Pam’s Pictorama Post: It’s an overcast Saturday morning here in New York City and there is a light bit of snow blowing outside. This has put my deep desire for a late morning run in question and makes me vaguely peevish. Kim has misplaced several key drawings for his next story (five or so luscious large pencil pages) and is slowing spreading the latter part of an almost finished graphic novel across our one room apartment in search of them. The pages have not left the apartment so we know they are here. A thorough search of piles of original art is underway. A certain frantic undertone to the commencement of our weekend here at Deitch Studio.
Meanwhile, Blackie is snoring softly behind me on a very large box which contains an air fryer. While I am a bit curious about air fryers I never would have purchased one (let alone such a large one) except we’ve been informed that a city mandated gas inspection, which commenced Friday, has our cooking gas turned off. It will take a minimum of 6-8 months, but many buildings report that it has taken up to two years or more. (Yes, you read that correctly – they are turning off our cooking gas for what could be years.)
I have moments of thinking that maybe it would be worth getting involved in City policy long enough to eliminate this bit of idiocy which is based on an incident where someone tied out an illegal gas line with a garden hose and the building ultimately blew up. Manhattan, perhaps all five boroughs, are looking now to eliminate gas cooking. This is a concept that could ultimately roust me from my perch here in New York City – gas cooking is beloved to me.
So, for now and despite Blackie’s fondness for the aforementioned box, I will spend this weekend unpacking the air fryer and an Instant Pot. (I cannot live without soup. One of several recipes can be found here.) I will rearrange our tiny kitchen and somehow fit these new appliances in – some of my beloved larger pots and pans can live in the oven I guess. (An ode to a dying fry pan can be found here.) Of course the adventure of learning to cook with them remains – I suspect you will receive further details. We have a microwave as well which I have generally only used to heat leftovers, but will be pressed into service. I have tried to amass groceries for easy execution at first, baby steps.
Maybe the toaster can live in our storage locker and give us back another 12 inches of counter space? Electrical outlets have become prized real estate overnight and we are grateful for a renovation which added one. Additionally, there are two electric burners which the building assigned to us as a stove top. I hear rumors that the power draw for them is huge and that they cannot be used in tandem with the other appliances. Note taken, but I think we can look forward to the odd days when we space on that and blow a fuse.
At work Covid is stealthily making its way through the office again. We talk about it less, but staff are sick with it or living with people who have it. Most of the rules and protocols have fallen away and we are left to our own devices, instructing people to stay home and test – five days clear? I think there is a sense that people will just get it and get it again and again, but we do need to think about the people for whom it can be dangerous for various reasons, or like me have someone in their life who is fragile physically.
Along those lines my mom was diagnosed with pneumonia last week, not surprising given her immobility. I have home tested for Covid, but will go out and get a PCR test in case I need to go back to New Jersey. I mentally add it to the list I am making for this weekend.
I have long thought that TS Eliot had it wrong – it is January not April which is the cruelest month. For me it has uneasy memories of illness commencing and death, truly the nadir of each year which then needs to be reincarnated annually. (Oddly I am a bit distrustful of August too.) There is a gentle but persistent, burgeoning insanity that is barely kept in check in the month of January.
However, the pages in question above have been located at last. Kim is now contentedly inking a page which was his intention when he discovered the pencils missing, so a calm has returned to the house. He has promised to bring me a cup of take out coffee from the diner so I don’t have to face the electric burner and coffee pot quite yet. Blackie has moved onto the bed making way for me to unpack the air fryer and at least for the moment the flurries have paused so maybe I will get my run in. January is half over, we’re turning the corner and soon February will dawn a bit brighter.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Elephants are a sub-genre here at Pictorama, a casual collecting category here at Deitch Studio. (A few previous elephant posts can be found here and here and an especially Deitchian one here.) Without really trying or thinking about it we have amassed not that many, but some choice elephant bits, and when this one caught my eye the other day (in the middle of negotiating a very large purchase to be revealed in a future post) I didn’t miss a beat before adding him onto the bill.
He is wonderfully modeled with his elephant skin well defined, nicely wrinkly just like the real thing. His trunk is proudly up – I’m a trunk up girl although I understand that there are those who believe good luck result only from down as well as those of us who believe in up. (And I gather still other cultures which believe either will do and all elephants are lucky!) His trunk is curled up onto his head, revealing short tusks and his empathetic elephant eyes.
