Judy Bolton Mysteries: Part 2

Pam’s Pictorama Post: While bunker-style living here in Manhattan during our modern plague has not resulted in an increase in reading time (quite the opposite as days seem to somehow blur into seven-day-a-week, 14 hour day work-a-thons), I do make time every night for a bit of Judy Bolton before bed. With the last few volumes looming on the horizon I know I will miss her and the dollop of her 1940’s daily life when I eventually finish the last volume. However, today I offer this next Judy installment as suggested reading for those of you hunting a little escapism from your current reality.

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I have always believed that in stressful times that one should be extremely thoughtful about what one is reading. (Kim is currently deep in Max Brand – I thought he’d already read all of him – and of course Little Orphan Annie on weekends, but none of this is different, just business as usual for him.) These days I read only what I feel is necessary of the newspaper in the morning and quickly move on.

In the evening, I need something to lead me into a relaxed enough state to sleep. Therefore, I try to put down the phone (Wynton Marsalis, please take note) and pick up my Judy Bolton novel to read a chapter or so. I am finishing up volume 20 currently, The Warning on the Window, and am fascinated by the fact that my copy, with a 1949 copyright, sporting a dust jacket and purchased on ebay, had never been read! I found several pages that had never been split. Imagine this book being passed from hand to hand over seventy years and never read. Extraordinary!

 

As I mentioned in my first post about Judy (which can be found here) about halfway through the series Judy marries one of her two suitors throughout the earlier volumes. While Judy’s role is not diminished to one of housewife, some of the aspects of 1940’s pre-feminism jabs at me in these latter volumes. Judy’s husband leaves his nascent law practice to join the FBI after one of their adventures and somehow the series that was about her with him occasionally helping becomes about her helping him. Although hers always does end up being the star role the author now feels the need to work at storylines that allow for this. (Meanwhile, reality has never been a strong suit of these books, but the evidence of this sticks in my crawl a bit.)

Meanwhile, Judy and Peter have acquired a child along the way, Roberta, whose father is mysteriously “at sea” and from what I can tell they have never heard a peep from him. As a result they now have a ready made family and Roberta’s mystery solving abilities, given her age, somewhat make up for Judy’s post-marital status.

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As part of this shift in storyline, I was a bit worried about Judy’s black cat, Blackberry, who seemed to be meeting his demise in The Living Portrait. A puppy, Tuffy, was introduced in this volume as Roberta’s pet and I was quite peevish when it seemed that Blackberry would be sacrificed for him. I hope I am not giving away too much plot when I assure readers that he makes a strong eventual comeback and remains part of the family. (In fact up next, The Black Cat’s Clue.)

The thing that interests me most about the second half of the series is that Margaret Sutton’s writing style seems to morph in tandem with Judy’s role as wife. Almost immediately the books become a bit more complex. The mysteries go from being excuses for a storyline with unreal plots to more logical storylines. They are still stuffed with really bad criminals and if anything Judy appears to be in actual danger in some of these stories. In particular The Secret of the Musical Tree managed to have me a bit worried about her at one point. (Even if harrowing at times, all is of course viewed from the safety of knowing that Judy appears in another volume, waiting patiently for me next to the bed.) Judy as an adult clearly meant that Sutton could step out a little in a different direction.

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Undated photo of Margaret Sutton

 

To both Judy and Sutton’s credit, Judy spends little if any time worrying about her appearance (Judy’s attire is only ever noted if it is a plot point) and only glancingly makes mention about things like cleaning the house or cooking a meal. Judy’s mother tends to worry about Judy’s mystery solving ways and one gets the sense that this is the evolution of young women of the times moving yet another notch out of the home and into the working world.

Still, plot devices are needed in order to get Judy away from her husband and let her do her stuff, which by today’s standards is unnecessary and even insulting. Peter can therefore expect to be conked on the head unconscious, or to find that somehow Judy is off in another town, unable to phone, and turns out to be knee deep in trouble. Despite being dated in this way, these books are a more or less perfect antidote for the stresses of the spring of 2020 for me. Just intriguing enough to lead me peacefully down the garden path, again and again each night. I highly recommend them if you like me need a bit of evening escapism.

 

 

Letters from a Cat

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today feline dedicated post was a birthday gift from my good friend Eileen Travell. She acquired this precious, slim volume at a store I long to experience one day and that I wrote about in an earlier post, 3 Little Kittens, which can be found here, and describes that gift purchased there as well, The Salem, New York shop is 1786 Wilson Homestead (1117 Chamberlin Mill Road, Salem, NY; their website which can be found here). It has set me to dreaming about a future summer day digging through their wares. My copy is stamped School Library, Saranac Lake, N.Y. on both front and back fly leafs.

