Thursday, 4:13pm
28 June 2012

Crazy cat, demented details (text in full)

The Boulevard of Broken Dreams

By Kim Deitch with Simon Deitch<br>Pantheon Books<br><br>

Waldo the cat is a demonic figment of Ted Mishkin’s imagination. Yet so diabolical is this evil Felix the Cat doppelgänger that he has wreaked havoc on every aspect of Mishkin’s psyche. Waldo is both scourge and muse to Mishkin, who originated and drew animated cartoons for Fontaine’s Fables, a 1930s-era animation company that featured the crazy feline as the star of a popular cartoon feature.

Yet Mishkin is as fictional as Waldo, one of many characters in this exquisite new comic strip novel, the first book-length sequential narrative by this underground comix master. For many, 1960s underground comix were transformative. Given the many repressive postwar taboos against comics and rock’n’roll, alternative comix were a breath of fresh ink, for they ridiculed and exposed hypocritical government prohibitions against language, art, and ideas – not to mention sex. Deitch is the creator of one of the best of these underground comix, Tales of the Sunshine Girl, which appeared regularly in the East Village Other in the 1960s and early 1970s. The subversive strip is about a portly naïve young flower child (she actually looked like a daisy) searching for existential truth. Deitch, whose father was a respected UPA animator during the 1940s and 1950s, developed a primitive cartoon style that conveyed layers of psychological complexity cut with acerbic wit – wedding autobiography to social concern. Yet, after the 1970s he did not achieve the same fame or acclaim due him as did R. Crumb or more recently, Chris Ware.

Deitch’s latest comix are situated around the animation industry, with emphasis on behind-the-scenes doings as well as parodies of classic characters. Among his bêtes noires, Deitch reveals intense enmity for Disney who, in Boulevard, is overtly and covertly accused of extruding the heart and soul from animated cartoons. This is vividly clear in the sub-plot of Boulevard, when the exploitative Mr Fontaine humiliates a great cartoon pioneer, Winsor Newton (influenced by the real-life Winsor McKay) who created Milton the Mastodon (based on McKay’s Gerdie the Dinosaur). The opportunistic Fontaine forsakes psychologically complex cartoons for more crowd-pleasing Disney-esque attractions.

Throughout Boulevard, Deitch creates emotional tension between those who are fervent about original iconoclastic cartooning and those who proffer derivative, market-driven pap. However, this book is not merely a polemic against mediocrity, but a gripping narrative about failure, betrayal, passion, and cruel twists of fate. To grasp the lurid, soap-opera details and to understand how the Broken Dreams of the title grip the lives of everyone in the book you’ve got to read Boulevard in one sitting. And it is well worth the effort, not only because the three chapters, ‘The Boulevard of Broken Dreams’, ‘The Mishkin File’ and ‘Waldo World’, are so brilliantly conceived, paced and written, but also because the drawing is virtuoso. Deitch’s earlier comix have a lighter and more rigid line, here the line is bold, the rendering flawless and the detailing will keep you interested for hours.

What I found inspiring is how frighteningly real Waldo comes across. The recurring apparition in Ted’s mind is unmerciful and masterful not only because it weaves so fluidly through a degenerating life but also because it is a stunning analysis of how dementia really takes control of the mind.