All Wet: Oil Paint and Beatifica Somnambula

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I write on this (chilly) October morning I have a large standing plastic Santa and suitcases wedged behind me, piles of dry cleaning around me, and a mini mountain of off-season clothing tucked into plastic bins within view. These bins are of course filled with clothing that, due to the pandemic and not traveling into the office – or even seeing much of anyone – I haven’t touched in two seasons. I did have a moment of thinking I should just get rid of all of it.

It should be noted that this tower of tubs is so beloved by Cookie, who now spends her day lounging on top of them, lording it over everyone else in the apartment how high up she is, that I have decided that when this is all over I need to buy her a tall cat tree. I dislike them and we have so little space, but it makes her excessively happy.

Cookie on an earlier and somewhat shorter incarnation of the clothing tubs, during initial drying.

When I left Pictorama readers last week we were drying out Kim’s notes on our visit to the whorehouse museum in Butte, Montana by spreading them across our one room studio apartment. (That post about our trip to Butte and the story that came out of it can be found here. The beginning of this three part tale can be found here.) I failed to mention that, in addition to the clothes that were destroyed by the storm, the rest were damp from having sat in the water filled basement – so those also were spread out here and the combination giving the apartment a distinct musty smell. I bleached cleaned the locker and the objects that encountered the water and I thought I was done. However, a few days later the building required that everything be removed from the basement for the duration of “several weeks” while they put in new dry wall, paint, etc. And so we find ourselves more crammed than usual.

Ida also forced the hand of two leaks in our ceiling and we have the delight of spending the coming week intimately acquainted with workmen tearing out these sections of ceiling and making repairs. Sometimes I marvel at how much can really go on in our 600 square feet. I laugh when I look at tiny houses and think they have nothing on us here on 86th Street in Manhattan. Anyway, an industrial dehumidifier is on loan from the super and runs day and night. At first I was dumping gallons of water daily. It seems to be doing its job, decreasing amounts of water are disposed of twice a day, and it will disappear with the ceiling repairs. (Blackie loves the dehumidifier, Cookie hates it. It is loud.)

Cookie, the Queen of Everything, enjoying her perch atop of the containers.

I am very aware that although annoying, our damages are nominal compare to that of others suffering from this and other recent storms. However, this apartment which is perched at the very top of an aging white brick building, which was erected in 1960, seems to attract leaking and flooding and pipe issues which we fight, repair and hold at bay ongoing. This is merely another in a long line of repairs, all of which we tell ourselves must be the ultimate one.

Still and all, as I pointed out last week, part of becoming intimate with the basement relegated possessions has had a silver lining. For me, it came in the form of a long forgotten oil painting. It is mine and by this I mean I painted it. I have shed much if not most of my artwork aside from my photographs which are tucked into boxes. However, a few favorite paintings are tucked under the bed and this one was in the basement. It is largely unscathed by the experience although I have cleaned it up a bit after its probably decades long sojourn in the basement.

I have painted since childhood. I learned to use oil paint in high school and I knew I had found my medium in paint. I love the smell, the texture, the colors and really just about everything associated with it. The stink of the paint, turpentine and linseed oil immediately relaxes me and takes my mind elsewhere, even if I just catch a whiff as I walk past the Art Student’s League on my way to work. I have also always drawn and I began life and figure drawing also in high school. In college and beyond this slowly morphed into a long series of self-portraits. This is one of the last I did, back in the apartment prior to this one where I had space to paint, and it shows me in bed with my beloved cat Otto who frequently slept on my pillow in that fashion. My other cat Zippy on top of me. I don’t smoke (never have) so the cigarette is just an addition to the composition.

Rare extant oil painting by yours truly.

Lack of space when making the move to this apartment meant that painting eventually gave way to photography – early process photography including daguerreotypes and platinum prints. But, as they say, that is another story.