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While this book is clearly meant for children, complete with very large and easily read text, I am not sure I would say race out and grab this book to read to your small child. Suffice it to say life was cheaper and harder in 1879 and that is evidenced in this book. The overall premise of the book is that while a little girl is away visiting her aunt she receives a series of letters penned by her puss in her absence. (Yes, the remarkable nature of a cat writing letters, however sloppily printed, is covered in the story, although never fully explained. The methods of post are detailed however.)

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Sadly kit has a hard time of it in the absence of her mistress with everything from a spring cleaning of the house, which terrifies her, to an accident with a barrel of soft soap, which I assume is either lye or the lye and fat makings for soap, which almost does her in. All about the plot is is given away in the first part of the book which is penned in the voice of the young mistress now grown.

However, when the little mistress describes how much she loves her kitty and what a glorious cat she is you know that H.H. was herself a cat lover and an understander of the feline nature. (Kim speculated that the timing is right for this book to have inspired Archy and Mehitabel, first created by Don Marquis in 1916 and collected first in 1927. As many of you know, it is best known for being illustrated by George Herriman of Krazy Kat fame.)

Letters from a Cat Published by Her Mistress for the Benefit of all Cats and the Amusement of Little Children has an original copyright of 1879. My edition is from 1930. It has seventeen illustrations by Addie Ledyard. The author H.H. turns out to be Helen Hunt Jackson (b. 1830 and d. 1885, née Helen Maria Fiske) a famous poet and writer of her day.

Jackson was the daughter of a minister, author, and professor of Latin, Greek, and philosophy at Amherst College. Her mother having died when Helen was 14, she and her sister were fully orphaned three years later. However, the father had provided for Helen’s education and she attended a boarding school where she was the classmate of Emily Dickinson with whom she corresponded throughout her life. Helen Hunt Jackson was very much a part of the interesting and broad group of writers and thinkers in the greater Amherst area of the day.

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Jackson begins writing after the loss of husband and sons over a handful of years and before she was much more than 30 years old. (Hunt was the surname of this husband, she eventually remarries while taking the cure for TB in Colorado years later and takes the name Jackson.) Her earliest works are published under the H.H. nom de plume. She became interested in issues surrounding the poor treatment of Native Americans after hearing a lecture in Boston by Chief Standing Bear in 1879 (interestingly, the year Letters from a Cat was published).

Her best known work, Ramona, published in 1884, is a story of a young woman of mixed Scots and Native American heritage, was hugely popular and spawned five films and even was thought to expand the tourism industry of Southern California at the time. While it may have been the romance of the story that made it so popular, Jackson wrote it as a way of showing the plight of the native people. She kept up a very real and fierce lifelong battle with Washington over the treatment of the Indians and fighting for the return of their land and rights.

Of the illustrator, Addie Ledyard, there is really no information except for the trail of books she illustrated which are still available. At a glance I would say cats were a specialty, although she seems to have illustrated at least one volume of Louisa May Alcott stories. Following my nose on her illustrations may lead to some other interesting discoveries.

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This illustration shows Ceasar, the handsome, huge black cat who arrives in town and is an  important plot point.

 

I am reminded of an obscure, antique volume I had years ago and gave to my mother, written by another poet who also wrote from the perspective of her cat. If I can remember it and find it I will share it in a subsequent post. I always think of it when I see a cat watching out a window as her cat called that reading the newspaper daily.

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Letters from a Cat is available on Project Gutenberg (with illustrations) and Google Books, as well as in reproduction and various earlier reprints over time. With renewed thanks to Eileen, I suggest all you cat collectors get on this one.

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Earlier volume of the book.

 

 

 

Judy Bolton, Girl Detective: Part One

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Pictorama readers know that I have a very real soft spot for juvenile novel series and I detour today to begin a fairly long missive about girl detective, Judy Bolton. I have been reading these on and off for the last year or so. While I may tend toward the completist even in my following of favored authors (see my thoughts on Edna Ferber here and my numerous posts on Frances Hodgeson Burnett’s adult novels, which start here and here), I am a persnickety reader of series books, acquiring them and reading them in order. A missing title in one of these is a real fly in the ointment from my perspective. Just a warning before you really settle in, spoiler alert as I will probably end up giving away some of the series plot line.

I did a long stretch of reading and reviewing as I worked my into and through a number of other series. I never read any of them as a child. My sister Loren was the Nancy Drew reader in the family and I can remember admiring how nice they all looked lined up in a bookcase in her bedroom. Somehow they just really belonged to her though and I never read them, although I guess I could have with some wrangling. (The same is true for the Black Beauty books and the Tolkien novels. These were things I associated with her and territory I never entered.)