I am very pleased with the shade of red they saw fit to paint him and find his worn and chipped spots create a nice patina effect rather than take away from his appeal. I have some trouble imaging him all neatly painted actually, but I am sure I would have adored him as a child if I had seen or been fortunate to receive him in his nascent state.
He is, as the title of this post implies, a bank, small slot at the base of the back of his head – albeit a small bank which could only have held a few dollars worth of silver saved by an industrious child. His bottom is painted a wonderful sea green and Vanio 1936 is embossed in the bottom.
Mr. Google doesn’t reveal much about Vanio, but these banks are referred to as penny banks since they are so small. I saw examples in two different greens (one for sale on eBay – I’m very tempted to buy a mate, one example belongs to the Minneapolis Institute of Art), black and a dusky white in addition to my red. There would have been a key for the bottom, a few examples had theirs, but it would be hard to see on my example. They made a fairly righteous Scotty dog bank too in a similar array of colors.
This elephant wandered into the house just as Kim was designing the decor in a 1940 room in a new story that will go in his upcoming collection, How I Make Comics. He added our fellow in, turning him into an ashtray which was more appropriate for the story. Shown below, I close by sharing a bonus detail from the pencil sketch here – look out for the finished product in his next book in the story called The Two Maries.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Here at Pictorama we enjoy certain inflection points during the year and the great Valentine reveal is one of them. Today is the day and welcome to all!
For those of you not in the know, each year my wonderful husband (Chief Artistic Genius and eponymous creator here at Deitch Studio, Kim Deitch) creates a Valentine’s Day drawing for me. Discussion about it begins seriously after Christmas and a period of development is followed by execution in early February. (A few examples from prior years can be found here, here and one that even features the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra as cats here.)
Some years I have very general thoughts and other years I may have more input. This was a rare year when I had a very specific request. I wanted an actual portrait of our cats, Cookie and Blackie! It is a perfect fit into my collection of images, usually vintage photos, of people and their feline friends. (These make up a whole sub-genre of images here at Pictorama so poke around the archive if you want to see some!)
You see, it started months back when a couple of kitties I follow on Instagram, Sadie and Dottie, had their portraits done. Sadie is a tuxie and her sister Dottie is, as self-described, a sort of cow spotty white kitty with black spots. Sadie and Dottie (@sadieanddottie) have a robust 13.3k followers and despite what you might think, I don’t actually follow a large number of cats on IG. There’s a cat in Japan, white with a comical big black mustache, who is dropped into my feed occasionally (name in Japanese so I don’t know), and a calico named Fudge who I like to see once in awhile. However, cats actually make up a smaller portion than antique jewelry, although more than rundown old houses for sale.
However, Sadie and Dottie’s mom and dad somehow manage to provide followers with a pitch perfect and pleasant stream of kitty triumphs and frustrations doled out at just the right pace. On some long, stressful days sitting down for a few minutes of treat time or bird watching (and chirping – which in turn makes the ears of my kits twitch as does the treat time meow) is the perfect antidote. Often I share a good post with Kim (and occasionally Cookie or Blackie), usually while sitting on the couch together, or in bed. I’m sure if Cookie and Blackie really understood they would be peeved at my defection of attention as it is they are just mildly annoyed by the thing in my hand which prevents two handed petting at times.
Sadie and Dottie (media stars that they are) have had their portraits done several times and it got me thinking that we really needed was a Kim Deitch portrait of our pair. I mentioned it to Kim who promised me that he would make me a grand one. Somehow months later as we were discussing my Valentine I decided that it was the appropriate moment and I knew he would deliver.
I was also thinking about years ago when Kim did a spectacular portrait of his friends Jay and Kathy with their Sphinxes and I was thinking of a picture that combined both elements of kitties romping in their usual pursuits and a straight ahead portrait of them – and today’s Valentine is it!
In addition to their likenesses front and center, their typical Cookie and Blackie romping is shown around the border. We have: catnip banana munching; chasing (Kill the Guy! the only game they play together); each shown with their own style of water drinking from a mug; neck biting (the denouement of Kill the Guy – but also sometimes B just walks over to C and starts biting her neck); Cookie chasing her tail and of course eating! Eating is their favorite activity and they would do it on demand if we allowed – but no. Here at Deitch Studio we have wet food at twelve hour intervals 6:00-6:00 and dry food in the interim.
