Olive Oyl

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Toy collecting is much like the rest of life, while you may head in one direction, opportunity may present itself in one you had not considered in another and take you there. My career has been entirely like that – who thinks about becoming a fundraiser when they grow up? I had not considered working for Jazz at Lincoln Center until suddenly here I am, almost three years later.

I don’t generally collect comic figures outside of the cats (Felix and Krazy) and Mickey (because you have to have mice if you have cats), but occasionally things present themselves that need buying. In this way I have a small enclave of Little Orphan Annie (those items can be found herehere and here, for starters) and a soft spot for Donald Duck I have never much explored in this blog. The occasional Pluto. Bonzo has proliferated, which might fall under the heading of if you have cats you need a few dogs too. However, I am perhaps light on the broader universe of characters.

When an acquaintance at Doyle Gallery told me that they were having a January toy sale I knew I would want to check it out for potential birthday fodder. It was a sale from the estate of a single collector and I felt like you could sense his or her eye in all of the choices in the collection which always interests me.

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An unintended selfie while aiming at this goat toy

 

Kim and I had a delightful afternoon looking at a large collection of toys, primarily early mechanical banks and early mechanical toys. People were stationed to help us by taking the toys out and showing the action of each. These toys, while utterly delightful, are another area of collecting I have never gone down, but I can easily understand falling in love with them. I was especially enamored of this swan toy and this tiger toy below which I did bid on.

 

However, one of the reasons I started collecting in the area I do is because, compared to these toys, mine is a relatively affordable avenue. The toys above ultimately went for several thousand dollars each, considerably above my humble bids. There was also a lovely wooden Noah’s Ark, but I knew it was out of my league in every sense including space for it in the apartment. (Among the surviving animals shown below are insects which sort of cracked me up.)

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However, there were two items which caught my attention, in part because they were very different than the rest of the sale, and today’s Olive Oyl was one of them. We all know Olive as Popeye’s paramour in Segar’s comic strip where Popeye makes his appearance in 1929. Olive had been around in the earlier Thimble Theater strip since its inception in 1919 where she was the youngest in the Oyl family, sister to Castor and Crude Oyl, and engaged to Harold Hamgravy; he who she eventually dumps in favor of Popeye, her true love. I have read some of those early Thimble Theater strips and would very much like to dig deep into them sometime. Olive starts her life modeled on the flappers of the day – a long, straight drink of water to the extreme and maintains her girlish figure, so to speak, throughout her life.

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Olive Oyl bank I was less interested in at Doyle auction

 

The toy collector whose collection was being auctioned had two Olive Oyl toys, indicating an interesting particular affection for her. The other item was a cast iron bank which could have been original or a reproduction and I didn’t care for it. But there was something about this Olive Oyl that I couldn’t resist. She appears to be a one of a kind but nicely made wooden toy. Her arms, feet and head are painted but her costume covers a simple wood and wire constructed body. Heavy wire connects her arms and legs enabling limited motion in each. Her head turns and her arms go up and down.

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Olive Oyl, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

For me there is something especially engaging in her outfit although I can’t really tell you why. I think if asked, she would have preferred far more fashionable garb. There is something endearing and specific about her cowl neck sweater and the somewhat oversized pattern on her rickrack trimmed skirt, probably a bit longer than she was wearing them in the day. She has characteristically large (but not clownish) feet. For me this is a Depression era Olive at her best in every sense.

I assume there is a Popeye mate for her somewhere in the world, or at least there was. (Kim pointed out that he is a heck of a lot more ambitious to have to carve. He’s also come up with a story where Olive is carved by a man in prison for his girlfriend…) I have looked online to see if there’s any indication that this is not a singular piece. At a minimum the person who made it was skilled and my guess would be that this was not his or her only rodeo in this area.

If you are wondering, Olive joins a very slim collection of a single stuffed Popeye and Wimpy dolls. I bought them from a dealer in Canada many years ago and was disappointed to discover that they had lost much of their stuffing (sawdust) on their trip to New York. They are now so fragile that I am loathe to take them down from their high shelf and photograph them, but will try to find a way for Olive to join them. Excuse the dusty chaos – I was perched on the edge of the bed taking this earlier!

