Christmas in July – Part 1

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: A month or so ago, someone on Facebook sent me some photos via Kim of really unusual Felix Christmas cards. They were not for sale, but on a site where they were on display as part of a collection. I had never seen them or anything like them before and loved their strangeness. I save the images for my own edification (shown here above), but unfortunately have lost both the link and the name of the person who sent them. (Apologies – and if you remind who you are I will happily update this post!) Shortly after, in that way that the universe seems to have sometimes, one of them turned up on eBay, in mint condition although used, and I snatched it up.

These cards are British and there is a tiny embossing at the bottom of the back of this one which says Raphael Tuck & Sons Ltd. Publishers to the King & Queen Produced in England with a crest of sorts which is very hard to see. A quick check online tells me that Raphael Tuck and his wife Ernestine, started the business out of their home in Bishop’s Gate in 1866. They received the royal nod in 1893 and carried the royal imprimatur from that point on. Evidently the company rode the crest of the Victorian novelty postcard and book craze and published the likes of my friend Louis Wain. The business stayed in the family, first bringing Raphael’s brothers in, and then Raphael and Ernestine’s sons. It flourished until their headquarters was severely damaged in WWII during the Blitz and, although they stay in business until 1959 they never fully recover.

Also, printed on the back is “Felix – Pathes Famous Film Cat” in tiny black letters. The outer wrapper is the glossy printed image of Felix and the inside is a separate piece of paper – held together by the ribbon like a tiny four page book. The inside is printed on slightly different stock. In case you cannot read it, under the black and white cats it reads, Snice World this! It is not technically the most festive holiday card I have ever seen – the front, Felix gets the Bird! Lucky! anyhow! doesn’t exactly scream Christmas to me. It is a nice, early Felix though, squared off and pointy the way I like him. Those exclamation points emanating from his head are cartoon great and embody his spirit nicely. If it wasn’t for The Compliments of the Season on the inside, and in spite of the jolly red ribbon, we would never know to mail this for the December holidays. This card, in splendid condition, was used and is simply signed on the left, inside, from Frank, in neat script.

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The other cards, supplied from the original link and shown on a loop above, are also super strange images for holiday cards, but nonetheless bear tidings for Christmas and the coming New Year on the inside of each. It almost seems as if the company printed a random series of Felix illustrated outsides and then neatly, if somewhat haphazardly, tied them together with holiday greetings insides. Felix being so popular at the time that appropriateness of message and image mattered not perhaps? In one, Felix with a sort of strange turnip which looks like a monster; Felix wearing a radio headset, and of course mine where he talks to a bird. The messages on the front of each are equally odd, Felix Gets the Bird! Lucky! anyhow! on mine and the others A Turn-up for FelixGood Luck to You! and Cherio! The supporting characters, inside and out, appear to belong to an entirely different inking hand. More mysteries of Felix here to uncover, but jolly for a Christmas in July I think.

 

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Merry Christmas from Deitch Studio!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Pictorama and Deitch Studio present – our holiday card! To those of you who are devoted fans of the card and have been watching your mailbox we apologize for the delay this year, as well as the electronic reveal before you may have received it, but my adventures with the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra on the Holiday Big Band Tour (see my post of earlier this month Traveling with the Big Band) put me way behind on my end of the holiday duties which include getting the card printed.

The printing of the card, which dates back to the first year Kim and I started dating, has a history. (For the history of our cards and their production I recommend these previous posts, Cards of Christmas Past, Cat of Christmas Past, and Christmas Cards Redux Continues among others) I shopped the card from one small print shop to another each year. In the beginning I had a fantasy of finding a small shop that still did offset printing who would bring some care to the process – we even talked about two color. Ha! I let go of that almost immediately and began an annual trip from one copy shop to another – testing both large (Staples – don’t ask!) and small. Without getting technical let me tell you that the results consistently fell below the high standard of the most senior person here at Deitch Studio – resulting in an extraordinary flood of epithets and curses, not only aimed at the lowly technician, but the holiday season and the whole concept of a holiday card in general! In all fairness to him, we saw some really ham-handed results which could only be achieved by people who cared less than not at all about what they were doing.