I am shown sporting a star-patterned sweat shirt I actually wear most winter mornings agains the chill. (I am wearing it now as I write this, paired with my elephant toile print pj’s which I wrote about once here. It also highlights some morning cat activity here at Deitch Studio.)
Cookie, despite having left kittenhood far behind, still chases her tail almost daily. It is largely a morning occupation for her and if you know her you can see a fit of it starting to come on her as her tail seems to (rather independently and enticingly) commence twitching in a come hither sort of way. Sometimes it takes place in the tub (dunno why, but it does) and occasionally she combines it with trying to scare someone coming into the bathroom by popping out from the shower curtain. I call this her cat joke. Go Cookie!
The maniacal expression on Blackie’s face as he gets yelled at for biting Cookie’s neck here cracks me up! I am yelling, No neck biting! no doubt. Meanwhile, while Cookie is in charge of requesting fresh water (there is a division of labor between them always – for example it is Blackie’s job to wake us for food in the morning, although Cookie observes from the doorway), Blackie likes to drink his water standing up at the flat files in a quasi-human sidling up to the bar kind of pose. Line ’em up and keep ’em comin’ barkeep! Cookie prefers a more traditional go at it.
I think Kim has done an entirely excellent job with the center portrait likenesses as well. Blackie is quite handsome and debonair – he knows he is a very good looking fellow and he is displaying a certain stuffy cat dignity here. Cookie has her more mercurial expression – paw resting lightly on that wild and erratic tail of hers.
Although wall space is always a premium here at Deitch Studio and Pictorama, I am tempted to get this one up somewhere. It is a great favorite already and my loving thanks to Kim for executing my request so splendidly and lovingly! Kim, you’re the best! Happy Valentine’s Day to all.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today we are celebrating some recent apparel acquisitions, both which came to me in fairly unorthodox ways. Both are notable for baring a passing but undeniable resemblance to Kim’s sometimes comics avatar Waldo and other Deitchian cat characters.
The first came via a DM heads up from our friend and comics history expert Bill Kartalopoulos (@kartalopoulos) on Instagram one day. The supplier is called Yarrow Goods. They offer the shirt in black as well as the combo I purchased shown above, and they have subsequently introduced the same Doin’ Great logo in Japanese (no idea why), but nonetheless perhaps more interestingly, as a sweatshirt. If it was a hoodie there would be smoke arising from how fast I took out my credit card, but I think a large pullover one could be a great addition to my winter running attire layers nonetheless. I love the t-shirt although my consumption of cotton t-shirts is low. However, it could become my winter pj top once serious seasonal chill sets in.
In my opinion, it bears perhaps a more striking resemblance to the protagonist in Kim’s Alias the Cat. (For anyone fans who missed it, Alias can be purchased on Amazon here.)
The other shirt was much harder won and came over the transom in a very unusual way. One night over dinner we were watching American Pickers and I noticed that Mike Wolfe was wearing a really great baseball shirt which also sported a Waldo-like character with a dollop of Waldo’s joie de vivre.
Let me start by saying that a good baseball shirt is truly an essential part of the Pictorama wardrobe. My fondness for them pre-dates the prolonged pandemic embracing of ongoing at home casual attire, but have only risen in my estimation during this time. They seem to possess a multi-function quality which morphs from extra layer in bed, to a layer while running and not to mention a hedge against morning chill first thing for that predawn cup of winter coffee. I had a series of soft and thin cotton ones from The Gap which I literally wore to rags. Quite simply, I wanted this shirt and I wanted it badly.
Luckily I could read the words Hydra Glide on it clearly and that lead me to the makers of the shirt over at Dice Magazine. Not surprisingly (for those of you who follow American Pickers anyway) this turned out to be a motorcycle magazine.
American Pickers has long been a favorite of mine and I guess among the sins of my television watching Kim might favor it. My fondness for it goes way back and pre-dates an addiction to home renovation shows (I favor the ones with old houses in another part of the country I could theoretically afford if I sold our studio apartment) which I first discovered while on the road for work and became my go to over the past 18 months to unwind. (There was a long early pandemic period where we watch way too much CNN which I have entirely barred absent the sort of natural disaster which might make it necessary to briefly venture back.)
