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Pam’s Pictorama Post: Very few people know this about me, but I am an absolutely sucker for cabinets and boxes. They are like catnip to me. I have always had a weakness for them. As a child it manifest itself mostly in the collection of boxes (wood preferred, in fact treasured), but I remember the acquisition of a grandfather clock case turned cabinet from my grandparents house considered a prize possession.

It stands in my apartment today, next to the front door, hosting an assortment of items including but not limited to: video tapes, dime novels, early film magazines, comics and Kim’s Eisner award. Perched (piled really) atop it are an Art Deco coffee service and two not-quite-functioning Felix clocks. (The photos included here are an unintentional view into the gentle chaos of Deitch Studio.)

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However, my feeling about smaller cabinets is a bit like some people saying there are no calories in what you eat standing up. In my mind, it is always fine to buy cabinets and boxes because they are storage – therefore the issue of space does not come into it for me. (Incidentally, I always find them to be affordable as well. Such practical items, after all…)

I have several cabinets I could write about – an absolutely lovely mirrored one on a shelf at the foot of our bed. I found it for just a few dollars at a street fair right after spotting the same one in a store that was beyond my means; then there is an Art Deco three drawer mirrored one. I cannot allow myself to look at them on ebay as a rule or we would quickly be backed out of the apartment. Those darling little white medical antique cases, cunning wooden cabinets with myriad drawers that come from stores – I would have them all in multiple. If we had a house it would be another matter, but in our one room it is an addiction I need to keep under control.

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I have an equal passion for wooden boxes and small piles of them can be found around the apartment. This wonderful recent addition was made by Kim’s brother Seth and sent to me. A nicely Felix-y one shown below.

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Wonderful cabinet finds are still, blissfully, bound to slip in occasionally as did this lovely one Kim bought me as an anniversary gift earlier this fall. We were making what may have been our final visit to Obscura Antiques and Oddities in the East Village when I spotted it and we scooped it up. (I will miss that store so much when it closes in the next month or so. I wrote about that visit in a post that can be found here.) It has yet to find its permanent place of honor in our apartment – in part because temporarily perched on my drawing table the light hitting the wavy old glass and reflecting on the old mirror in back is so nice. I have yet to find an equally well lit corner for it.

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The mirrored back of this cabinet has a nifty little door that opens to place the treasured items appropriately on display. Obviously part of the appeal of display cabinets for me is a place to hold my treasured booty – odds and ends acquired and in need of a home where they are safe from prying paws and dust, but on display. I am still in the fantasizing stage about what will find a home in this one. Perhaps some things yet to be acquired even? I promise an update post when it has found its permanent home and is filled with Pictorama finds and goodies.

 

 

The Great Deitch Studio Card Reveal

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Ta Da! It’s that time of the year! With Thanksgiving running late it was a tight turnaround this year and apologies to anyone who hasn’t gotten theirs in the mail yet before I do the online reveal. (And that includes just about everyone at my office.) As some of you might know, the day after Thanksgiving is the day when I sit down and do the first go at the card. This year it pretty much fell together with that initial session and here we are.

Pictorama readers aren’t going to be surprised that the recently renovated kitchen played a role in the Deitch Studio pictorial summing up of the year. (Although I could have shown our window installation as an alternative. Cats installing new windows? Um, gives me vertigo to think about. Those recent renovation posts can be found herehere and here – just for starters.)

I have set Cookie and Blackie to stirring up a storm here. The kitties are very fond of the new kitchen (counters have been duly jumped upon, the floor rolled over and over on, and the cabinets duly sniffed and inspected) although disappointingly the new fridge is too high and narrow for Cookie climbing – she liked towering over everyone on the old one. Of course, in reality we rarely let the cats cook and discourage their use of the stove in general. (I don’t mind them using the microwave, but worry they will be careless and use aluminum in it. And Blackie was showing an unfortunate interest in jumping up on the stove early on which we needed to compel him not to do.)

Kim let me have my head on this one and the result is more Pam than usual in execution I think. Although he always neatens things up (especially lettering – I don’t do that properly at all) and the shading always makes things pleasantly Deitchien. (A phrase I may have coined earlier this year in my happily and totally biased spousal post reviewing Kim’s Reincarnation Stories which can be found here and here. Kim’s book is of course the other big news of the year – the cats could have been reading about themselves in it. Or complaining that they didn’t play a bigger role.) The cats’ expressions are a bit more Kim-ish than Pam too. He has given them a slightly maniacal mad scientist look – probably closer to their true expressions.

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From the opening of Reincarnation Stories.

