Source: Cards of Christmas Past
Here at Pictorama we’ve decided to kick of the holiday season with a multi-post look back at some of the Deitch-Butler cards of years past. We have never dated our cards and, other than by identifying the cats portrayed in the cards (even that is a tad sketchy – there have been a lot of tuxedoes!), I have no real idea of dates.
Kim and I collaborated on our first card only a little more than a month after we first started dating. He was between projects and I had started making Christmas a Valentine’s Day cards a few years before so I suggested it. Sorry to say, I have not uncovered card number one yet, although I am sure either the original art or one of the cards exists in my files or his somewhere. By my calculation, this years card should be our twenty-first!
The unwritten rule about drawing the cards is, if we appear as figures, we draw ourselves. In early years this lead to a slightly strange combination of styles, although over the years we have somehow managed to come up with some thing coherent. I usually do a first draft, then Kim – back to me and then he inks.
Here I offer three examples featuring us with our cats of days gone by, Otto and Zippy. Ho, ho, ho!
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: As another Thanksgiving slips into the past, sending us racing toward Christmas and the New Year, it seems to me like a moment to pause and consider the relationship between large fowl and cats – sort of an interesting one. As shown here, they can certainly co-exist, but there always seems to be something lurking deep in the instinctual cat brains which is saying, “It’s really large alright, but I think I can take him. Yum!” I don’t know off-hand if cats actually do kill turkeys, geese or other large birds. I may have told the story of the neighbor’s cat, Tiger Lily, who jumped on the back of a goose one day with evil intention, only to be taken out into the river by the irate bird – requiring her to abandon her plan and swim back to shore. This leads me to think that for a cat killing a goose is harder than it looks. Turkeys look even tougher.
As some of you may know, my mother aided and rescued injured water fowl for years. More often then ducks or geese, this most frequently took the form of swans with various injuries – many had swallowed fishing line which required surgical removal by a vet, but others had been pinioned and thoughtlessly left to starve in a pond with no food source. (Swans, geese and ducks cannot survive on scraps of bread and food does not just appear in small man-made ponds for them.) Anyway, at one time my mother had a (relatively) small swan she was caring for and she would bring it into the house at night. Water rats can and will kill an injured bird so it was necessary and I cannot remember why the garage was not a suitable place. Anyway, my mother’s cats would all watch with huge, shining eyes when this swan was brought past them, through the house, to spend the night in the guest bathroom. They would gather by the closed bathroom door…considering, thinking, dreaming.
This card was never sent, but on the back, in pencil is written Lottie’s Tom & cats. Lottie’s gray cats have clearly multiplied and to my count there are seven in this photo. The one with the white bib looks somewhat philosophical, but the two gray ones coming at the camera – and Tom the turkey for that matter – have something more in mind. They are coming right at the camera. Take care, turkey eaters!
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Our friends over at Google translate this as Lucky Airplane and certainly they are taking no chances! Bedecked with every lucky symbol, as well as a few I didn’t know, such as the ladybug (I know it is bad luck to kill them) this is a plane promises quite a ride. I admit I’m not sure what the thing that looks like a beehive or the pansy-thing are – I’m open to suggestions – and everything is tied with a bow which is a nice touch. The black cat is obviously lucky (see our recent post Lucky Black Cat if you have any questions), although the fact that he’s peddling this plane into flying seems a tad ambitious and he does appear to be concentrating.
I had to cast around a bit on the subject of those industrious looking white rats as lucky. Logically though, rats are seen to have a sixth sense about danger and death, so I guess if the rats are satisfied all is good and these are all but dancing on the wings.
This card belongs to the same family as the one featured in Speaking of Cats which I show here below. These seem to be WWI genre cards – different companies, Rex 696 and the one below by Idea.
I have included the back of the card, and perhaps a French reader will be kind enough to send us the gist of it, as it is too densely written for me to begin to translate. Despite the writing, it does not appear to be postally used or properly addressed which also does confuse me. However, for now I just say, Up, up and away!
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Although I detoured slightly last week from my Felix fiesta, I am putting a cap on it (this edition anyway) with this really interesting series of photographs. One of the things that makes these unusual is that I purchased them as negatives. I was not able to purchase the entire lot – they were sold separately and went for a fair amount of money. However, with the exception of the one below, I feel I got the best of them. (Note the two small Felix dolls at the base of the huge one!)