Among my favorite series discoveries are Honey Bunch (my review can be found here), Grace Harlowe, the Automobile Girls and especially The Moving Picture Girls novels. (A post devoted to those can be read here). I had put my series reading on the back burner and was focusing more on authors when Kim got a tip that I might like the Judy Bolton series and purchased one for me appropriately called The Mystery of the Half Cat.

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I took to Judy Bolton like a duck to water and I have been weaving them into my reading since. As I write today, I am halfway through the 40 volumes in the series, although it should be noted that only 38 were written by the original author, Margaret Sutton. (Margaret Sutton, aka Rachel Beebe.) The books were largely published by Grosset & Dunlap. Unlike the Stratemeyer syndicate books, Margaret Sutton was a real person and wrote all of the novels in the series herself and this is evident in the writing. While these are still all based on formula (mystery introduced in the first quarter of the book, develops in the second, is positively puzzling obfuscation in the third and resolves in the last) Judy develops as a character over these many volumes. Wikipedia offers the interesting comment that it may have been pressure from Stratemeyer that killed the series rather than flagging sales in the interest of Nancy Drew, but nowhere can I find an explanation of how this played out amongst their commingled ownership and whatnot.

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Judy Bolton as a character is interesting and a bit complex. She appears to age more slowly than the years it takes for these volumes to unfurl, the first twenty books span from 1932-1949 and Judy seems to start at her senior year in high school and then hovers in the year or so just after, time advancing slowly while she works in the newly opened law office of her sweetheart and eventual fiance, Peter Dobbs. (They marry in the 17th volume, The Rainbow Riddle. Marriage does not appear to diminish Judy any.) Her parents would have liked her to consider college, but she has decided that working with Peter and unpaid sleuthing is her destiny. She is an odd mix of a more modern woman and one of her late thirties, early forties decades.

What I like best, in some ways, about Judy Bolton is that she is actually quite unlikeable at times. She is stubborn and sometimes myopic and self-indulgent. Other characters routinely call her out on it, as they should. There is something very human and endearing about her gaffs however and she generally recognizes her mistakes, as most of us do, and makes them right.

Early on Peter gives Judy a black kitten she names Blackberry (he of the half cat above) and he routinely finds his way into most, but not all volumes. This of course endears the series to my black cat loving heart! Her brother Horace acquires a white cat who seems to disappear in later volumes, but he also acquires a rather rude bird who remains prominent. Horace shows up in most of the volumes, playing a bigger role in the early volumes.

Judy’s affections swing between Peter and the wealthiest boy in town, Arthur Farringdon-Pett. Most remarkably, Arthur owns an airplane – how could a girl resist that I guess. Judy and Arthur go so far as to get engaged in later volumes, until Judy realizes her heart really belongs to Peter.

It interests me more than a little that people actually die in this series. Criminals die, people die in car accidents, her grandparents eventually die over time. Meanwhile, a lot of children are being raised by somewhat random people or given to orphanages, and therefore there are several mysteries which resolve in people being related to otherwise unlikely people – long lost heretofore unknown siblings, cousins. Perhaps for someone writing in the post-Depression era this was somewhat less unlikely than it seems today. People found themselves impoverished and left babies for adoption or even just with other people.

The series opens with Judy forced to leave her hometown of Roulsville in favor of higher ground in nearby Farringdon, an imaginary exurb from which recognizable places in Connecticut and Manhattan can be reached within a day’s trip. There are farms, Judy’s grandparents have one in Dry Brook Hollow – a seemingly poorly named area as that is where the flood occurs in book one. It is theoretically based on the Pennsylvania area where Sutton grew up and returned to for the inspiration for her novels.

The stories build on each other and landmark events are retold which advertise earlier books, but also adds to the sense of the created, shared universe. Certain key events, like the flood in the first volume, are mentioned in virtually every volume – sometimes in more or sometimes less detail. Other stories waft in and out of the tale of the moment, depending on the relatedness of the current cast of characters and location. It is said that each book was started from a kernel of a real incident, such as the flood, which inspired Sutton.