I find that I have enjoyed looking at this painting, currently propped up against some boxes by the front door. One day Kim suggested, out of the blue, that we hang it. Funny, I had been thinking the same thing. Some rearranging of photos to be done, but we think we found a spot for it where a wooden mask from Bhutan currently resides.

Meanwhile, even before the contents of the locker migrated up to the apartment, one day Kim wandered out of the apartment and downstairs where he retrieved an entire box devoted to story boards for a film of one of his stories that was never made. It is dated 1983 and I share the first few pages here. It is made up of a compilation of a number of stories that appeared in various publications over the years (I remember one reprinted in his compilation Beyond the Pale, one about a potato headed boy) with the goal of tying them together into a Deitch flavored film.

This was in conjunction with Brian Yuzna, of sci-fi and horror film fame, during a fabled stint in North Carolina, in the pre-Pam days of yore when Kim lead a somewhat nomadic life down South, dotted with intervals in Los Angeles. It seems to have reached a zenith with Brian turning his hand to his film Re-Animator (Kim makes a small appearance at the end) and somehow Beatifica Somnambula never being finished. However, Kim regaled me with stories about props that were constructed, giant fiberglass potato head and others.

Kim Deitch story board from Beatifica Somnambula.
Kim Deitch story board from Beatifica Somnambula.
Kim Deitch story board from Beatifica Somnambula.

Oddly Kim had been mulling over a bit of business from this odyssey for a future story – not the upcoming book, but the one after that – so the rediscovery and chance to paw through the box of story boards was especially welcomed. I won’t spoil any future story surprises, but when you eventually read Tales of the Midnight Demon think of this post.

I guess all this to say that creatively what is made is never completely lost. I am mulling how in a small way I might start painting again, although paint covered cat paws immediately come to mind. While I will be (very) relieved to have our storage restored to us and maybe have the apartment back to a semblance of normal before Thanksgiving, I think I will bring Santa upstairs this year. Maybe instead of a Christmas tree, we’ll get that cat condo and decorate it this year.

All Wet: the Story Continues

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today as promised, is a more Deitchian day than yesterday’s launch of this tale. I left yesterday’s readers hanging a bit at the point where, after Hurricane Ida, we found out that we had several feet of water in the basement of our high rise building in Manhattan, a basement where for decades we have kept a storage locker which (to some degree) alleviates life in a 600 square foot studio apartment. Hurricane Ida hit New York on a Wednesday night and Thursday dawned sunny.

Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain, the day after the storm.

We were banned from the basement which remained flooded, but the elevators made a cautious return online in the morning and I took a run and surveyed Carl Schurz Park and the East River Esplanade. Aside from several feet of water remaining in some of the lower spots, the park was okay and a clean up of broken branches and opening of storm drains was underway. The actual Esplanade, along the water, was washed clean by the rain and river water and to my surprise no detritus remained. Such flooding where I grew up resulted in everything from garbage to fish washed ashore. (Boats broken free of their moorings and would be found high and dry would await neighbors claiming them and even a mattress had to be removed from the yard after Hurricane Sandy.)

Since Kim and I were on the last leg of our vacation we had decided to head over to Dizzy’s, Isaiah Thompson was playing in a quartet of recent Juilliard grads I know from work and it was Kim’s first time back at the club since our recent reopening about ten days before. We walked across Central Park and skirted some areas that remained flooded, including Bethesda Fountain. As we walked a thought occurred to me and I asked Kim pseudo-casually, “So, um, were your notes for the Butte, Montana Details magazine story in the basement locker?” Kim said no, he didn’t think so. I thought otherwise, but nothing we could do about it right now.

The set was great that night and the waiter who knew me well from my many nights at Dizzy’s was happy to see me and Dizzy’s was starting to feel like home again. At the end of the evening I came back to the table to find him and Kim talking with Kim regaling him with the story of our trip to Butte. (Kim still sports a straw cowboy hat from a K-Mart in Butte and he was wearing it that night.) Somehow Butte, Montana was in the air. (I wrote about that trip to Dizzy’s and our vacation here.)

