Deitch’s Pictorama (Fantagraphics)

kimdeitch.jpgUnderground-comics pioneer Kim Deitch is joined by his brothers and father for a Deitch-a-palooza that treads where memoir meets wild, wishful fantasy.



184 pgs. B&W; $18.99 softcover
(W / A: Gene, Simon, Seth & Kim Deitch)

When the Family Deitch gets together, weird things happen. Underground-comics pioneer Kim Deitch is joined by brothers Simon (artist) and Seth (writer), and father Gene (artist/writer) for a Deitch-a-palooza that treads where memoir meets wild, wishful fantasy.

The first tale in the collection, "Sunshine Girl," follows a pair of youthful bottle-top collectors who meet a roomful of odd characters at a "crown cap" convention. Their innocent pursuit of the hobby threatens to reveal dark family secrets, believe it or no. Then there’s the LSD. And the helpful parrot who drops a trail of rare bottle caps to lead the kids to a scene that’s both macabre and miraculous. It’s easy to see Kim Deitch’s love of EC Comics and pulp fiction in this one, along with his joy in drawings of bottle-cap nerds hot on the trail of mint-condition rarities.

The cover to Deitch's Pictorama. Click for a larger image.Seth Deitch re-imagines the myth of the golem (a sort of Jewish Frankenstein tale), spicing it up with alchemists, a conjured demon-child, Merlin the magician, and, um, rape. This golem, illustrated in workmanlike pencil drawings by Simon Deitch, has the power to make words appear in stone, just by touching the walls—when he removes his hand, blank stone is suddenly engraved with his ominous platitudes. It’s pretty cool. The story is engrossing, and the end is a cute little stunt that you’ll recognize from the coda of many a horror film, but overall it’s just the golem story with a little more window dressing. Kinda derivative.

Much more satisfying is "Unlikely Hours," the inspired tale of a third-shift computer drone who begins to notice strange behavior among the rats living behind the convenience store near his workplace. (It’s scripted by Seth, and drawn by Kim.) Turns out these are "Rats of Nimh"-style enhanced rats, with smarts and grand designs on bettering their lot. Zorro and zeppelins play a part in this wild flight-of-Deitch that goes from zero to zany in a literal explosion that is sure to please.

Finally, "The Cop on the Beat, the Man in the Moon, and Me" recounts Kim’s infatuation with the dark, mysterious lead singer of a hippie band. She, in turn, becomes infatuated with an older handyman who plays the guitar like an early jazz crooner. The tale becomes a sentimental journey into Kim’s yen for old-time-music records.

Technically, none of these are comics, but illustrated short stories. Kim Deitch defends his noted box-less "exploded page" style in an introduction, explaining that his big blocks of text simply don’t fit nicely within little boxes. He also likens his illustrated stories for adult audiences to the original versions of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, or work by Dickens. Illustrated fiction, he argues, was once more common, and is ready for a comeback. Works for me.

All the Deitches are similarly influenced by cartoons, films, pulp fiction, and comics. They all like to spin a yarn that starts out simple enough, but soon becomes bizarre, supernatural, impossible, and delightful. Kim’s sweet-natured illustrations may be a little too cute for some, but in tandem with his brothers’ and his own narratives, the stories have a groovy charm that’s hard to resist. That’s probably because the emotional core here—whether having to do with a brother’s betrayal, the ugliness of revenge, the strange power of coincidence, or whatever—is matched by a vibe of pure fun. And what a fun family this must be. | Byron Kerman

Click here to read Gene Deitch’s introduction to Deitch’s Pictorama, and see a trailer for the book.

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