Judy’s father is a doctor, but somehow they only hover at the line of middle class. Early on Judy expresses discomfort with the wealthier girls in school – understandably because they treat her poorly at first – but also equal insecurity about how to act around a neighbor who is poor and attends the local secretarial high school, leaving eventually to work in a factory. (I have to just take it on faith that secretarial high school was a thing – like technical schools of other kinds which have morphed more into college years than high school now.) Their town, Farringdon, has a strict dividing line between the “good” area of town and the “poor” area, although one thing that seems to be entirely absent are people of any ethnic group at all, no one is black, Jewish, or hispanic. I believe Gypsies are mentioned, but not in a good way. There are hoboes and all sorts of men who are only marginally employed. They are almost always threatening and have ties to the local underworld.

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Evil Gypsy fortune teller in this volume.

 

Oddly, these books are not available on Project Gutenberg or other online sources and therefore it has been necessary to purchase the books which I have generally found used on ebay, paying on average about $10 each with shipping. (The series has been reprinted in paperback, which might explain the extension of the copyright, but those tend to be more expensive than just purchasing the old volumes.) For the most part purchasing the old books has been fine; I think only one has fallen to pieces in my hands while reading it and only one other went astray for a period before showing up on 86th Street. A few have even sported dust jackets. (The books are nominally illustrated by Pelacie Doane and I will only offer that they are appropriately period drawings and covers.)

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I can’t say I find the (limited) illustrations inspiring and sadly could find none featuring Blackberry.

 

 

I’m not sure what happens when I am done with these volumes – we hardly have shelf space to devote to 40 volumes although part of me loves the idea of the long line of matching volumes. I guess I will either resell them or give them away. Kim has expressed interest in reading a few so I will keep them around for awhile. Research online tells me that the later ones may get difficult to find and since I am generally a completest in most things I will be bereft if I can not read them all.

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Sutton in one of her author photos.

October is the month when the annual Judy Bolton Weekend is held in Cloudersport, Pennsylvania. This four day fiesta celebrates all things Judy and Sutton. I am already working on enlisting Kim in that adventure later this year – although it is admittedly far and the travel route without a car is a bit unclear from New York City. In addition, there is a fan club run out of Mt. Carmel, PA which is devoted to Judy, Nancy, Trixie Belden and the like. All this to say, having already gone on for quite a spell, there is still indeed more likely to come.

Doll House Drama

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I scrape through the remainder of the available adult fiction of Frances Hodgson Burnett I am beginning to turn to the juvenile works. The first I picked up was one I had never heard of called Racketty Packetty House. In researching it I discovered that while I may never have heard of it the book has not been moldering in obscurity – there are more editions than I can count available online – ancient, new and all between – and it would seem it has been continuously in print since its inception in 1906. It is what I think of as an early chapter book for children, too long for a single sitting, novella length.

As I have written in prior posts, our gal Frances was prolific beyond belief and she was clearly churning out her popular juveniles while writing the novels and keeping magazines supplied with stories. (And turning all of the above into plays and ultimately films! My posts on her at this point are too numerous to list and all could be found by searching my site with her name however they start here and I discuss the films a bit here.)

I guess I should warn anyone reading this as a review that there are what could be considered spoilers in it so you may want to come back when you are done reading the story.

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The book contains the ingredients of a children’s classic – anthropomorphic dolls and animals (I especially like that the family pets bring gifts and apologize for their youthful indiscretions of chewing on body parts and a mouse gentleman brings an offering of wood shavings for dinner one evening) with a princess and a few fairies thrown in for good measure. I read the electronic version (I downloaded it on something called Google Play) and was deprived of illustrations which impacted my experience of it. I think good illustrations could really help sell it and looking around online after the fact I believe this is true. (There are also some quite hideously illustrated volumes, with all due respect, mostly of more recent vintage.) I believe the illustrations I am sharing are from the original publication or at least a contemporaneous one in Hodgson Burnett’s lifetime. If the early editions were less expensive and I had more bookcase space I would want to pick one up.

 

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Ridiklis whose leg was chewed off by the dog and cat in their unbridled youth – friends now and they bring offerings such as string to the doll family.

 

The story is of two dollhouses in a nursery, a dilapidated old one and a shiny new one, the story told from the perspective of a watchful fairy as one is cast aside and shoved in the corner while the other takes center stage and the lives of the doll families within. The new dolls are snooty and look down their noses at the old, ragged dolls – these poor dolls however are jolly and know how to have a good time despite their indigence. The beautiful Lady Patsy doll shows up on the scene and she and Peter Piper (antic ringleader of the poor dolls) and she fall in love.

Funny how all Hodgson Burnett’s tropes are remade for this kid’s story! The poor but worthy (and jolly despite their poverty) find love and are ultimately elevated, financially, socially, in the end. (As I read online reviews this seems to be the primary gripe about her as an author – if you want realism you have gone to the wrong woman I say! I wrote about some of those tropes here and here.) Interesting to me is that she makes the human child owner of said dolls decidedly unlikable – she is a selfish nasty bit of business. Frances Hodgson Burnett did not shy away from portraying unpleasant children.