In my attempt to assuage this eventual annual diatribe I continued my search for a suitable printer. One year I finally walked into the Yorkville Copy Shop, the tiniest hole in the wall establishment, tucked behind a pizza place on 84th, just west of Lexington. It is the kind of place I imagine exists only in Manhattan where real estate is so prime that even the smallest space can be carved out into a rent producing annuity for the owner and a living for the tenant. The counter was just a few feet from the door, on one side paper and outgoing jobs were stacked high, on the other was one of several copy machines. It reeked of toner, ink, paper and dust. There was a loft which made the ceiling low, the place lit by low-watt flickering fluorescent bulbs. The front window was entirely plastered over with business cards, other previous jobs and grumpy sayings, which also graced the inside as decoration.

The proprietor was a grizzled man of a certain age who seemed to engage exclusively in conversations about NY sports teams, which meant we had little in common in terms of small talk. There was also a woman who I eventually took to be his wife, and although age appropriate in all reality I have no idea. She rarely ever waited on me. I cannot say that once we started using them that there was never a problem – there were still do-overs, Kim curses and rages, and the year not long ago where they did the entire job folded on the wrong side which, given time limitations we decided to live with. Still, I knew that at least I could talk to Bill (eventually I learned his name) and on some level he cared. Over the course of more than a decade some of our past cards joined the decor of the shop – not all, Bill had a discerning eye – but I kept a look out and was always secretly glad when one joined the ranks.

I know that you know where this is headed. Late last fall I saw that Yorkville Copy was closed. Around the corner, in the window of the pizza place, there was a note saying that the copy store had been forced out and a telephone number to contact them, which I had the foresight to take a picture of. Shortly after, the pizza place itself was also gone, a family business to be replaced, ironically, by a chain pizza establishment.

So as the holiday neared I called Bill and he said he was looking for a new location, but could do our card anyway. We made arrangements for him to pick up the original from our doorman, ultimately drop the cards at our building and pick up the balance of the payment. It went okay, but as this year loomed Bill had not yet found a place and I resisted calling. After all if there was a problem there was no discussion or recourse. He would take our original and go and who knows what would happen to it.

The card is generally finished, drawn and inked, the weekend after Thanksgiving and it was this year. However I just could not manage the printing before leaving for that ten day business trip at the beginning of the month. While I was riding around the South I got a message, then a second, from Bill on my cell phone. By the time I got home I pretty much gave into the idea. Bill picked it up and printed it again. It is a fine job, I didn’t need to worry it seems.

So today we present to you a card printed by Bill of Yorkville Printers which now it seems only exists for those of us who know of it. A waxing salon has taken its former location, which I guess is willing and able to pay more for that tiny space, the chain pizza restaurant has been established around the corner. I left money and our artwork for Bill to pick up and copy in Yonkers, where he appears to reside according to the calls I get on my cell phone. I have an image of him having set up in his living room or garage there, paper piled high around, and sadly I will no longer know which ones he favors. But for now he remains our grizzled and grumpy elf of card printing.

There’s Gladness in Remembrance

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Kicking off the advanced Christmas season here at Pictorama this week with this recent purchase. This card caught my attention with its sheer oddity. I cannot exactly imagine how someone might have come up with the combination of a smoking cigarette, Christmas and cats on a postcard greeting. It makes me think that the designer was very tired and was desperate for ideas, or perhaps smoking something him or herself. Or maybe it was truly an example of these are some of my favorite things, like the song says.