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Lucky Bucks

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: Oh for the days when you got a Sunday paper which had such cool things to uncover and collect! I write this as I prepare to head to see my mom on this Sunday morning, in New Jersey, although she no longer resides in the Butler ancestral home, is still resident nearby. I have written about our local newspaper purveyor and the role it played in collecting our Sunday papers in the years before we began having them delivered. (That post about Wiseman’s can be found here.) The feeling induced in childhood about Sunday morning lasts a lifetime, although somehow the (no longer terribly fat) Sunday New York Times seems like a sad substitute when I think about it these days.

Sunday afternoon and evening had a bad rap as a kid – it tended to stretch a bit toward boredom in a way that Saturday somehow did not. Sunday morning though was an excellent breakfast (pancakes! bagels!) and the Sunday comics. (Okay, Sunday afternoons were occasionally occupied by some really wonderful discoveries of old films on television, but let’s face it, you had to get through all that religious programming in the morning which utterly confounded me.) Hard to beat the memory of post-breakfast sitting on Dad’s lap and reading Peanuts and Nancy together.

In my adult life I have become a very real fan of daily comic strips – decidedly preferring them to their longer, flashier Sunday counterparts – their very dailiness telling the tale of their time. However, as a kid I admit that the daily strips seemed like dry runs for the Sunday fiesta. As a child of the 1960’s and early ’70’s I missed the heyday of comics supplements, but we had two (now defunct) local papers that carried a comics supplement. I loved them and can only imagine the enthusiasm that the weekly installation of Lucky Bucks must have been met.

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I gather at the time of Lucky Bucks the Sunday supplement featured all sorts of things a kid could avail themselves of such as mini-film strips, games, and puzzles. There is a book available dedicated to the topic of Lucky Bucks in particular, but the brief lowdown is that Lucky Bucks were promoted in the Sunday Funny primarily in the 1930’s, with ’32-’34 being prime years. (Interesting to imagine a country in the clutch of a worldwide Depression whose children are clipping fake money from the newspaper. At the time, newspapers were a lifeline for jobs and information and people continued to buy them to the extent they could.)

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Felix was one of those heavily featured, but Popeye/Thimble Theater, Mickey Mouse, Barney Google and even the likes of Blondie were among those available and collected. So widely were these collected that despite their undeniably fragile nature as newsprint which has been snipped out and perhaps even exchanged as kid currency, they are still widely available as collectibles today. I show some Popeye and Thimble Theater currency above and below. Popeye had the big bucks! See a fiver below.

 

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I like the bills that have things written on the bottom: Walking the Blues; Felix the Sentinel (he’s still interested in mice here – something I think of more from the early cartoons when he is inventive, but still more feline); and No Rest for the Wicked. I wonder if kids valued some more than others, like trading cards.

I have seen these Lucky Bucks offered on ebay for years and finally decided to add a selection to my collection. Meanwhile, I haven’t read much of Felix in the comics; he lives in cartoons for me. However, as I head off to Jersey this morning I am thinking about Sunday morning breakfast, a trip to Wiseman’s and some Sunday funnies, and it might be time to take a look at some of those Felix comic strips at last too.

Little Orphan Annie, Again

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Pictorama readers know that Little Orphan Annie has made a few appearances in posts recently and that with Kim reading his way through the strip that Deitch Studio has been immersing itself in many, if not all, things Orphan Annie. (And just between us, I doubt this is the last Annie post – such a marvel of marketing was that strip!)

While making another recent acquisition (see that post of a really splendid oilcloth Annie doll purchased to match a Sandy acquired a ways back here, and a ways back I wrote about an Olvatine mug I purchased – that post can be found here) I ran across this sheet music, however it wasn’t in full color. A few weeks of patience and the color version turned up in time for Kim to buy it for me for Christmas and here we are.

While this sheet music isn’t exactly rare, information about it and the music within does not abound. I have spent the morning down several rabbit holes resulting in a handful of interesting facts and tales to offer. Written and published by Ambrose J. Wyrick in 1925, the year the strip was born and like the strip it came out of Chicago. I could not find a recording of the tune, nor any mention of a record. (A later song, recorded by Coon Sander’s Nighthawks in 1928, with words by Gus Kahn and music by Joe Sanders, is all but a standard of the period still today. It can be heard here on Youtube.)