However, the real reason I decided to write about this story today is that I cannot help but feel that this story planted the seeds for two other significant children’s stories. One I have written about previously and is called The Doll’s House by Rumer Godden. (That post can be found here.) Godden’s book, a similar chapter book for about the same age group, is a classic in its own right. There is a striking similarity in the lives of the dolls and the in-fighting and rivalry between them. That book has a horrific fire in it and the image remained stamped on my memory for years! (Another hugely prolific author, she wrote the book the film Black Narcissus was based on.) The threat of fire hangs heavily over this story as the Racketty Packetty home is perpetually being threatened with being burned as trash and is only saved on several occasions by the hard working fairies.

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This leads me to the second and more famous story I am fairly certain found genesis in this book, The Velveteen Rabbit. Several key elements make me feel that Margery Williams had this story in the back of her mind when she published it in 1922. First there is the old much-beloved toy versus the new toy/s story-line which is integral to both books. Then there is the rather specific plot device of scarlet fever – in the case of the velveteen rabbit it is how the rabbit meets his corporeal end after helping to nurse the boy through the illness, and in this volume it is the wealthy dolls which all fall ill with it after the irresponsible child in charge gives them all scarlet fever and does not trouble herself to make them recover. They are in turn nursed by the poor dolls and become friends after that. Margery Williams throws in a fairy at the end to help out as well.

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From The Velveteen Rabbit, original illustration by William Nicholson

 

Unlike these two latter stories, Hodgson Burnett stops short of the indelible horror of the toys being burned as is the denouement of the other two books. (An image of the celluloid doll catching fire in the Godden book may have inspired my overall fear of the frailty of celluloid which I once penned a post about here. I didn’t read The Velveteen Rabbit until I was an adult but am quite sure it also would have scarred me for life.) Instead her toys are rescued by a visiting princess – a very Burnett ending indeed.

Reincarnation Stories Revealed – Making the Comics

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It is a very exciting week here at Deitch Studio! As I write today (they are yanking our windows out of the wall as I start this) the big news here is that Reincarnation Stories is hitting the stands at last! Yay! Today I am putting on my dyed in the wool Deitch fan hat and telling all about how the books get made, followed by my honestly biased review of Reincarnation Stories tomorrow. While I have written about Kim’s work in the past (see my recent post about his book Beyond the Pale which was my introduction to him here) this launches with a bit of a diatribe on the subject of the books he has done during the time we have been together.

I realize I cannot help but start with Kim’s process of making comics because when I open a book that I have watched him make for me, the process of getting there, and the lingering memories of what we were doing during each stage telescopes before me. These are microcosms of our daily life and certain drawings take me back to utterly unrelated events. (We were watching the election back when that was drawn; I was traveling in Shanghai when he came up with that…) However, mostly I remember watching it all come to life on blank sheets of paper – or even before when the story was just a kernel that Kim told me or that grew from a nascent conversation, or with him waiting for me to wake up on a Saturday morning, sitting on the edge of the bed and anxiously saying he has a story idea he wants to try on me.

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Kim may be surprised to know that this cover takes me right back to when we first started dating! I was beyond delighted to watch it come to life.

 

The first story I remember watching Kim work on was Molly O’Dare from what would become the Shadowland book. (Molly comes back for a rip roarin’ turn in Katherine Whaley.) We had started seeing each other and, Kim being Kim, he had his work along with him so that he could fit a few hours in here and there. It was my first chance to see how the sausage is made in a Kim Deitch comic book (they still were published as comic books, pamphlet length, then) and I was fascinated. The process from the simplest un-readable lay-outs to proper roughs and then fully realized lay-outs – which would then be traced and inked. (I had missed the character development sketch pages for that story. In some ways this has since become my favorite part of the process.)

As someone who draws (and actively was at the time) I was fascinated by Kim’s process. After writing the story in outline form, he more or less draws the entire book about four times. There are the roughest of roughs where the script sort of gets put down, and at that point Kim has to walk me through it because it isn’t legible. Then come the readable roughs. It was more layers than I would have dreamed possible.

About this time, if not earlier, those character drawings start fleshing out not just characters, but locations too, teasing out situations. Sometimes there is some back and forth – Kim using writing to push drawing forward and the other way around. If you’ve suspected that there is a Deitch universe behind every book, that somehow you never quite get to see – that’s it! The El Dorado – there actually is one! These are glorious pencil drawings on 11″x14″ copy paper. He makes piles of them.