Several of the cats seem to be escaping out of their surreal smoke rings, although that big, annoyed looking Persian is curled up on his or hers like a pillow. All fluffy Persian variations (or is it Maine Coon?) I can’t quite decide if four of these cats are the same cat or just similar markings. These are some serious looking kitties, especially the one without stripes at the bottom. It is obvious, but I might add, there’s nothing of the celebratory or festive about them – these aren’t some darling kittens – these are some frowning cats.

Meanwhile, then there is the burning cigarette and the matches, artfully falling from their match safe. More than anything about this card, which was never sent and without writing on the back, the match safe dates it for me to the early part of the 20th century. Books of matches were in high fashion by the 1940’s. (I have written about match safes in my collection on two occasions, Safety Match and Match safe – Ya Gotta Make Calls.

For my own part, I have never been a cigarette smoker, not even when I was a teenager. I have smoked maybe three in my life – I never saw the point in it; although I certainly understand that there are people who feel otherwise. Clearly this represents a time when smoking was both comforting and to some degree festive. My ambivalence about it does not extend to how good it looks in early films – it does indeed look sophisticated and cosmopolitan.

The sprig of holly is the sole festive Christmas touch. With Hearty Christmas Greetings…There’s gladness in remembrance it declares. Gladness in remembrance touches on the coming New Year – auld lang syne – out with the old year and in with the new. One can only wonder why this card was tucked away and kept pristinely for all these years except to say Christmas cards seem to be kept, although those are usually ones sent by someone. Perhaps, like me, the photo just entertained someone who found and hung onto it.

I have always been a conscientious writer and saver of cards of all kinds, even before my cat card collecting days commenced. As Pictorama readers and others know, Kim and I have been producing a holiday card together since we first started dating and it is time to start work on the one for this year. I admit to the possibility of some influence from this card as Kim and I begin to contemplate our card design for this year, but we will have to have to wait and see what comes of it. Keep an eye on Pictorama for an eventual preview reveal, but know that we are considering it as we partake of our Thanksgiving dinner later this week.

Merry Christmas from Deitch Studio

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The 2016 Deitch Studio Pictorama card revealed!

 

Pam’s Pictorama Bonus Post: It’s that time of the year – that most wonderful season of all! Here is this year’s contribution to the holidays co-authored by Kim and I as usual. This year, for better or worse, Kim let me have my head and it is perhaps a tad more Butler than Deitch. 2016 was a tough year and being curled up in bed with the kitties, reading (me on my iPad and Kim with a volume which has its own meaning – to be revealed in his upcoming book) seemed like the only sane place to end the year!

Cookie and Blackie figure prominently in the spot they pretty much hold in real life at the foot of the bed. Blackie likes to curl up behind my knees, a bit higher than shown here. Cookie is usually at my feet – on her own pillow no less. This is a perch that came into fashion while I was recovering from foot surgery and had to sleep with my leg elevated all night. Cookie decided that the pillow should stay for her benefit. C&B keep us on a fairly regular schedule and Blackie is in charge of waking us up with his gentle cold wet nose kisses (quite) early in the morning. Kim is usually the first up and the feeder of them – they know I can sleep through almost anything and therefore am a bad bet. The other morning I woke in the middle of the night feeling stiff and strangely leaden and wondered what on earth was wrong – as I went to turn over I discovered that both the kits were sound asleep on top of me!

As I indicated above, Kim is reading a book that turns out to be a Deitch studio special and I am reading one of my Moving Picture Girls or Grace Harlowe series books on my iPad. (As chronicled in Grace Harlowe, the Automobile Girls and Moving Picture Girls Novels post of a few weeks ago.) Sorry the toys, which live at the foot and side of the bed, and the many piles of books, Kim’s side of the bed, didn’t make it into the picture, but they would complete the image of the Deitch-Butler clan at home in reality.

You can count on the fact that this is where we will ring in 2017 – cats, books and all, maybe a silent western playing on the tiny television which is also crammed into a room almost no bigger than our futon!

Merry Christmas and every best wish for a peaceful and happy New Year!

