Out with the Old!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This year’s holiday card, drawn by me and inked by Kim, is a glimpse into the reality of Deitch Studio – it really looks exactly like this! (Full disclosure, no Christmas tree, not even a small one. There really isn’t a square foot for even the smallest one.) This year’s card is more of a New Year’s one – recognizing the year that has been as we hope to kick it aside in favor of the coming one.

I recently wrote for a Jazz at Lincoln Center member newsletter that 2020 was rare to reflect on a departing year that could be considered universally horrid, but that is what this year has been. Folks have suffered egregious pain and loss from the pandemic, howled with protest in the streets despite it, and went back out into it in order to stand on line for hours to vote. We saw dancing in the street here in Manhattan when the Presidential results were announced, but like all things in 2020, even that has proved to be a torturous and rocky road on the way to resolution.

Much will be written about the year 2020 in the future I think, but for now behind that everyone is still dealing with it and the additional backdrop of everyday struggles which continued apace – one friend reports bedbugs, another has a parent diagnosed with dementia, a third falls and lands in the hospital – and all this in the past week. For many, 2020 is the year that just won’t quit, even as we reach the bitter end. The backlash likely to sweep well into the beginning of the New Year.

There are undeniable bright spots though and commuting by walking ten feet across our studio apartment has been lovely. We joke about it and friends and acquaintances marvel at it, but really, if you have already lived in one room with someone for decades doing it twenty-four hours a day isn’t much different, at least for us. Last March I was deeply tired from too much travel and many late nights at work and I have been enjoying my regular routine and seven hours of sleep nightly – frankly being told I would have to stay home and cancel all upcoming travel was not entirely unwelcome. (Earlier tales of quarantine life at Deitch Studio can be found here.)

The Deitch Studio-Pictorama collaborative holiday card for 2020!

I resumed all cooking duties and we have not only eaten right, but we’ve eaten quite well and my newly restored interest in baking has packed on pandemic pounds which I am now seeking to banish. (It is hard to develop a sense of urgency about it however when my days are generally spent in work out gear from the waist down. Baking posts can be found here and here for starters. I am munching a spice cookie from last week’s cooking adventure as I write this.)

Cheesy olive bread – an early pandemic favorite.

I am fortunate to have a job and also to be able to work from home – Kim has of course always worked here and was the one who had to adjust and make room for me. Workdays have been long, sometimes starting at 6:30 AM and with the evening still finding me at my computer, iPad or phone, but without having to go any place it has allowed me to hone the work down to what is essential and a core fundraising message and method. Talking on the phone almost incessantly is a reality for me and, admittedly with a few bumps along the way, we have found accommodation.

Wynton Marsalis and I are on the phone so frequently that I joke that sometimes it is as if he is a third person in the apartment – asking after him always or shouting a jaunty greeting to Kim as he signs off a call, Kim tossing out the occasional comment when brought into the conversation. Kim now recognizes the sound of each person’s voice, not just on my team, but for the better part of the entire Jazz at Lincoln Center administrative operation. He listens to Susan and I discussing incoming funds and sometimes lack thereof; as Gaby and I working through a litany of media requests; me addressing my staff in meetings and sometimes even the weekly all staff meetings for the organization. Kim never thought he would know so much about how I spend my workday.

The flea market purchase of a Ruth Fielding novel that kicked off my reading of that series.

I think we will remember this year and shiver in remembrance of days and nights of ambulance sirens and deserted streets here, but I know we will also look back on it as a gift of time we never expected to have, tossed into our laps like a rough nugget of gold, waiting for us to figure out how to forge it into something. We have made good use of our time I think – been productive in our work – fundraising as always for me (if more urgently than ever), art as usual for Kim as he plows well into the next book. What downtime we’ve had has been spent reading – Kim finishing the last of the available Little Orphan Annie strips with regret, me working my way through wakeful nights reading escapist juvenile fiction of the early 20th century, Judy Bolton and now well into Ruth Fielding. (A post about my Judy Bolton pandemic days reading can be found here and here, and while a review of Ruth Fielding is in the works, I mention her in my post about the Miss Pat series and it can be found here.)