Some have notes he’s written to himself with an arrow or box – sometimes it is a tidbit about the character Pam in her new size body or Transferring the souls of dead human beings into new miniaturized living bodies as from a new sheet hot off the press, shown below. Yes, I am here to tell you, everything does have a history and background. Some of the folks who follow Kim on Facebook see these as they develop. You too are getting a great backseat view of the process, albeit in pieces. And yep, we have ’em all and someday I want to see the best of them published.

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Snapshot of a design page, snatched from the pile, for Kim’s next book, How I Make Comics.

 

Meanwhile, the process marches on and readable roughs get turned into layouts which are amazingly finished looking, yet further changes are made before – voilà – they are finally traced onto Bristol board before being inked. The lightbox Kim uses to trace his drawings was a novelty to me. (A small Butler-Deitch fact is that a lightbox of my own was the first gift he gave me – one that eventually went on to be a shared one when his died. I believed we are now ironically using one that I in turn bought him when that one died. Something about lightboxes.) I had, before meeting Kim, been holding things up to the window to trace them, usually in order to flip them. (Welcome to the 20th century Pam.)

Anyway, the sheets of drawings quickly pile up – first the Xerox paper pages, followed by piles of inked finished pages, until (awash in paper) the story sits finished in a grand pile next to Kim on his desk. (I believe I have mentioned that we live in a single room where Kim also works? Yes, storage is an issue.) These days things then get scanned – there was a time within memory when they were carefully wrapped, packed up and Fed Ex’ed to Fantagraphics. We would be on pins and needles until we were assured they had arrived safely – and again when they were to be sent back. Scanning has its own issues – faithful Pictorama readers know that our scanner died on the very last page of Reincarnation Stories. We are hard on scanners. (There is great grousing during the scanning phase which is persnickety with making sure all pages are scanned, kept in order and all the scans are good.)

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The pile today. To my knowledge this is all of Reincarnation Stories and some of the new book, How I Make Comics. Kim notes that the other half of the book pile lurks, barely visible behind the lamp.

 

Kim and I met after Boulevard of Broken Dreams was published as comic books, although I had the pleasure of revisiting it all when it was published in hardcover as a single book by Pantheon (’02). So now I am going to start to wear my fan hat a bit more and say that as much as I loved seeing Boulevard published as a book, the size disappointed me and I felt the same about Alias the Cat (’07) – as beloved as it is for me. Both are better printed in comic book size – some of the detail isn’t sharp enough when you take Kim’s drawings and scale them down. Shadowland, a book of ribald carnival related stories displaying Kim at his best with this genre, collected and published by Fantagraphics at the about the same time (2006) was printed in a glorious size which further highlighted the difference. (It is in a trade paperback format of roughly 9″x12″.) I would love to see all his books re-issued in this or the same size as Reincarnation Stories. (Just sayin’ to you all at Fantagraphics.)

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Alias isn’t my first appearance in Kim’s comics (I have a cameo in Smilin’ Ed) but Alias is the first time my comic book character is in fully realized glory. I could and probably should devote considerable space to my love of Alias the Cat – I am quite sure few women can claim such a declaration from their spouse as this book is to Kim seeing me via my cat collecting mania. Now, looking back, the collection was in the somewhat early stages – readers here know that it has grown in leaps and bounds. Anyway, the thrill of opening that book never quite pales for me.

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Sporting a great coat designed by Kim, but a hat I really own – book held open by a rather sharp beaver paperweight I gave Kim during the beaver story in Katherine Whaley.

 

In passing I will say, as I am wont to do in person, that my comic book character is a tad more volatile than I think of myself. I don’t think I lose my cool as quickly as she does. (She’s a yeller and I am not.) Although some of her wardrobe reflects mine (a black beret-style hat I have worn for many seasons, handmade by a Japanese couple who used to have a store down the street – I have been recognized in it a comic book stores and cons when wearing it), but some is clothing designed by Kim I would love to own in real life. There is a certain winter coat that I would love to have – and the dress that I wear at the end of Reincarnation Stories is pretty spectacular too. I suppose my character being immortalized in them will have to be sufficient.

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Detail from the What It All Means section of Reincarnation Stories – the dress I wish I owned!

 

The Amazing, Enlightening and Absolutely True Adventures of Katherine Whaley (2013) breaks all the rules and the tosses much of the tradition of the making of a Kim Deitch comic book up in the air with an original more text (but not less drawing) format. While I do not appear in it (Kim barely does) I have a very strong sense that the design for Katherine Whaley is very much me, and Kim has said that the Eleanore Whaley character has much of me. Another shout out to Fantagraphics and especially the late Kim Thompson who edited that book – he took a chance and allow Kim to design it as a horizontal which the early art just screamed out for and it looks wonderful. Kim T. did a lovely job on that book and it is dedicated to him.