Carl Schurz Park the day after as well.

It was late Friday afternoon before we were allowed our first go at our locker. Puddles were still all around and an industrial fan was blowing. A cough of water spilled out when we opened the doors of the locker and a sort of river smell was everywhere. When we say water we use the term lightly because in addition to water from the East River and rain run off in New York City you are also being treated to sewerage.

The winter coats had gotten some of the worst of it, one was already molding which I threw out. The others I would ask the dry cleaner if he would attempt to clean them. (Of course they were up to their ears in bags of clothing from my neighbors when I got there.) He agreed and a few bags of wet clothes that seemed like they might stand a chance went over to them, luckily just a few doors down from our building.

An industrial juicer, some old editing equipment and the remains of a lightbox of Kim’s were trash. A light-up standing Santa, a tree star and some other holiday decorations seemed largely intact. By this time reports of deaths across the tri-state area had already begun to pile up (they were to top out around 24) and being in our basement, with a watermark about four feet high brought home the horror that it must have been for people trapped. This made us philosophical, but far from cheerful, as we tied up bags of clothing that would not recover and piled up other soaked possessions alongside our neighbor’s for the trash.

The intended splash panel of what would have been a 4 or 5 page story..

Then there it was, a folder, now soaked, with Kim’s notes and photos from a trip to Butte, Montana to cover a story about a whorehouse museum which was closing there – one of the longest running whorehouses in the country, the Dumas Brothel, and also the last standing example of a whorehouse architecture imported from Amsterdam, way back in the 1890 (or so) when it was built and opened. We had made the trip back in about 2000 when Kim was hot off of two articles he’d written and illustrated for publications in Details magazine. These were, for lack of a better term, comics-journalism – a story for the magazine researched, written and illustrated as comics. The first was his visit to death row and about the execution of Ronald Fitzgerald. (Republished in the 2006 Best American Comics, this is the best way of seeing it now.) Kim’s story of visiting Fitzgerald and getting to know him, his story and family before attending his execution, had been well received by the magazine.

The result was the opportunity to pitch another assignment which turned out to be a story idea credited to my dad who had been talking about an early computer virus named Melissa in tribute to a stripper the engineer of the virus had known in Florida. That story was a fairly light-hearted romp through the stripper community of Florida with strippers who went by the name Melissa calling us at all hours of the night for weeks ongoing.

A choice page from the roughs for the Butte, Montana story.

As Kim’s then girlfriend (now wife) I knew one thing and that was if the next story was going to be strippers I was going along for the ride this time so we purchased a ticket for me to Butte and off we went.

Norma Jean Almadovar in front of the Dumas Brothel Museum.

The basis of the story was that sex workers rights activist (and former prostitute) Norma Jean Almodovar was helping to spearhead an effort to save and restore this nascent whorehouse museum, much to the displeasure of this down at the heels city which seemed just as glad to ignore or bury this particular chapter of their history. For better or worse, Norma Jean’s idea was to re-route some of the biker traffic heading to Sturgis for their summer rally for an evening outdoor concert to raise money for the museum. It was hard for me to keep my fundraising hat off when we arrived just in time for a meeting about how this would roll out. I always say about fundraising, especially around events, don’t try this at home, it is harder than it looks and you can easily lose more than you can make. Which, long story short, is pretty much what happened.

We toured the actual building which was fascinating. Based on the brothel buildings of Amsterdam, it was three floors (and a basement) around a skylight atrium. Each room had a sort of “display” window where the woman would advertise her wares and the cribs were somewhat larger and had more light with each floor. Newbies would start in the basement cribs (dark and claustrophobic, complete with tunnels to downtown so that one could transverse in bad weather, but perhaps also without being seen entering and leaving the establishment) and work their way up. The had been a robbery recently and some of the artifacts of the museum had disappeared, but in reality the actual structure was what was fascinating.

Some of the main concepts for the reconsidered Butte article.