Early version of the lucky waving cats that adorn my desk.

Our two cats, Cookie and Blackie, have more than adjusted to the change in human habits and all memory of the “before time” has been erased from their respective tiny feline memories. A real ham, Blackie comes running for Zoom calls on camera, meanwhile Cookie sleeps under my laptop which sits on an elevated shelf which Amazon delivered (along with a world of other things) months ago when my back kept going out. She curls up under the warmth of the desk lamps and between the two waving lucky cats (one recently retrieved from my office), cat kissing them occasionally – and then mystically, in the late afternoon, I look up and it is Blackie there instead. (A post about the lucky waving cats can be found here.) The cats are frankly shocked if Kim and I leave the house for any period of time now. We find them waiting anxiously by the front door when we return.

Blackie and Cookie perched on my desk, awaiting dinner recently.

As I write this I am adorned in an ancient black hoodie that is years old, but has seen almost daily wear in recent months. I am wearing a wonderful pair of silky pj’s on the bottom, a recent purchase from the Gap, they are adorned with stars – a weekend luxury to be in them still so late in the morning, although I could live in them I actually make a point of getting fully dressed, as such, for workdays. Admittedly my “hard pants” and office clothes are now mostly providing nests for generations of moths I have not had the energy to deal with. (Moths are my version of the 2020 pestilence story.) I suspect by the time I get back to them I will chuck most of the whole lot anyway.

Blackie takes over the computer one morning.

What does 2021 hold for us and how will we adjust and meet the challenge of finding our way in the next iteration of the world? I think about it often. We have all changed in the crucible of these strange days and I don’t think anyone will emerge from it the same or unscathed. I remind myself that we will emerge from our cocoons at some point (we certainly hope in 2021), and as our new selves step out into the world to be whatever we have become during these long, hard but interesting months. Here we go then, out with the old and in with the New Year!

Felix Match

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This item comes to us via Instagram and a lovely woman named Sandy who is one of the owners of a store in Dallas, Texas called Curiosities (@curiositiesantique or getcuriosities.com) and who reached out with a photo of this great Felix match holder which I had to have, well, immediately. We spoke on the phone and I had tucked a number of other items into my virtual cart before we were done – more on those in the weeks to come. Turns out Sandy is a fan of Kim’s work and follows the comings and goings of life here at Deitch Studio and knew that a piece like this Felix would be catnip to us at Pictorama – and she was right!

Decorated package from Curiosities

These off-model Felix pieces are like primitive art and it is hard to say if they were made from designs, maybe in magazines, or were just simply made items pounded out and sold, capitalizing on Felix’s appeal and flying under the radar of the copyright cops. Years ago I wrote about the East End of London shops which turned out some of my favorite gleefully free-form mohair Felix toys (almost assuredly not licensed) as a way of employing indigent women in the East End of London. (That post can be found here and is a favorite. I wrote about another such homemade piece, shown below, which can be found here.)

Another recent acquisition I wrote about back in August which smacks of being homemade from a blueprint or kit.

Matches played a bigger role in the world in early 20th century life than we may remember today, living now in a world of lighters and probably less of a need for them in general with less cigarette smoking and all. Among my prized possessions are two feline versions of what are known as “match safes” – these designed for keeping your matches dry and handy – and, in a word, safe. I have written posts on those two here and here. (Meanwhile, if you want to be entertained by the story of matches I suggest the 1932 pre-code film The Match King, based on a true story, which takes on the premise of getting rich, one match via manipulation and a monopoly on the match market.)