 

As I believe everyone bemoaned this season, with Thanksgiving falling a bit late in the calendar the holiday season is a bit compressed. Kim inked quickly and the printer turned it around fast (a nod to Bill from Yorkville Copy, which no longer exists as a storefront – he comes from Westchester to pick up our original and copy, score and return annually), but that only left a week to get them in the mail. I hedged our bets by making it a New Year’s card.

As I write this part of my brain is taken up with the things that still need doing, the apartment is in a state of chaos, and I long to have a proper workout at the gym after an endless week of work related events. I know you, dear readers, are probably thinking much the same so thank you for spending a little time with Pam’s Pictorama today. A Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and of course every best wish for the New Year from all here, feline and otherwise, at Deitch Studio.

Annie and Sandy Reunited

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Joyously I finally return to the world of toys as the chaos of our abode recedes at long last. Pictorama readers may remember that as part of a delightful birthday toy haul back in February of 2018 I purchased a hotsy totsy little Sandy doll. (Shown below and that post can be found here.) I concluded that post opining that there was a very nice Little Orphan Annie doll as well and I vowed to look into that. I had a weather eye out and at last this one found a home here at Pictorama earlier this week. It had been quite awhile since we made a toy acquisition and it was delightful when this box, slightly larger than expected showed up yesterday.

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Interestingly the history of oilcloth toys is not so easily found online, nor is the origin of these particular toys. For the information I did find I can thank Jeet Heer, Canadian author and comics scholar. His introduction to the Gasoline Alley volume covering the years 1925 and ’26 had the only information that satisfied my yen to know more this morning.

My collection of Little Orphan Annie toys is a very limited one. When I purchased the toy below I had no idea it was Annie and Sandy – although I was crazy about it! I found that out later when I saw one that was in better condition and had the box identifying it. I wrote about it last year in a post that you can read here.

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The discussion around dating this Annie doll dominated Deitch Studio in a heated debate over breakfast this morning. Kim taking the position that this Annie design had to be later than the other one shown below in two similar variations. It was he who dug out the Gasoline Alley volume, after a quick tour of Little Orphan Annie volumes up to about 1935, and found the scant information I share with you.

 

Meanwhile, my thought had been that the nicer doll with the dress (mine) was earlier and that they discovered they could do it more cheaply without. Instead it seems it is a case of starting with a more primitive toy and getting grander. I am not a fan of the design on the left, but there is something charming about the one with the hat.

It would seem that this series of comic character toys are the brainchild of Eileen Benoliel, creator of a company called Live Long Toys. There wasn’t a lot of information readily available about the company or Ms. Benoliel (or Mrs. William A. Benoliel as she is also identified) except that the Chicago company was founded in 1923 and folds in the 1940’s. I am making the assumption she made these Little Orphan Annie toys as well although I guess the concept could have been stolen from her and marketed by someone else. These toys are unmarked, with the exception of Annie’s sash which reads Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray and under Patent Applied For.

There is not a lot of information about this company. I did find a reference to the company, via Google, in a book called Made to Play House: the Commercialization of American Girlhood 1830-1930. In essence this passage makes reference to how when companies started by women became successful that it was typical for their husbands to take control of them, rather than the women keeping control and growing it themselves. It is noted that Mr. Benoliel left his job in insurance, working for companies like Marshall Field and Sears, Roebuck, to manage the burgeoning company.

According to a snippet Jeet Heer includes in the introduction to this volume Ms. Benoliel began the craze with a Skeezix doll and then the other Gasoline Alley figures. The reprinted article from the 1924 Playthings magazine is shown from the book below as is the two-page spread from the book.

 

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Jeet also notes that the Skeezix doll (which I gathered aged over time but to what extent I cannot say) eventually had removable clothing, which means Mr. Deitch wins and clearly the dolls with the removable clothes were a later variation. The Sandy doll seems to have remained consistent with the original design going forward, although later ones seem have used the same template but is a tad more three-dimensional later.

I assume that these oilcloth toys came out of earlier, more homely, variations and that from them eventually come the premiums that you were required to sew yourself. I recently examined those via an acquisition of a Kellogg’s Crinkle Cat. (You can read that post here.) Oilcloth is sturdy and Annie is solidly made. There is evidence that she was much played with and beloved. As much as I like my toys in good condition, it is good to know they have been well used and loved too.

 

 

 

Saving Something for the Swim Back

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Devoted readers of Pam’s Pictorama know that, outside of a few occasions when excessive travel overwhelmed me, I pretty much sit down at this computer every Saturday and Sunday and write. Sometimes you all are subjected to a diatribe about what is on my mind and today is one of those days. As I am surrounded by change today, the nature of change is very much on my mind as is my own role as the agent of it.