 

Cranky Valentine

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Pam’s Pictorama: For all of you who still have the sickly smarminess of Valentine’s Day stuck in your craw and eating your teeth, today’s post is a logical antidote to show you that you are not alone. There is evidently a long history of the vinegar Valentine.

I am not sure why, but decided I had to have this card. I generally don’t like to go negative on cards, I really hate pawing through contemporary cards that often just seem mean. This card charmed me nonetheless. The poem does entertain:

Your crabbed actions are enough to vex
The most ardent admirer of your sex,
And you care for nothing that we can see
Except your cat and your cup of tea.

How much more does a girl really need in life? The black Halloween style cat is fun and she is mannishly well drawn. It is a common card, and I have seen others on eBay subsequently. This one wasn’t sent and I do wonder who exactly one would send it to – and also that they were kept all these years by the recipients!

A recent article in the New York Times discussed the history of the so-called vinegar Valentine and its popularity in the late 19th century. On February 14, 1871 the Times wrote the following:

Of all the valentines published those designated ‘comic’ are the most popular. They are the hideous caricatures which are to be seen at this season in almost every stationer’s window, and are made to burlesque every trade and profession. They consist of a few black lines and a daub of color, to which are attached a few doggerel rhymes. They pervert the idea of the valentine; for, instead of being love missives, or tending to afford gratification, they are too often sent out of spite, to carry anger or annoyance to the receiver. Of these there have been sold nearly 12,000,000, and strange to say, they are mostly purchased by women. Why women find more use for them than men would be a difficult question to answer, but such is the case, and the circulars issued by the publishers will bear out the assertion.

I believe our card in question is of a higher quality than implied here, but it is also clearly a later model. The poison pen Valentine clearly continued to thrive into the early part of the 20th century. Oddly, it is the one area I don’t find so many negative cards today – birthdays for example, almost hard to find an acceptable one. But the needling Valentine seems to have seen its day, although I know some folks who would be glad to bring it back.

Christmas Cards Redux Continues

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Pam’s Pictorama: As an examination of our history in holiday cards continues, inspiration seems to strike us differently each year. While last week I highlighted our self-portraits as a jumping off point, this week I am sharing a few where the cat concept became less about our specific cats, and more about the idea of cats. Starting with a favorite, the parade of black and white and white cats featuring a giant cat balloon. I am pretty sure the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade balloons were the inspiration – with a touch of Aesop Fables cartoons thrown in with that long line of cats.

I have never been to the actual Thanksgiving Day parade, although Kim has a great childhood memory of going at least once*. As past readers know, my father was a cameraman for ABC news for many years. His early years there were focused on local news which meant many a Thanksgiving working – filming the balloons being blown up the night before and the parade day of were frequently part of his annual beat. I gather from him that this meant a lot of standing around in the cold, and often wet, wishing he was home with his family. Therefore, as kids we never went and frankly he could never understand why I would want to either. Nonetheless, when I moved to NYC as an adult seeing the balloons blown up was an annual joy. I went in all weather and braved the crowds and always loved it.

I am not entirely sure the precise inspiration for the sort of steam-pump robot cat, although I do love his catty feet and the jolly hat blowing off his head! I like the string of lights too.  Since I do the first sketches and art direct to some degree, I always like to request lots of Kim Deitch snow and stars in our cards. I am especially fond of the anthropomorphic moon and sun as well.

Lastly, the one I think of as Cat-in-the-Box came out of the purchase of the pamphlet I featured in a recent post, Lucky Black Cat and things like it. Halloween was still on my mind that year and rather than include our kitties, we went with a Halloween meets Christmas theme and produced this little beauty.

Next week Cards of Christmas past continues followed by the big reveal – this year’s card.

*Footnote to Pam’s post. My great Thanksgiving day parade memory was when our family spotted, and met Hoplaong Cassidy waiting with his horse to be in the parade.

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