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

This Felix match holder feels like it was made commercially, if perhaps by a small enterprise. The wood is very light. I like the addition of this fang-y sort of gap tooth grin and the four decorative whiskers. The face looks as though it was sprayed on through a stencil of sorts. He has some wear on him and it would appear someone reached in for many matches over time, wearing the white paint of the cup away almost entirely. The place where he hung from a nail on top, is almost worn through – probably pulled a bit on the nail when matches were taken each time. It is my only hesitation about whether he hangs in the kitchen or remains with the toys in the other room.

Of course this object speaks to the day when stoves were lit with wooden matches every time they were used. The Apartment with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine was on yesterday and I overheard the snippet where he runs up the stairs in a panic because he smells gas and she has turned it on without realizing that it required manual lighting each time. It was a bit old fashioned even when that film was made in 1960, self-lighting gas stoves probably having been introduced into newer models as a safety measure, but older stoves not yet replaced.

While my ancient gas stoves in my first apartments were technically self-lighting, I can assure you that both my apartments in London and my first in New York frequently needed a prompt from a match to get going. In fact the immediate predecessor to my current stove had a pilot light that went out frequently enough that I have a box of wooden matches in the kitchen drawer right now – somehow using a lighter for that task never seemed entirely safe. Even if he hangs in the kitchen I will not tax him with holding onto our matches and it would be nice to bring a jolly touch of Felix into our kitchen.

Collaboration

Pam’s Pictoram Post: Today is something Pictorama readers really have not seen before – a true collaborative moment in Kim’s work between the two of us! While it is true that our holiday card is an annual collaborative effort (this year’s card is sitting half finished on the couch in pencil as I write, for those comics interested readers who are new to Pictorama, last year’s card reveal can be found here). Additionally, one or two of my bits of writing have been illustrated by Kim (see the appendix of Reincarnation Stories, and my own reincarnation tale – or catch it up here), this marks the first time a whole idea of mine has shown up.

The 2019 Holiday card, a collaborative Deitch Studio/Pictorama production.

Taken from Kim’s next book, How I Make Comics, these pages are an actual story of mine, told in my words, but embedded as part of a longer book length story. More or less just how it unfolds in the book, we were together one night at the Q train stop on 57th Street waiting. I was watching the rats frolic on the tracks and pointed them out to Kim. I have a mixed relationship with rats – mostly fear, but also respect for how smart they are and how adaptable.

Fair to say I take the, I’ll stay in my lane and you stay in yours, Mr. Rat, approach to our ongoing, symbiotic life in a big city relationship. Of course, having grown up on the water and beach, water rats were a part of my childhood and I was cautioned about them in a way that added to whatever fear of them I might have developed on my own. Water rats are significantly larger than their city counterparts (at first I thought city rats were large mice when I got here and saw them frolicking among the garbage pails on an alley), and our story is not about them today – although I may also have a water rat story lurking in me somewhere too.

Anyway, the real life story, which is largely accurately reflected in the book (although it takes you down the usual Deitch rabbit hole shortly after), is that I went to work the next morning, got off as usual at 57th Street and found myself reflecting on the subway rats again as I walked to my office. This story evolved quickly in my mind on that short walk and I shared it with Kim the next morning. (My early morning routine of coffee, paper reading, Kim working and our talking as well as my commute – back in the before world when I had one – has been expounded upon here. In addition, for comics fans, Kim’s process was thoroughly examined by me after the release of his most recent book, Reincarnation Stories, and that post can be found here. That post is a real companion piece to this one and if you haven’t read it and find this of interest, now would be a splendid time.)

As it would happen, it is a story of rat reincarnation. I will confide that Kim has frequented told tales of his friend since childhood, Tony Eastman, who kept rats as pets at one time and what excellent pets they made – smart and likable. (A special memorial nod to Tony who to our great sadness died very recently.) The downside of this ratty relationship is that rodents cycle through their lives at a very fast pace. Now, on one hand, if they didn’t the human race would rapidly be overtaken by them with their prodigious reproduction and cunning survival instincts. On the other hand, as Kim points out, it makes it a bit sad to become attached to them as pets. Just as you get attached, they die. I was thinking of that when this story came to mind.