The sheet music sports a nice photo of Harold Gray. (Creator of Little Orphan Annie and noted that it is a Butler Photo Chicago – no relation, in 1925 my grandfather was just settling in NY as a young man whose name was changed to Butler at Ellis Island, no interest whatsoever in music, photography or Little Orphan Annie.)

In the lower right corner and a small insignia of a pig that proclaims, Oink! Grunts himself in person!) in the upper right, presumably drawn by Gray.

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Grunts the piglet was an early character in the strip. His origin story is found in dailies on March 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14, 1925. He seems to stick around a bit, but as he didn’t ultimately make much of an impression on Kim, I assume the character doesn’t develop beyond a point and wains out of the strip.

Annie and a young Sandy grace the front, banging out said tune (I assume) on the piano, the strange doll character acting as page turner for her. Sandy is singing from his own copy of the music. The back of the music shows Ralph Olson and his Orchestra (A Jack Richardson Unit) plays Little Orphan Annie and other Wyrick Songs. Those other titles (Compositions of Merit) are shown in part there as well.

 

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Any legacy of Ambrose J. Wyrick has been largely purged by time, even on the vast internet of today. Not only could was I unable to find a recording or record of this tune, but barely a tidbit of information on Mr. Wyrick himself. It would seem he was as much performer as musician or publisher and he seemed to have a popular talk (ironically perhaps in retrospect) about music and business which he toured with – the published volume of the talk appears to be available for a sum. Only the poster below could be found, declaring his skill as, Distinguished Composer *Author*Actor*Orator*and Tenor…Attraction Extraordinaire. (This courtesy of the University of Iowa archive.)

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Oddly enough, I was also able to find his autograph for sale with a portrait of him, shown below. On the other side there was an autograph with a photograph reproduction of Preston Bradley, a fellow Chicagoan lecturer and clegyman.

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Today’s tooling around Youtube looking for this I ran into much Annie lore to be considered on its own. There are readings of the poem, Little Orphant Annie, a poem penned in 1885 by James Whitcomb Riley, and thought to be the inspiration on some level for the strip. The poem (which is pretty interesting) and its history can be found on Wikipedia here or one of the Youtube readings of it here – but I suggest the read over the listen myself. Youtube also turns up a truly ancient silent cartoon which is honestly not quite visible – we’ll hope that one day a better print turns up.

Finally, best of all perhaps, Kim turned me onto Chuck McCann (WPIX NY television host) doing Little Orphan Annie, in a dress with white disk eyes and all. An image of that, which speaks for itself, snatched below!

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This sheet music, little gem that it is, will be going up on the wall in a place of honor here at Deitch Studio. I include the music with the somewhat less than memorable lyrics in case anyone is ambitious enough to want to play the tune or is curious about the lyrics. (So keep your grit and fight for your own and soon You’ll find a Home Sweet Home…)

Meanwhile, as above, stay tuned for more Little Orphan Annie to come as I certainly have my eyes peeled.

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Brooklyn Bound

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This morning we will abandon our horrendously messy, currently under renovation apartment and to head to Pratt in Brooklyn for the Comic Arts Brooklyn (CAB) festival. We will be setting up at a table and I will be in my wife-fan mode selling some original art and t-shirts while Kim is signing copies of his new book Reincarnation Stories. (He will be in a conversation with fellow cartoonist Nina Bunjevac later today as well and the past two weeks have been peppered with interesting online communication between them as they prepare.)

We are frankly relieved not to be spending the whole day in our over-flowing, packed to the ceiling with boxes studio apartment! (For those of you who may have missed the earlier installments on the work in our apartment I whined eloquently about it last week in my post which can be found here. The work continues apace and we are now living with the fridge in the living room and using only a hot plate and toaster oven to cook. Slowly you forget that you ever lived without everything jumbled in boxes around you and that you didn’t do dishes in your bathroom sink.) The prospect of two meals out an not made in a toaster oven is cheerful.

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Our apartment earlier this week. Arg!