For those of you who are not familiar with the show, it is essentially a low budget show on the History network with these folks who travel around the United States poking around old buildings, barns and attics and buying stuff to sell in their shop. They give some explanation about the objects along the way and although it leans heavily toward early motorcycles, bikes, cars and related advertising (which I have admittedly developed an appreciation for), toys and things more squarely in the Pictorama purview turn up. I have on occasion seen a wind-up toy and trotted off to eBay and purchased it. (See a post here although unidentified as such, and a great tin rollover Pluto I wrote about which can be found here.) Of course since Pictorama and Deitch Studio have acquire only policies we are unlikely to ever invite them to dig here.
Admittedly, there are times when I while watching I wish they would have a better look at an object I’m interested in (oh man, wait, why aren’t they interested in that film poster? was that a Bonzo dog I just saw?), but on the whole it is a more satisfying than frustrating experience. The shop’s online presence, at a glance, does not seem to extend to the items sold in their stores so alas, no chance to score that foot long photo you lusted after in a recent episode as far as I can tell. However, all this to say, while beloved in their own way, they are not exactly who I would expect to look to for contemporary fashion.
I found the shirt with surprising ease online at DicE Magazine. However, of course it was an old item and they were sold out. Living in the age of the internet and feeling persistent, the show wasn’t even over before I had located it in Japan at a site called Webike. I ordered it, but will save you the excruciating details which played out over more than a month with additional fees and the shirt stuck at some sort of holding company, Google translation of the site failing me and a plea for help to the company going unanswered. (Don’t try this at home folks!)
Freakishly, just as I gave up, I went back to the original site and (yes!) scored one. Meanwhile, the wheels of Japanese commerce also eventually turned and yep, a second one showed about a week later. (Final cost to date unknown.) I now own two and frankly I like it so much that if they were less expensive I would give them to everyone on the Pictorama holiday list. For now I may just order another and tuck it away for a future rainy day – especially since I bet a bunch of you are hitting the website now.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photo of Felix potty chair as supplied by Mel Birnkrant
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s post is from the appendix of Kim’s upcoming book, Reincarnation Stories, and is a rare Pictorama husband and wife co-production. I wrote it, several months back, although some of you have heard the story before. Enjoy!
It begins one day, simply enough, riding on the subway. Kim forgot to bring something to read and he picked up a free newsletter for the Learning Annex – cheesy adult “courses” taught by reality tv show stars and people promising you that you too can make a killing in NY real estate. (Yep, I think Donald Trump was advertised in one of those – who could have guessed?) I read over his shoulder. Semi-seriously he announced that there was a course in past life regression that he thought he would take – he’d always had a story in mind around reincarnation and maybe it would be a good jumping off point. So I flippantly said I’d do it too. And just like that, we decided to phone and make a reservation.
What I didn’t tell Kim was that I had been approached about past life regression before and the thought had sort of terrified me. I suffer from a potentially debilitating form of arthritis and more than once it had been suggested to me that I might try to go into my past lives to see what might have caused it. Well, I figured if I had either done something so awful in my past life, or even worse, had some dreadful injury that shook my joints to this day, that I sure as heck didn’t want to know about it and relive it. Still, this was the Learning Annex – no need to take it seriously. It would be fun to do with Kim and if he was going to a past-life regression course I sure wasn’t going to miss it.
As it happened, the day we were scheduled to attend in the early evening turned out to be a complicated one for me. It was a sunny and beautiful day as I remember, I want to say spring rather than full on summer. I was working for the Central Park Conservancy at the time, but had taken part of the day off to attend the funeral of Lydia Mananara, a woman I had worked with at the Metropolitan Museum for many years. She wasn’t much older than me and had died of breast cancer. I had cared for her cat, a lovely plushy long haired tabby-stripe, while she was in Italy seeking alternative treatment or perhaps just spending time with family there, over the course of many weeks. After the funeral there was a reception at the Met where I saw former colleagues and met family and friends of hers I had not known. It was a strange moment of displacement having worked there for so long and being back for what may have been the first time since leaving.
That evening after work, Kim and I went down to Union Square and to the address of what appeared to be some sort of elementary school. I remember thinking that this was turning into one very long day, and we trudged into a classroom with table desks pushed together to form a large U. There were about ten people in the room and they were as varied as the human content of any subway car on a given morning commute, a few young, some older, generally nondescript. The course instructor entered and he too was pretty generic, middle aged and pale. He started out by telling his story.