Preview of How I Make Comics, by Kim Deitch. Copyright, Kim Deitch.

As a student of reincarnation, I got to thinking – you have the sort of classic prisoner in a cell with only a rat who he befriends. Sadly, the rat dies – as rats and I guess we all do – and he is bereft, hesitant to invest his affections in the next one that comes along, yet finally he does. Ultimately that one, and the next one, die as well, but slowly his affection and time invested in teaching the rats is rewarded by increasingly smart generations of rats because in fact it is the same rat, reincarnated. They are gaming the evolutionary and karmic wheel by cycling through rat lives with dispatch. Eventually, the rats surpass him on the wheel of reincarnation and when he ultimately dies, he becomes an elevated rat, now under their tutelage.

Preview of How I Make Comics, by Kim Deitch. Copyright, Kim Deitch.

It struck me as a particularly Deitchenian story so I shared it with Kim the next day. Although intrigued, at first he was reluctant to do another reincarnation story, but then it took root in his imagination and to my surprise he decided not only to use it, but to use it as I wrote it out – and here are two pages from it, for your preview pleasure!

There we have it – a rare view into the inner workings of Deitch Studio. As Kim just reminded me, I have to some degree, in his words, been back-fielding on his work for years – I had forgotten that the title of Reincarnation Stories was my idea. I have always approached this thoughtfully though. After all, as Kim Deitch’s biggest fan, I had no desire to change anything – to damage it unintentionally with my influence. However, years spent together, living a largely Deitchian world existence in this one-room apartment, was bound to have an influence. And today, for the space of a post, we pull back the creative curtain for the speculation and erudition of Pictorama readers.

Postal Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s post comes with thanks via Christina Valenza, a west coast Facebook friend of Deitch Studio. I am sorry to say it had disappeared into a nook with a cache of photos and was just rediscovered as I was pushing cats and photos aside to make a desk for myself to use during the course of our current captivity. It found its way to Deitch Studio from Oakland, California last year and while I usually don’t find contemporary cards of interest I do love the documentation of this artwork.

As you can see, someone has painted a cheeky tongue out Felix on the side of one of those boxes that the post office uses to hold the mail on the street. I don’t claim to really understand that process – actually I should ask Kim as he did a brief stint with the post office in the East Village in his youth. This one is a rusty brown – they are generally army green in New York City. What I really like about it is that he is an old style toothy Felix and reminds me of the early dolls of the 1920’s.

The photo is identified as having been taken by Albert L. Morse in 1971. Christina Valenza has a book of his photos available here. It appears that Mr. Morse was an attorney in the Bay Area, as well as being a self-taught photographer. A young Albert was given a camera by his father and started taking photos at the age of 12 and as an adult he took it upon himself to document that early ’70’s comics scene. Below is a page of photos which includes a sort of mug shot-ish one of Kim and a less than flattering one of Simon on the end of the top row.

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Albert Morse acted in a legal capacity on behalf of numerous cartoonists in the greater Bay Area in the 1970’s. According to Kim, if you asked a favor of Morse he would ask you to do a page for his anthology Morse’s Funnies, shown below with a Crumb cover. Kim tells me that there is an interesting Simon Deitch page within, but that he never did a page for him because (imagine Kim here, deadpan) he never asked him for a favor.

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Without getting too specific or colorful, suffice it to say that Kim was not a fan of Mr. Morse (who it appears died in 2006) as he feels that Morse took advantage of some of his comics colleagues. Enough said, just in case some of the litigious relatives of Morse roam the internet today.

So with thanks to Christine and apologies for the long wait for a Pictorama nod. Wowza! I thought I was going to spend the morning on Felix, but instead was taken down an entirely different tributary of Kim’s life, long before me.