 

I come from a long line of the mercantile. Irving and Gertie Butler (my paternal grandparents) owned a store, Butler Dry Goods I believe it was called, in Mt. Vernon, New York. My dim memory of it was a store that sold all sorts of bits and pieces, but mostly clothing essentials – underwear, sneakers, and basics, not fashion. My childhood was filled with nylon babydoll nightgowns from the store in the summer and flannel pajamas in the winter. It also supplied us with Danskin mix and match twin sets of stretchy shorts, shirts and pants in bright colors. (When I think of myself or my sister under the age of ten this is what we are wearing. I had a bit of a love hate relationship with these twin sets and was usually jealous thinking my sister’s were better for some reason, but you do a lot of that in general being a younger sister.) I want to say there were some toys in the store, but I do not have a clear memory of that and it seems like I should. (Did I get some of my boxes of Colorforms from there? Bags of plastic cowboys and Indians? I cannot say for sure.)

 

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My mom opened a more contemporary version of that emporium in New Jersey in the 1970’s and called it The Village Store. I remember that better of course and even worked there on occasion. Her version was largely the same sort of practical clothing, but some jewelry and a few other things that came in over the transom. It was on the strip of beach community within walking distance of our house, Sea Bright, near the drawbridge and next to a bar and the post office. (I opined on the town of Sea Bright and Wiseman’s – the kissing cousin of the dry goods store – the paper goods store. It was the cornerstone of the community and I wrote about it in a post that can be found here.)

In addition to my link to these successful sellers in days of old, I have a restaurant and a bar restaurant on the other side of my family. Tending bar, short order cooking, is the same selling skill set really. All this to say, if genes have any say in this process I have the bona fides for chatting and selling.

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A bad photo of an undated photo – cousin Frankie Cittadino as short order cook at the family bar in Long Branch, NJ. 

 

I guess it is fair to think that fundraising is a type of selling so perhaps I have not strayed far from my ancestors. At a minimum it employs a similar skill set. Today I take up the mantel and watch out CAB, I will be manning the sales of all things Kim Deitch. We are picking and packing up our bags now and I’ve got a great t-shirt just for you – see you there!

Renovation: Right in the Thick of It

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I sit today at my computer perch, words fail to describe the renovation chaos we are currently existing within here in our tiny abode. We kicked off the fun with a mandatory window replacement project requiring that the entire contents of the apartment shift to the interior most side and be covered against ages old flying plaster as the windows were taken from their frames. Brawny men used power tools to yank out the old and then sheer strength to bring in the new.

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Kim somehow manages to continue working on some tracing as the windows get yanked out and then replaced. This taken from my spot at the computer – the only choice!

 

Cats spent the day huddled in the bathroom, the barricade buttressed additionally by our mattress and a chair or two. One and done – the windows were done in a day (a few terrible tense hours really) and the army of men moved onto the next apartment. We were number one – the very first in the building – and we are relieved as we watch their march continue through the building – progress pausing for the occasional very rainy or windy day. (If you missed it I posted about the pre-game packing of the apartment in a posts that you can read here and here.)

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Cookie the morning of window removal – deeply uneasy and unsure why.

 

For one thing, I swear I had no idea how much stuff I had managed to cram into our tiny kitchen over the years. I honestly (utterly naively) thought it could be packed in two hours. Man, was I ever wrong! Boxes and boxes (and hours) later I realized that I had held onto dishes that had been given to me decades ago I had utterly forgotten about and that I had utensils (some obscure) that I last used in my professional cooking days – which are now a full two decades behind me.

Some of these (a particular crimper of pie crust comes to mind) were hard to source originally and much beloved in their day, but have remained unused for years now in response to my present pie-making-less life. (Sadly, to a large degree, calorie control means that I exist in a largely pie-free eating state as well.) I am reminded of a life I might have imagined for myself in my twenties – wine decanter and matching glasses anyone? Dessert plates? I will try to cull the herd on the unpacking side. Meanwhile, boxes filled with breakables teeter in piles on one side of our single room apartment.

Acknowledging how hurried the packing really was I now harbor a secret deep concern that I have destroyed our delicate eco-system and will never be able to return us to a normal life. I am reminded of why I waited so long to get this work done, the last real renovation having been done when I moved into this apartment more than twenty years ago now. (Kim and I are hovering on the brink of 25 years since we got together, about two weeks from today, and I moved into this apartment about six months after that.)