I do not know what the story is here. At first I thought it was a family album of negatives, but after I saw the images of the large Felix that seemed less likely. Not surprisingly they were sold by a person in Great Britain. Then, after considering the whole collection I have developed the theory that perhaps they came from a photographer’s collection of negs. They are old, large format negatives and if I were able to print them by hand (which I would love to do someday when I have access to a darkroom again) I would be interested in seeing them as contact prints – perhaps even done as platinum prints. For now we send our thanks to our good friend, Eileen Travell, for scanning these and creating these positives.
They were taken in Kuala Lumpur and the larger than life Felix is in front of the Whiteaway Laidlaw department store in the one photo. Whiteaway Laidlaw was a British chain throughout India and the British empire of the East, undoubtedly supplying the British nabobs and wealthy locals with the necessities of European life away from home. It’s nickname was Right-away and Paid-for as it operated, not surprisingly, on a cash only basis. (Not unlike our Whole Foods-Whole Paycheck of today?)
So many questions remain. Was the photographer one of those who traveled around with his Felix doll props, much like the many I have shown with Felix on the beach throughout Britain, Australia and New Zealand? It is notable that the big Felix in these photos is very reminiscent of a postcard I treasure that was featured in an early post, Felix for a Cause. I would dare say the very same model. Enough to say, the sun never set on the British empire – nor on Felix evidently.
In addition to thanking my co-worker and friend Eileen Travell, Photographer for the Metropolitan Museum for making these “prints” for me, a very special thanks to Nora Kennedy and her colleagues in the Photograph Conservation area of the Museum who looked at the negatives and told me how to store them.
Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I have a deep relationship with both the Aesop’s Fable cartoons and these splendid toys. (For another post on the subject and my collecting mania in general see my earlier post, Mine, all mine…at long last.) When I discovered the cartoons, well into adulthood, I felt as though these were finally the long lost cartoons I had always been looking for. Reel after reel of endless black cats and mice – chasing, charmingly anthropomorphic. I share an example that somehow is a high water mark for me Makin’ ’em Move, In a Cartoon Studio. It is, of course, animator cats, dogs and pigs, slaving away at the drawing table – just like something out of Boulevard of Broken Dreams…one of my favorite Kim Deitch books!
The existence of the toys came to me even later, but I fell hard for them. The promotional photo below was my introduction to them. Not surprisingly, the cat in the polka dot skirt was my first acquisition – The Countess. I bought her in a Hake’s auction (I believe Kim helped on that one – in fact I believe he’s had a hand in helping to purchase virtually all of these. He’s very nice about supporting my habit.) We really paid up. She is pretty pristine. The dog in the red pants (Don the Dog) came off of eBay and I got a pretty good deal. The very hurt one on the lower right (another version of The Countess?) Kim picked up during a visit to San Francisco a few years back. The slightly grimy one in the maroon corduroy, I frankly don’t remember acquiring, although I am thinking it must have also been on eBay – he seems to have been altered and I am not sure who he is – Raffles is my guess.
The good news and the bad news it seems is since people don’t know what these dolls are so one most often just stumbles upon them.
The question I pose for today is – which doll is this new one? It is generally thought that these six were it. But careful study shows he just isn’t one of them – and he’s in pretty pristine condition so I don’t think he’s been altered either. Any thoughts out there in cartoon land?
Lastly, this tidbit I turned up while searching for the new doll. This is an old advertisement for a theater contest giveaway of Aesop’s Fables dolls! Oh lucky people of the past. Evidently the outsized Countess was four feet high and a replica of the doll! Would love to find that some day. As I’m sure you know, I will just keep looking.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Bad Kitty! No scratching! How very many times have I repeated that phrase? Like all cat people, ours is an uneasy treaty with our little wild animals in our one room apartment version of Eden. We are loath to allow the destruction of beloved antiques (oh those caned chairs – like this fellow is going at) or expensive couches and rugs. I love the little devils more than any piece of furniture, but it can get expensive and annoying. There are scratching posts, cardboard boxes with catnip and whatnot where scratching is sanctioned – encouraged in fact. Obviously, declawing is not a phrase we utter in this house.
Like bunnies and beavers which have to nibble and gnaw in order to keep their teeth filed, I guess cats need to scratch to keep their claws sharp and from getting too long. Still, scratching is more than that to a cat – there is joy to scratching. Scratching is a way of marking your turf – it’s a statement. As shown here – it is both a cross cultural phenomenon, Mr. French cat, and one that goes back quite aways.
Blackie is the first cat of my acquaintance who appears to not have so much as a clue as to what the various scratching devices scattered around our tiny apartment are to be used for. He watches Cookie happily scratching away – putting some real back into it. But he has never so much as taken a side swipe at one of them – I have tried every type: cardboard, carpet, rope, large, hanging and on the floor. We’ve showered them in catnip – tried running his feet across them. If anything he seems horrified by them. This does lead to some friction. I occasionally tell him he would be a PERFECT cat if only he could figure that out.