Seems that when he was a kid somewhere in the Midwest, a visiting hypnotist had come to town and he had gone to see him perform. In what he’d later realize was an unusual vulnerability to hypnosis, he slipped easily into that state and, jarringly into a past life. Frankly I can’t remember if he was actually the subject of the hypnotist or if he fell into the influence from the audience – the latter seems unlikely. Anyway, he went on to describe, in fairly horrific detail, being a small child running for safety to a root cellar from where he spied his family of prairie settlers terribly murdered by Indians. Of course he had no idea why he experienced it, but a number of years later he took the opportunity to be hypnotized again and this time in his past life he was an adult, hidden away on a mountainside witnessing the slaughter of other settlers by Indians once again. This time he understood it to be a past life and devoted future time and energy to developing the skill to hypnotize himself and travel back to past incarnations.
He ended his presentation and offered that he would now help us all slip back into our own past. He turned the lights down, but traffic thrummed out the window and florescent lights hummed in the hall. At first quieting my mind and focusing seemed unlikely. Still, I had developed some meditation chops and it didn’t take very much for me to still my mind into the desired quiet before going to a “safe place” and then rolling back into something else.
He “woke” us up to wherever we had landed in our minds and asked us to look around. I was in the desert, a barefoot and nearly naked young man in my teens. The soil beneath my feet was sandy but hard and a reddish color. The teacher’s voice instructed us to take note of the year (I want to say it was the 1880’s, but I have trouble remembering that more precisely now) and things like who was President, to take note of our surroundings. I don’t know who was President and at first I thought I was in Tibet – a place I had been twice and had a great affinity for – but I gradually became aware that I was in the American West instead – and that I was a young Native American male. I was aware of being absolutely dirt poor, hungry, and not educated. I was essentially a dumb young kid.
His voice now guided me to go to the day I died and to take note of how I died. Seems like I was killed in a stupid fight with another kid – I don’t know over what. He told us to take care now to apologize to anyone we had hurt. I found myself apologizing to the guy who killed me (maybe I killed him as well?), and then I apologized to my mother and my grandmother. I had left them alone when I died and it had been my responsibility to take care of them. I felt bad about it all, but in a dispassionate sort of way. The instructor now guided us out of the past and into the current moment. He turned the lights on and suggested a break before we spoke about our experiences. Kim and I found a water fountain.
Kim, “Man, that was a waste. Nothing!” I looked at him surprised, “Really?” and quickly told him about my experience. We both wondered if somehow the teacher’s own experiences related with Indians had influenced my subconscious. I didn’t know about that, but I did know I wasn’t looking forward to telling him that I had been an Indian!
After the break we sat back down in our seats. Kim and I were seated about halfway around. Like Kim, not everyone had experienced anything and only two other stories stood out for me that day which I remember. One was a not especially cogent tale of another planet and this stayed with me because the instructor didn’t seem to find that unusual and said it happens – other planets. The other was quite moving. There was a young, attractive woman in her twenties who had found herself a bench at a bus stop near Union Square, but in the 1940’s. It was July and very hot and she was 9 months pregnant. She died in childbirth later, I think the same day. I wonder to this day what brought her to the Learning Annex that evening to have that experience.
As for me, I reported in the most straightforward way possible what I had seen and experienced. It certainly isn’t the past I would have imagined for myself and yet that is what makes it compelling. As someone who has long been interested in Buddhism I can easily accept the concept of a past life, one in an ongoing parade – hopefully ultimately toward enlightenment. The idea of even a brief window onto a self that was so different – impoverished Native American teenager who gets himself killed in a fight over something so stupid that it, unlike these other simple facts, was not indelible through time. Only that I had been young and stupid and gotten myself killed when I should have been taking care of my mother and grandmother remained. I guess the good news is that I got a bit smarter over subsequent lives. The instructor did give me a bit of a fish eye – or maybe I imagined it. But I don’t think my former self was doing any of the killing he had witnessed.
I am not sure Kim believes that my experience wasn’t entirely one of suggestion placed in my mind by the instructor’s own stories. It was a day when I had already had my share of contemplating mortality and it is more than possible that the experience was a combination of what I brought to the table so to speak. All I can say is that bit of time in another body seemed real and different, and the poignant moment of apology one that had been a long time coming.
On that day I certainly didn’t get any insights into the arthritis that troubles me, and it didn’t lead to a desire to do it again and learn about other lives, if that is indeed possible. Instead it left me with a strange sort of shiny spot in my memory. As if out of the dim past one small bit has been brought into high relief. Real or not, I keep it there like a talisman, a lucky penny, dropped from the past into my lap here in the future.