While I am not especially picky, peeling linoleum, aging counters, cabinet, and a chronic broken overhead light were demanding attention which seemed impractical to tackle one project at a time. In addition, despite my lack of pastry producing these days, we really do cook in our kitchen pretty much daily. (Unlike some of our fellow storied Manhattan denizens, we do not keep cashmere cardigans in our oven as storage.) Ovens and refrigerators have come and gone over time. However, job changing, helping my parents move followed by Dad’s illness and ultimate decline, have all meant that I have invested no time or energy in the apartment. It has come back to haunt me and I am paying the proverbial piper now.

We are approximately in the middle of the kitchen process – or at least I would like to think so. The stove disappears on Tuesday, as does the water. The fridge will (somehow) find its way into the living room for the duration. (That will be interesting.) I will batten down the remaining hatches and figure out a way to heat coffee and heat the occasional item over the coming week or so. Our devotion to smoothies like to take a hit in the near future as well. (I wrote about smoothies recently, opining on the absence of them when I travel. The post can be found here.) Like our cats, we get disoriented quickly without our routines and our nerves fray rapidly.

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Kitchen dismantled and in progress. The floor is sporting its originally incarnation of linoleum here, recently uncovered.

 

In terms of our cats, Cookie has taken the process especially hard. She is a precise little creature and the ongoing disturbance is really taking a toll. Each night when I come home she and I sit on the couch and she meows the entire story out to me, insisting that I pet her and scratch her ears while she does. She meowed in outright alarm while I packed up the kitchen. I would say she is in a state of high nervousness that only a female house cat can achieve. Meanwhile, her brother Blackie, continues to nap on my spot on the bed, largely unconcerned. I won’t say he is entirely unaffected, but it is remarkable the difference in temperament.

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Blackie curled up in bed, as usual.

 

And yes, for those of you who are Pictorama readers ongoing – all this with Kim’s new book Reincarnation Stories hitting the stands last week! (My two-part review of the new book can be found here and here.) A very nice review came in from NPR (with a shout out to Pam of Pictorama – in addition to the excerpt from the New Yorker online and some other previews. (Always promoting the family business here at Deitch Studio, those links are below.)

Next weekend, despite apartment woes, we will be in Brooklyn where Kim will sign books and have a public conversation with fellow cartoonist Nina Bunjevac. (Comice Arts Brooklyn at Pratt Institute – I think they go on at 5:00. Kim will be signing books and I will set up with some t-shirts and original art work for sale.) Things are hopping here at Deitch Studio all around. Stay tuned for the next installment and wish us luck!

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Cookie this AM on her new favorite perch, two boxes of Reincarnation Stories.

 

Links to some early reviews for Reincarnation Stories:
NPR – Kim Deitch Spins His Yarns

Kitten on the Keys via the New Yorker

The Many Reincarnations of Kim Deitch

Info on the Comic Arts Brooklyn gig

 

 

Reincarnation Stories: A Very Biased Review

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Yesterday I kicked off my thoughts about Reincarnation Stories by taking my readers down the road of my bird’s eye view of how Kim makes his comics. Today I get onto the all important discussion of the new book at hand tackling it both as an uber Deitch fan and, well, a wife.

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Kim did a preview gig for Reincarnation Stories with Bob Sikoryak’s Comics Carousel a few weeks ago and I was surprised to have a good look at some of those pages again and on a screen for the first time. I was also surprised at how visceral my reaction was to remembering the opening scenes where Kim is recovering from his eye surgery. I literally could smell the dreadful hospital smell again and how afraid I was that the surgery wouldn’t work – and how awful it was to watch Kim in the chair, head down for more than a week.

I knew he wasn’t sleeping which also seemed like torture and I felt bad that there were few if any ways I could make him more comfortable. Having said that I pretty much had to help him with everything (a service he repaid more than in full when I had foot surgery a year or so later and was confined to bed for weeks) and our best discovery was that he could watch movies on tv if he was in a certain position and used a small mirror. Reading, surprisingly, was somewhat possible for him but in general it was hard to concentrate. Frankly, it was a miserable time – so odd to have it all rush back. However, as always, it seems he used the time wisely and it was the genesis for this book.

