The book follows the childhood memories of the narrator, illustrating various experiences in his life: fishing on the beach at dawn; his grandparents and how one grandfather went mad; a hunchback great-uncle; the betrayal of children by adults; fear of the unknown; an unwanted pregnancy, violence, possibly even murder.
The general story is paralleled with the traditional story of the Mr. Punch show, ‘The oldest, the wisest play’. The narrator is first introduced to Mr. Punch when fishing with his grandfather, but encounters it, and a mysterious ‘professor’ (Punch & Judy man), during various other activities. The story of Mr. Punch, is that he kills his baby, then his wife Judy and the police officer who comes to arrest him. He outwits a ghost, a crocodile and a doctor, convinces the hangman to be hanged in his place and, at the play’s end, even defeats the devil himself.
Like many of Gaiman’s works, a major theme in this graphic novel is memory and the unreliability of one’s own recollections.