Stuck on Felix

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: My guess is that many of us have had the odd sticker, card or bit of stationary which has somehow and for a truly unknown reason survived, unused, year in and out until a decade or more has passed and somehow, despite relocation of home and hearth, and perhaps amongst the loss and damage of more meaningful things, certain items seem to persist unscathed. It is some strange law of averages it seems. However, most of these such items cannot, yet anyway, lay claim to being almost 100 years old like I suspect these Felix the cat stickers of being. While many (most) of the items I collect share a similar history, few are as ephemeral.

This pair of tiny stickers (just a few inches each) traveled to me from Australia, found on ebay earlier this year. In design, they are very similar to a series of series of British chocolate cards, although sketchier. I wrote about my small accumulation of those in my post, Chocolate Felix (It can be found here. I also have a some chocolate cards featuring Felix from Spain and a post about those can be seen here.)

 

It isn’t the same hand making the art, but a reasonably close fellow traveler in Felix forging I would say. Felix is with his girlfriend, Kitty, here or as I tend to think of her, the White Cat. I have never warmed to Kitty. It isn’t unprecedented that they are a carton or comics couple which appear to be different species of cartoon cat-to-cat with strange proportional difference, but it annoys my aesthetic sensibility. Create a world image and stick with it dammit, I say!

Wikipedia says that Kitty’s first appearance is in 1919’s Feline Follies and she is prominent on the Felix tea set of the day as well. I own one plate, shown below, but the same image appears on all. I wrote about it in a very early post back in 2015 which can be found here.

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Felix Keep on Walking plate, Pams-Pictorama.com

 

This illustrates that it isn’t just Kitty – the dog is also rendered realistically. It appears that Felix exists as an outlier even in his own world, the odd cartoon mouse notwithstanding.

For those of you who don’t have a mirror handy, shows Kitty, the siren kitty waving and her come hither remark is, You needn’t be shy with me Felix. The second one offers him very good advice, If you can’t be good Felix – be careful! Indeed!

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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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the Pale

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Earlier this week a friend and former Met colleague, Melinda Watt, one who I miss since she relocated to Chicago a few years ago, tagged me in an Instagram challenge to post seven book covers over as many days without comment. Since I Instagram frequently and inhabit both an apartment and office surrounded by books I figured what the heck. I started with what I was reading (a Judy Bolton juvenile mystery, but more about those guilty pleasures another time) and then pulled the next book off of the pile next to the bed, The Motor Boys on the Border.

Then I started going off the rails a bit – the no comment piece was sort of nagging at me. As you probably know if you are reading this, I am chatty by nature and as I posted The Heroine or the Horse, Leading Ladies of Republic Films on day 3 I felt a vague annoyance at not telling the story of how I had found it for sale on the street in front of Argosy Books several days earlier while running around for work, and snatched it up for Kim – and that by coincidence we had watched several Republic films over the following weekend. (Clearly vital information.) However, I did enjoy the commentary by folks on the post and snuck my snippet of a story in via the comments.

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So the next day I decided I would post Alias the Cat. While I could easily write volumes about the place this book has in my heart and life, I also felt that as book covers go which could speak for themselves it was an excellent choice, and not to mention that it is always a fine idea to promote the family product here at Deitch Studio. I posted it and I thank Instagram compatriots for all their nice comments and continued generous likes.

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The much beloved Alias the Cat where I step out as a character!

 

Earlier yesterday I also posted the sad news that Leslie Sternbergh Alexander died. I didn’t know Leslie and her husband Adam especially well, but over the course of more than a decade of openings and parties we were a part of each other’s world for many years. We first met over the duration of a seven year stint of my dating Kevin, Art Director for Screw magazine and comics fan who pre-dated Kim in my life, but I saw more of Adam and Lesley after Kim and I got together. They were fixtures at a certain kind of gathering and the premature passing of the second of them is mournful for the comics community. Leslie was a gifted artist whose work I felt like I never saw quite enough of, but who seemed to inhabit a life that was really her art. Yesterday Kim shared a story with me I hadn’t heard about how they had denied him my phone number when he heard that Kevin and I broke up. This was a bit of a running joke as no one in the comics community would give up my number until our friend Carol Lay jumped ranks and provided it. I hadn’t realized they were among the withholders.

