way for long.

One of the really interesting things about the stories is how you can use the characters to lampoon both the ridiculous behavior of animals and the ridiculous behavior of adult men. Which is easier to mock?

They’re both ripe for the picking, but the easiest behavior to mock, I think, is the behavior they both share (like the propensity to drink from the toilet).

Between Petey and Pussy, who would win in a fight? Or a drinking contest?

Ha! I think Petey wins both hands down. Paws down! And he’s got bigger balls, too. Pussy is a bit of… well... a pussy. But he’s also more likely to cheat or fight dirty, so you wouldn’t want to bet against him.

Is there any real-life inspiration that goes into the stories, things you see from either animals or people?

The first drawing of Petey & Pussy

No, not really. I mean, things happen in life that might make you think of a gag, but by the time it gets worked into a comic story it’s become something very different.

There is no shortage of cartoon stories featuring the misadventures of animals, i.e. "Tom & Jerry" or "Ren & Stimpy." Do you see "Petey & Pussy" as taking that genre to an obscene extreme? Or do you not see it as related to those types of works at all?

Growing up, I was greatly influenced by television -- cartoons in particular: "Looney Tunes," "Rocky & Bullwinkle," "Pink Panther," "Tom & Jerry," "Popeye," etc. I still enjoy watching cartoons. The original "Ren & Stimpy" episodes were great. "Spongebob" makes me laugh. "The Venture Brothers" is one of the funniest shows on television right now. I think my stuff is related in that those early influences had a direct effect on the way I see the world and draw it.

Do you put a lot of effort into plotting the stories, or is it more just starting out and seeing where it goes?

It’s both. First, there’s the conceptual part, coming up with the idea for the story or gag. Sometimes inspiration strikes in an instant. Sometimes it needs to be coaxed along. This can take a lot of concentration and determination but I don’t think of it as work. You can’t force it, so there is some degree of “seeing where it goes.” It’s like a semi-controlled daydream. The real work comes when you take a bunch of these ideas and gags and weave them together into an interesting, fun story. Plus, it’s a comic; you want it to be visually interesting, too. I tend to be a nitpicker. So I write and rewrite, draw and redraw.

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"Petey & Pussy" collection on sale now

You do a lot of illustration work, is your comics work like "Petey & Pussy" an outlet to kick back and have a lot of fun?

I enjoy doing both things. They require a lot of the same effort and they offer their own rewards. The main difference is that I do get to be more self indulgent working on my own comics. There’s more freedom to explore and push ideas. So it is more fun in that regard.

The new collection has some old and new material. When were the different stories from?

One story appeared in the third issue of "The Wiggly Reader" in 1999. The other, I self-published in 2000 as a stand-alone "Petey & Pussy" comic.

How did you end up connecting with Fantagraphics?

They’d asked me to do a few things for them in the past -- The Comics Journal special editions, an Al Jaffee style fold-in for the MAD issue of The Comics Journal, and "Dirty Stories" for example. When I was nearly finished with "Petey & Pussy," I sent them a copy and asked if they’d be interested.

What are you working on now?

I am just finishing a project for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s a poster for their family map and guide. It should be available at the information desk in the Great Hall this holiday season. I worked on it for a while so I have a big backlog of projects I want to work on. I haven’t decided which to tackle first.

TAGS:  john kerschbaum, petey & pussy, fantagraphics

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