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Uncredited Pam drawing making an appearance here in the epilogue of Katherine Whaley

 

Meanwhile, the fact for the day for you Deitch Studio aficionados is on page 164, in the epilogue, is a small drawing of some beavers and the main character drawn by me. While the making of Katherine Whaley was in some ways stressful, it was a somewhat different process for Kim and the concern of whether or how it would be made to work remained a question during much of the conception and production, it really came out full blown from his mind in a very coherent way and he blasted through it. (It is my own opinion that this book will someday be considered a pivotal contribution that Kim made to the evolution of the graphic novel and perhaps suffered from being a bit before its time. I say that both as a biased wife and an uber Deitch fan.)

So, as I sit down now with this yummy amazing and satisfyingly fat copy of Reincarnation Stories I couldn’t be happier or more proud of Kim! Tomorrow I will get into what I will call a wife’s Very Biased Review of Reincarnation Stories. I hope your copy has arrived and that you will take the trip with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Tropes and War: Part 2

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Picking up where I left off yesterday, today I tackle what really made this recent Frances Hodgson Burnett read a bit different, the description of a WWI Britain. I am a bit fascinated with a lot of contemporary fiction which covers the period between the two world wars in Britain. It is an interesting slice of time as people recover from the horrors of WWI and then, in too short a time, the foreshadow of the second world war rapidly creeps over them. Conceivably many of those men who survived the first war had sons in the second and that alone is too horrible to really contemplate. This novel is an eloquent reminder of the reality of that war.

The sequel to her book, The Head of the House of Coombe, Robin occupies itself entirely with the war, the main male character of the story having been marched off at the end of part one, this second half takes place during the war which is central to it. There are things that surprise me about this description. Perhaps because it is so close to the actual events there is a vividness to the descriptions that I have not read before.

The horrors of the pillaging of Belgium is graphically described and a central motivation for young Brits, even from the wealthiest families, to join up. I was well aware that part of the horror of WWI was because of the brutal mix of modern warfare with what had sufficed for ages before – men killing each other on horseback and in hand to hand combat. Now men on horseback and fighting with swords were being killed by mechanized weapons and bombs from the sky. For all of that somehow the kind of on the ground rape and pillage that went on in a more Genghis Khan fashion had escaped me.

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The cynicism of the British nobles about the Americans and if and when we would enter the war was also enlightening. Would the United States only enter if it was of economic value to us? They desperately needed the Americans in the war and as we are aware, for a number of our own reasons that commitment was not so quick to come. This was hugely frustrating and even terrifying for them.

Remember also, Hodgson Burnett had deep loyalties to both countries – that of her birth and the country she adopted as a teen and subsequently lived in most of her life and that conflict plays out here. I assume Burnett, in the final years of her life which were spent living in Westchester, did not see or experience WWI London firsthand. Perhaps these vital descriptions came from accounts from friends and newspapers of the time or maybe she did travel back shortly after.

Finally I was surprised to read that, much like those folks who brought picnics to watch the first battle of the Civil War, there was a practice of going up on rooftops to party while watch the zeppelin bombings on London. Ultimately this ends badly in the novel (as I assume it must have in life) and a brief but horrific plot point turns on this event. There is a description of random body parts being found in the street after, only a hand left to be found and identified, that had a realism which was also chilling.

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I did know from other reading that the bombing of London during WWI was as devastating as that of WWII and again one is stunned thinking about a certain sandwich generation which experienced bombing during both wars fully.

Worst of all were the descriptions of the German prisoner of war camps however. One assumes that a few years after the war these stories were finding their way out and Hodgson Burnett shocked me with some of them.

To me it is of interest that even at the end of her life, Hodgson Burnett was still delivering these very contemporary stories. A few decades before her stories described the emerging 20th century world – where travel between Europe and the New World became accessible to all and the role of women was rapidly emerging. (I have written about the emerging 20th century woman in her novels here.) As in WWII Britain, women took on all jobs at home during WWI which is also described in this novel. She also recognizes that sweeps many of the remaining social constraints and conventions for women aside.

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Knowing that the first half of this novel, filled with the aforementioned tropes of pining romance, rags to riches plot and unearthly communion (as outlined in yesterday’s post found here) was hugely popular in the United States I do wonder about the reception of this second half, originally published on its own the same year. While the first half is all flag waving for the war, this second half contains all the cynicism and pain. Somehow she wrapped all these things together and tucked them into one final novel.