While there we met interesting long time residents for background on Butte, including a doctor a waitress told us about, out on the edge of town. He’d treated miners back in the day and was retired now. We visited a guy who was known as the Santa Claus of Walkerville (a nearby suburb) who gathered toys throughout the year for needy children. (I had my photo taken with him which sadly I cannot locate for you right now.) Despite the summer heat he happily put on one of his Santa suits for the photo. We also met some folks holding a tent revival meeting in opposition to the whorehouse museum and frankly they also seemed like really nice people too.

The edges of Butte end abruptly into mountains and wilderness, almost like a cartoon town in the desert. Butte had (has?) a mall strip highway of big box stores and restaurants, but the original downtown with its buildings pristinely intact also remained. Among the surviving original businesses were a few bars and a Chinese restaurant where we ate one night. Much like the brothel (a few blocks away) the restaurant was said to have tunnels under it to other parts of town. Inside the restaurant each table was its own private booth which would have had curtains over the open side, affording privacy which would have allowed other activity within. (The New York Times just published a very charming article on this restaurant which can be found here.)

Bikers congregating as part of the Dumas Brothel rally.

Our trip ended with engaging with some of the bikers in a bar while trying to get our hands around this rally and directions for getting there. I have a license but don’t drive although I did on this trip. We had an SUV and all I can say is that it was a good thing that for most of the driving I had plenty of open space around me. However, I did park the car at the rally on the grass as directed and got it stuck – it was a kindly biker who got behind the wheel and got us out.

Frankly they were all giving Kim a sort of sideways look and I was trying to do the helpless girl thing. (Kim was wearing an old shirt that belonged to a long deceased relative which had drawings of dogs on it and just when I thought we were cooked one of the bikers exclaimed that he LOVED THAT SHIRT and that he had greyhound rescues of his own.)

To cut to the chase – almost no one showed up at the concert/rally and they lost their shirts as predicted. Kim could see the story slipping away and by the time we were back he was ready to pitch a story with a lot of heart that addressed Butte’s history and remaining spirit and unique qualities. Details (sporting a new editor, soon to be replaced by yet another), wanted more of an ironic hatchet job and when Kim demurred the story was killed. The notes assembled and found their way, along with the photos and roughs, to a folder in our basement where they were now wet, but luckily we had gotten there in time and by placing them all around our apartment (along with the surviving damp but not entirely wet clothing from numerous bins where I store the off-season clothing). The notes, roughs and photos dried out fairly quickly. Further into the locker excavation we found the much more finished roughs I am sharing here – luckily those had been tucked onto a shelf at the top.

What else came out of the locker? More to come on that in my final installment, with more Deitchian discoveries and other artifacts next week.

Felix Sings Love Songs

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s postcard post begins with the last in a recent buy of postcards, which is only wave one as more are on the way. While I do not collect deeply in this illustrated postcard series produced in Great Britain, once in awhile one appeals and I grab it up if it isn’t too expensive. I have written about them once or twice before and one of those posts can be found here. Meanwhile, although the card I share today was evidently sanctioned and copyrighted, they produced the line below was perhaps rogue.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

As far as I can find these cards are referred to as the Milton Series and/or Bamforth cards. Milton series, although part of a handful of auction listings, doesn’t bring much info on Google, but Bamforth was a company started in 1870 by a portrait photographer, James Bamforth, in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire. They morphed first into lantern slides and ultimately into early short films with a character named Winky as their best known. However, Bamforth is now best known for an almost endless line of saucy seaside cards in the words of Wikipedia. This card #4924 for those who knows what that means and the only copyright on the card is for Pat Sullivan.

Not part of the Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

This card was mailed and the Great Yarmouth cancellation is hard to read, but I believe it is for 11 AM on an illegible day in 1928. The inscription in pencil says, Dear Hilda, Having fine time and weather Frank. It was mailed to Miss H. Chiletsworth, c/o Mrs. Harrison, 38 DeLaune Street, Kennington, London.