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Leslie, on left, and Adam

 

For this reason, over the last 24 hours my mind has been dwelling on the early and mid-90’s – people and parties and how it all ultimately took my life on a course I couldn’t have foreseen. When I woke up this morning and I had a look at Instagram and thought about books again, Beyond the Pale came to mind. So in complete defiance of the no comment rule of the Instagram challenge, I bring you the tale today.

Back in about 1990 I was wandering around in a bookstore I used to frequent on Madison Avenue in the 70’s, Books and Co., which was a delightful way to spend an afternoon. (This bookstore, memorialized in various films as the prototypical bookstore, is still missed today by those who knew it. I was a tad intimidated by it and rarely went upstairs as a result. However its disappearance left a hole that I occasionally poke at – like a missing tooth.) As I was perpetually broke at the time, my purchases were spare but the enjoyment of the selection process was a pleasure to be savored. One day I found several copies of Beyond the Pale remaindered and I purchased one for $2. What to say about a $2 that changes the course of your entire life?

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Books & Co. as I remember it. This image snatched off the internet.

 

My then boyfriend Kevin had introduced me to the world of underground comics. I can’t say I was an especially astute student. Mostly I either found the art interesting or, less often the writing, but virtually never both. There were exceptions – Art Spiegelman’s Maus for one, a few other things. Suffice it to say however, I wasn’t getting it. However, as a devoted girlfriend I continued to try as Kevin was utterly devoted to them and found them endlessly fascinating.

Beyond the Pale, an early anthology of Kim’s work published by Fantagraphics, was different and I saw that immediately. I loved the art and how there always seemed to be something new in it each panel every time I looked – the stories took me happily down a rabbit hole of one kind or another, sometimes unsure where reality left off and fantasy started. The drawings were a visual aesthetic that rang a bell deep in my brain and the stories told of a fascinating world just outside of view, one I realized I had always wanted to visit. I took it home and devoured it. Reincarnated potatoes! Clowns, Big Billy Goat, chess playing marvels – tales of the asylum where Kim once worked, and of course early cartoons! This was where I wanted to live!

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Fold-out page from Beyond the Pale

 

I finally understood the appeal of this graphic form marrying the visual and the written – I got it. I went back and bought the remaining copies (two as I remember) and gave one away and kept the other until it too was eventually given away. I began raiding Kevin’s collections for snippets of Kim Deitch work. It was never quite as gratifying as the deep dive of an entire book, but Kim is prolific, Kevin’s library was pretty complete, and my ferreting paid off over time.

I was an official Deitch fan by the time I met Kim in person at an exhibit Art Spiegelman was having at a gallery on 57th Street a few years later. It was an evening with the comics crowd in full regalia. However I only remember meeting Kim and his brother Simon, and finally putting a face and person with the comics I liked so much. They were living in Westchester at the time and as a result were not all that frequently present at these Manhattan openings and parties. I liked talking to him though (he was as interesting in person although somewhat laconic – I was afraid of Simon) and in a compulsive way which is part of my nature, I began to look for him at each gathering, considering it a bit of an event if I saw him and spoke to him. The full progression from fan-girl to girlfriend and then later wife will require additional posts – it was a progression that took a number of years and a few turns before that happened. I now happily inhabit an entirely Deitchian world and there is no place I would rather be.

So today I take a moment consider this particular volume and how that $2 investment  took me down a path that I could not have possibly foreseen at the time – which is after all the way life is wonderful. Meanwhile, with this very long post, I have certainly subverted the Instagram challenge with its cover only pretensions.

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My copy of Beyond the Pale, with the original $2 price on the inside cover.