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The chair, which you rent after this eye surgery which, of course, requires assembly upon delivery, is sort of an instrument of torture although a definite necessity. It stank of disinfectant and hospital plastic.

 

Having said that, the glory of the pages was totally fresh to me seeing them on the screen. So many eyeball kicks! So much to look at! The introduction seemed new to me again (despite having lived some of it) and my fan self was immediately sucked in. When I then sat down and opened the book to start reading it again and I am struck by the density. It is satisfyingly thick – a really big dollop of Kim Deitch, unlike any serving of his work I remember receiving in one sitting before. Although I was there for every step of its creation I am struck by this and the fan side of my brain whirs with excitement. The drawings are reproduced at pretty much an ideal scale and this is delightful as well.

I am realizing now that sitting down to write this is in its own way a pretty Herculean task, there is so much and the themes (mortality, the meaning of life and creativity for starters) are so huge. How not to stroll endlessly through – the color section of my toy museum alone could be the subject of a blog post and perhaps will be in the future. (The Felix the Cat potty chair is real folks although I do not own it – and for that a shout out to our friend Mel!) It is the strange actualization of Kim mining my obsessions and personal mythology which is of course pretty amazing for me to see.

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Photo of Felix potty chair as supplied by Mel Birnkrant

 

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This is a delightfully Deitchian color page!

 

The beginning of the book spends a lot of time with a young Kim and while it is obviously a somewhat faux Kim it is sort of wonderful for me to contemplate a kid Kim visiting the monkey diorama (The Shrine of the Monkey Gods being one of my favorite Kim Deitch story titles of all time), discovering the Plot Robot, meeting Jack Hoxie on a family vacation with younger brother Simon and baby Seth. Family lore, real memories (for we all know the general litany of our spouse’s stories and I know where Kim’s fit) and Kim’s persistent personal mythology and vocabulary (silent and early sound cowboy films, traveling carnival shows, biblical apocrypha) mix and meld in these stories.

Meanwhile, almost unconsciously, the book has an undercurrent that persistently carries us gently, but decidedly, along on a tide of certain themes and to an ultimate conclusion. The most prevalent theme is about the place of art and creativity in the universe and the value of putting something good out in the world. The other is about somehow relating to and considering a universe that cares (at least a little) and what our place in that universe is. The Hidden Range story, Jack Hoxie’s own biography and what he took from his somewhat tragic childhood, Young Avatar (Kim striking it rich by putting Jesus his own comic as a super hero in an alternate universe), a young Kim and Spain taking a creative page or two from the Plot Robot in a pinch – these all boil down to a lesson about making a positive contribution in the world. Live right, entertain, contribute – simple but all important goals.

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Detail of a still from The Back Trail which Kim uses in the Appendix. (He adds that this film is available on DVD – in case you are wondering!)

 

Even I was fascinated by the extravagant Appendix as it grew like topsy. That there would be an Appendix was clear early on – that there needed to be an opportunity to provide some real life background on Jack Hoxie and Buck Jones. Their personal histories and mythologies are now faded over time and Kim knew he wanted a place to bring them back to life. However, that it would burgeon into more than forty pages was not immediately evident. (It was even a bit alarming – how long would it stretch on? Um, honey, is this maybe another whole book?) In retrospect, it is not only some of the most entertaining stories in the book (Kitten on the Keys, Who Was Spain?), but it serves to tie it all together.

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Buck Jones and his horse, Silver

 

In looking it over I am undeniably pleased to find my own small contribution at the back – longer than I remember it being, illustrated at the start by Kim. It is my personal reincarnation story – one that has taken frequent turns at dinner parties and other occasions when I am called on randomly to sing for my supper – or when the subject of past lives comes up for some reason. I published that story in this blog while the book was being prepared for publication. You can find that post here if you missed it.

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I will say that I have a somewhat complicated relationship with Waldo which in some ways resolves to a degree in this book, with his granting that my toy museum has its points – perhaps I am not all just a piece of cheese! While I started life as a Waldo fan, I will say living with him is a bit different than just seeing him on the page and as with all having to do with him, perhaps the less said the better. But Kim’s relationship to his maniacal muse balances out the end of the book and in a sense, Waldo’s cynical world view almost gets the last word – without being a spoiler, I will just say Kim snatches it back at the very end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.