A lousy swipe from Google Maps, but I always check addresses and this is a rare occasion when the house is likely still the one the card was addressed and mailed to.

Felix is looking with sincerity at the viewer as he serenades us with his tune of nine lives. Sadly the title of the songbook is incomplete clutched in his hand, but I like the sort of watercolor wash coloring the fence and especially his toothy grin, pointy ears and whiskers. He is a jolly Felix songster.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

While researching the origin of cat’s having nine lives I found this nifty reference to Shakespeare, from Romeo and Juliet, A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays and for the last three he stays. Also in Romeo and Juliet, in Act 3 Scene 1, Tybalt asks, What wouldst thou have with me? and Mercutio replies, Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives.

The site also suggests that the idea of nine lives goes back to the Egyptians and something about the sun god Ra taking the form of the Great Tom Cat during his visit to the underworld, engendered eight other gods and hence 9 lives in one. (See the Litter-Robot.com blog site for references! Also a plea to my brother Edward to supply any detail of interest here as this is his area of expertise.) They also outline that some cultures have different numbers of lives they suggest – such as seven in Spanish speaking cultures and six in Arabic legend.

Of course nine lives could also refer to reincarnation. I have just turned to Kim to be reminded if there was a cat reincarnation story in his most recent book, Reincarnation Stories. (Ah yes, I am a good wife and I have written about it here and here.) There is not, but I will say, there is one starting to scratch at my brain so hold that thought and see if maybe that is part of a future Kim Deitch project.

Felix Frolic

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: My collection of folks posing with Felix grows at a rate which I have no control over. My search for them is constant, but they turn up at their own pace. Sometimes several appear in a short time, other times it might be a year. I was writing about them just a week or so ago in passing and realized that I had not purchased one in awhile – and as if by request this one turned up. It always pleases me very much when a new one finds its way to me.

Like many of these photo postcards, this one turned up in Great Britain. (The others hail from Australia and New Zealand – seems American born Felix only posed in those countries in the guise of a giant stuffed doll.) The Felix in this one is interesting and looks unlike the critters in the other photos I have.

What I would call a regulation, life-sized Felix doll for picture posing! Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Instead he is a bit pint-sized and reminds me more of a specific kind of small stuffed ones in my collection. I have dusted off this little guy below who is on my shelf and bears are fairly interesting resemblance to the Felix in the photo.) While I have some ideas about it I have never definitively labeled which sort of Felix came from where, but they do fall into categories and this sort of tri-pod stance is one of them. He is vaguely off-model (these large dolls are for the most part), has many nice whiskers, and he is the right height to look engagingly right at this little fellow who is largely ignoring the whole process. Felix even appears to be holding an arm (paw?) out to him in greeting.

Similar design of Felix in the Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

As best as I can figure it out, no one company was churning out these large photo op Felix-es anymore than any single one was making the stuffed ones I collect. The majority fall into a generally similar appearance, and by that I mean the almost human sized ones which even an adult can sling an arm around. However, over time I have seen a number of much smaller models – and of course there were a number of large wooden ones for the photographer who decided to go that route. (I would happily acquire either a “life-sized” large Felix or a wooden one – should any readers come across them. I especially ask you readers in Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand to keep an eye out!)

The wooden cut-out variety. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

This beach-y area is typical of where you might get such an opportunity to pose with Felix for a postcard. This card came to me from Rowland’s Castle but there is no indication of the original resort town it was taken in. Behind this little fellow is a baby carriage and some other children which makes me think this was a kid’s area of some sort at the water. There are some wooden stands, presumably vendors of one kind or another.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

This tyke sports a pretty nifty cap and knitted outfit of his day. He looks remarkably unimpressed with Felix or having his photo taken, but is stopping short of outright rebellion.

Like most of these cards, this one is unmarked and never sent, but was instead a treasured family photo which has found its way to me here at Pictorama.

Hankering for Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Buckle up for a very, very Felix day. For new readers a chance to catch up on part of my collection dedicated to the early representations of the famous animated cat and for dedicated readers some highlights of the past along the way.