Meanwhile, although my cat Otto knew all about scratching posts and employed them, she had a fetish about Kim’s work chair. She is shown below, in a former apartment, in a series of polaroids Kim took over several days in April, 1995. Evidently she would take the chair on every day at the same time. Needless to say, she eventually denuded the entire chair. Kim continued to use it however, until the frame too fell apart one day, years later.
Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: In my collecting experience this little gem is about as weird as it gets. A Facebook friend, Chuck Sycamore, emailed the photo below as a response to an unrelated post, announcing that a friend of his had “found these in his house” and was selling them. Well, wow. Who could resist that?
So, the friend (who lives in Chicago) was contacted and after a bit of to and fro I purchased one – the fellow on the far left end. My size ration dysmorphia (see yesterday’s post Surprise – It’s Felix Again) kicked in and I was stunned to find this guy no more than four inches high! The scooter is fully functional and the Felix is completely articulated. I have never seen these any place else for sale. The small articulated Felix dolls seem to be a size smaller or a size bigger than any version I know. The scooter seems loosely based on this toy I own (mine is a no-name, not Felix variation – I like it, but for some reason the one that is marked Felix sells for about ten times more) – or perhaps that is entirely in my own mind.
Whether these were somehow one of a kind pieces made in a small quantity, or for some reason have just eluded me in my years of Felix collecting I do not know. There is no maker’s mark and the execution is very thoughtful. If anyone knows more than I do on the subject please weigh in. I am very curious to know more! And a big shout out to Chuck for giving us the heads up. And what kind of whacky house did the friend move into anyway? What else was in that house?
Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I really wasn’t in the market for another Felix, especially not such a large one. Finding a spot for them in our tiny apartment is becoming difficult. Yet when this one failed to sell and was re-listed at a much lower purchase price, I could not ignore the opportunity to purchase it. At the time I was thinking that it was an upgrade for one in my collection, but when it showed up I realized that it is actually a different model. Just as well, I have not yet begun to see myself in the role of seller – I am still accumulating. I gather from the eBay seller that she bought it on a recent Morphy’s auction for considerably more (I do remember it being listed there) and she didn’t have room for it once it arrived!
In terms of size I admit to a certain dysmorphia on occasion when it comes to purchasing toys. It isn’t that I don’t pay attention to the sizes, virtually always listed nicely in inches, feet or centimeters. However, things frequently arrive much smaller than I envisioned. However, on occasion, at least one notable one, I completely misjudge a very large toy. There is a Dean’s Rag Company Mickey Mouse that was a store display which I won in a Hake’s auction several years back – Kim bought it for me as a Christmas gift. It arrived in what can only be described as a small refrigerator box! I was a bit overwhelmed. It took some doing but Mickey resides, hulking in a corner of the bedroom, at the foot of our bed, the size of a small child, watching over us as we sleep.
Below, new Felix with the one I thought he was the same as. Silly me! What was I thinking?
Pam’s Pictorama: As we, somewhat regretfully, leave Halloween posts, we are embracing a series of Felix and other recent purchase posts. I have been VERY busy on eBay and will be sharing the cat-filled results.
I have had one or two similar pieces similar to this dish slip through my fingers in recent years and this time I decided it was my turn and I pushed hard to win this interesting – and somewhat strange – dish. There’s been some discussion in the house about the purpose this was meant to serve – children’s dish? Pet food? Ashtray? It is very shallow for a children’s dish and a bit large (let’s say 6 inches across) for an ashtray. Very elegant for pet food – a bit unkind to use Felix as an ashtray.
If you look carefully, you can see where the image of Felix was traced around the face. This was hand painted. The uneven line around the edges is also due to human foible it would seem, and a bit of smudging in the glazing process – fingerprints on the bottom right. There is absolutely no marking on this. I almost wonder if it wasn’t made from some sort of do-it-yourself kit or class – although the top glaze and firing seem professional. It is curious though. It hailed from Great Britain, at least that is where I purchased it from. That is not surprising – England seems to have be the El Dorado of early Felix merchandise.
One of the reasons I like this is that it is an early looking, nicely blocky Felix – my favorite type from the very early cartoons. I like him pointy and toothy – just like this. I try to resist purchasing breakable items (see my post Fear of Celluloid) which are difficult to find a safe haven for in our small, Blackie and Cookie-crazed apartment, but one does have to make exceptions.