Of Tropes and War: Part One

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I do apologize up front if you do not share my continued interest in these Frances Hodgson Burnett novels, because even I thought I would be done by now. Yet I find another aspect that had me in its thrall this week and has occupied my mind in a way that prevents me from finishing my next Felix post of a great new wind-up toy recently acquired. (For anyone who is joining me for the first time, a few earlier posts on Hodgson Burnett’s adult fiction can be found by searching this blog or herehere and here.)

For those of you who are following my passion for Hodgson Burnett’s novels, you may remember that early on I said that the worse the title of one of her stories, generally the better it is and The Head of the House of Coombe falls neatly into that category. As a result I had not grabbed it before this. However, I recently used Goodreads.com to help me figure out what remained of her works that I had not read and create a list of which are novels, as opposed to novellas and short stories, that remained for me to read. For all its greatness Project Gutenberg supplies no information before you download – could be a hundred pages, could be twelve and I like to know what I am getting into when I start a book or story.

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Written originally for serialization it was published as a novel in 1922; it was the fourth most popular book in the United States that year. The sequel, or second part of the book as it was served up to me, is called Robin. It also has a publication date of 1922 so the exact publication history and serialization of the two parts remains somewhat unclear to me. The publication date is mostly of interest to me because of the proximity to the end of WWI, which drives the plot of this novel, and that this book appears to be the last major publication of her life as she dies in 1924. Assuming these were actually written for magazine serialization in 1921 or so, it is a few years after the conclusion of the war and as many before she dies.

However, before we get to the war, we are treated to Burnett in all her glory reveling in several of her favorite Victorian tropes. Robin, the main character, is a commoner ultimately taken up by nobles. She is so purely good and innocent the more cynical nobles quickly become devoted to her. Meanwhile, her mother is a stunningly beautiful chippy, wonderfully named Feather, who it is well-known, a woman kept by the Lord of the House of Coombe.

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FC Yohn illustration of The Head of the House of Coombe as published in Good Housekeeping

 

Meanwhile, in addition to her rags to riches story line for Robin, she also puts her through her paces with two other beloved tropes, illness and spiritual communion or communication. Burnett just loved to plunge her characters, usually a woman but occasionally a man, into a mysterious consumptive wasting state due to separation from or rejection from a beloved, usually a lover. In some way s/he is miraculously revived when reunited with the person in question.

Again, for those of you who have been following me on this path thus far, know that Burnett’s own oldest son Lionel was lost to consumption (TB) just two months before his sixteenth birthday. While blogging about Frances Hodgson Burnett I was contacted by her great-great granddaughter, Keri Wilt, who has a website (fhbandme.com) and an active Instagram account also under the name fhbandme. I began to follow her and she recently posted a photo of a locket Burnett wore with Lionel’s photo. I was a bit fascinated by this post. She shows us the locket and the inscription Farewell to others, but never we part. Heir to my royalty, son of my heart.

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Burnett with son Lionel. The inscription on his grave, “Lionel, whom the Gods loved”.

 

She also quotes a letter of Burnett’s about her son’s death, It will seem almost incredible to you, as it does to others, when I tell you he never did find out. He was ill nine months but I never allowed him to know that he had consumption (tb) or that he was in danger – and when he died he passed away so softly that I know he wakened in the other world without knowing how he had left this one. I can thank God for that. Wowza – not sure what I make of that. Can a 16 year old boy, dying of consumption at that time not at least deeply suspect that he is dying? For me it is overwhelmingly moving though in its need to be true to her. She returns to it again and again in her fiction.

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The wasting unnamed and consumptive disease illustrating an article on this topic.

 

Another deep vein of interest is Hodgson Burnett is her interest in spiritualism which I gather she takes up somewhat later in life. (I am assuming that it ties out to the death of her son but I am not sure I have seen this confirmed.) If I can find more information on where it parallels with her life it will definitely rate a post of its own – this may happen when I get to reading her autobiography which is already in the house. Spirit communication is a frequent plot device with some variations – mystical communication with both the living (but not present) and the dead. The novella The White People is one of several shorter works devoted entirely to the subject. Without being a plot spoiler I will just say that it makes up the major plot weenie (as Kim would say) to the second part of this novel.

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Library of Congress example of spirit photography.

 

Having covered wasting illness, rags to riches plots and touched on spiritualism I leave you for today. Tomorrow I will share the fascinating turn things take with Burnett’s surprisingly graphic descriptions of WWI England which was what really made this book stand out for me.