I don’t think it would surprise long-standing Pictorama readers when I state that I look at a lot of Felix items and generally have a sense of what is available. Therefore when I come across something I have never seen before I’m pretty sure it is indeed unusual indeed. If I am unable to acquire it I more or less assume I will likely never see it again – we do find there are exceptions. However, it was in this spirit that I must have broken my own rule (one that I generally only write about objects and photos in my own collection), when I wrote a post on a Felix handkerchief that I lost at auction back in November of 2018. (They are shown in a slide show below – these are sadly of course not in my collection.)

I paired the post with another on some handkerchiefs that belonged to my Dad which I carry in my purse, or did in the before time when I carried a handbag daily. (Those two kerchief dedicated posts can be found here and here. Strangely my forays outside, limited that they are, seem to mostly take place with a credit card tucked in the back of my phone now, unless I am required to provide my own shopping bags at the store. No one seems to want cash these days.)

Therefore, much to my surprise, I was able to score this single, but rather wonderful item which I share with you today. Unlike the frolicking, mouse chasing Felix in the earlier post, my hanky shows Felix deep in thought, doing his famous Felix walk. What I think of as Felix’s I’m thinking walk, has its origin in the earliest Felix silent cartoons and was his signature pose -for some reason I always think of Einstein when I see it. Felix knew how to strike a pose and there is also a sort of Ah ha! pose that frequently follows the walking and thinking. (And of course there are the wonderful things he does by disengaging his tail and using it for various purposes. We’ll perhaps discuss that another time given the opportunity.)

Felix sheet music from Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

The then very popular phrase Felix Kept on Walking has its roots in this famed animated walk. (Although it also came to have a slightly racier meaning – as depicted on the plate below.) The Felix walk was celebrated in song, sheet music, song of the same name is shown below, but also in pins and other ephemera in the early collectible period. (An instrumental version of the tune can be found here, but in some ways for the full experience of the novelty tune you need the vocals which can be heard here. Or you can just chuckle over the lyrics here.) Some of the stuffed dolls from the 1920’s have Felix with a hump on his back and I have wondered if somehow it didn’t tie out to the bent over walk in deep thought, hands behind his back.

Felix Keep on Walking plate, Pams-Pictorama.com

Kim believes Buster Keaton satirized a few minutes of the Felix walk in Go West, 1925. An animated Charlie Chaplin, who obviously had his own trademark walk, does the Felix walk in the rather splendid Felix cartoon, Felix Goes to Hollywood. (It can be found on Youtube here. All these external links only good at the time of writing – they tend to come and go, especially the Youtube ones.) The Felix walk was known by all, a popular culture icon of the day. And, despite numerous redesigns over the decades, some remnant of the deep in thought walk stays with Felix right on up to the newer cartoons I watched as a child in the 1960’s.

Felix Lucky Bucks cut-out. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.
Pams-Pictorama.com Collection. Felix making clever use of his tail.

The handkerchief I acquired is small as seen here, definitely child-sized, and not quite as white as the image appeared in the photo provided. No matter about the condition of course and what to expect of such a fragile item which is rounding 100 years in existence. Hard to imagine a time when small children were encouraged to carry a hanky – and perhaps the lure of Felix helped keep them from losing it? I especially like the thought marks emanating from his head.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

This handkerchief, like so many other fascinating early Felix items, hails from Britain. The embroidery is fairly small and concise. I don’t know much about embroidery but my guess is that it is hand done, but probably by an adult. Although I have not seen the evidence, I assume there were some sort of kit or template you could acquire. I wrote about an embroidered apron, also lost at auction, which must have similar root. The Felix apron post can be found here, also a 2018 post. It was called Breaking the Rules and I would be perfectly happy to have another shot at purchasing it too!

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

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.)

Pams-Pictorama.com collection
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.

lf-1.jpg

 

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.

lf.jpg

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.

unnamed-11

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!