For readers who have been following it, the kitchen renovation is finally pretty much concluded. (Various aspects of that tale can be found here , herehere and, alas also here.) We are waiting for a microwave to show up, but otherwise it has finally come to rest and just in the nick of time before we lost what remains of our collective minds. All that is left is the unpacking which has commenced and am determined I will finish this weekend. Kim and cats had it hardest being here each day with the daily construction. While all the guys were nice enough it is a small space and it was a lot to have in your face every day. Cookie in particular had to have long conversations with me about it each evening in the beginning of it all.

The kitchen looks great and most importantly seems to be easier and nicer to work in which is after all the point of a kitchen. The cats have taken full possession of it – I find them rolling and stretching on the new floor – each taking turns being king or queen of the new space.

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Cookie captured mid-roll and stretch on the new kitchen floor. There is tangible relief for all that the cat dishes have returned to their former location in the kitchen.

 

I have a long held theory about cat memory which is that it is about two weeks long. At the end of two weeks it has more or less reset to the present being all they remember. Back when we had a cleaning woman who came every other week I figured she was an all new event for them each time – they didn’t really remember that this would keep happening. (However, my cat Otto really liked one woman who spoke to her in Polish leaving me to wonder if Otto had been Polish in another life or if all cats responded well to the language.)

According to this theory, there was a moment in the middle of the month-long renovation when the cats had pretty much forgotten that there was a time when the apartment wasn’t boxed up with kitchen stuff and workmen didn’t spend part of each and every day banging away and making a smelly mess of the place. By this notion, sometime after Thanksgiving, but well before Christmas they will forget that this is the new kitchen and it will just be the kitchen. This is how cats get along in the world, it is their own process for survival which has evolved over centuries of feline lives.

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Blackie taking his turn atop two cartons of Reincarnation Stories which turned up in the middle of the packed up chaos.

 

Of course for us humans it is ultimately the same, although our memories (for the most part) are longer, our awareness of the process probably deeper. (After all, who knows what cats really think?) I may have previously opined on having a cat-like dislike of change because it is my true nature. I come to it slowly and with trepidation, and there is some real reluctance if I have to be the actual agent of it, as I was in this case. Nonetheless, it is also part of my personality that if I make up my mind to do something I pretty much grab it by the ears and do what needs doing until it is done.

I don’t know if it is age or just my experience, but as I get older this tenacity has become more pronounced and it has come to my attention that there is a sort of take-no-prisoners aspect to my approach in these situations. It takes me a long time to rouse myself to action and my decision making process is prolonged. Once committed however, I am all in.

If I drift into contemplating my past lives I wonder if in one I wasn’t a rank and file, but especially tenacious, foot soldier in let’s say Genghis Khan’s troops. (For those of you who have missed my recent wifely review of Kim’s new book Reincarnation Stories the two-part review can be found here and here, while my own reincarnation tale can be found here.) Once I accept the bit in my mouth, reluctantly or otherwise, I am driven on all cylinders and there is no way around, only straight through. And I deeply suspect that the Genghis Khan reference may have resonance for some of this who work with or encounter me in this mode.

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In my office I put a quote up recently, save something for the swim back. It seems like good advice to consider, but hard for me to follow. Once let out of the starting gate I am pretty much at a dead run from beginning to end. As I sit, rather exhausted from my exertions both at home and at work for the moment, a sort of carnage both personal and professional piled up around me, I am contemplating the sustainability of this approach. Yet, like the cats, we are who and what we are and to some extent we have to accept that.

Marathon

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today we here at Deitch Studio are recovering from our endeavors in Brooklyn yesterday. (If you missed that post it can be found here.) It is a bright sunny but chilly day, and it is in fact Marathon Sunday here in Manhattan.

The first Sunday in November is the designated day for the marathon and today’s 45 or so degree, bright sunny day is on the fall cool side of what one might expect on this day. It is, for the rest of the United States, also the day our clocks change to Daylight Savings Time, falling back an hour at 2AM. And for those of us live along the marathon route it is notable as a rather significant inconvenience – we here on York and 86th Street are more or less corralled on the East side of First Avenue as the route for the runners enters onto First Avenue in the Fifties and runs well above us before turning west again.

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When I first moved to Yorkville in about 1987 I was deeply and personally offended by this as perhaps only a twenty four year old can be. How could anyone or anything dictate my ability to cross First Avenue at will and do what I wanted on a Sunday afternoon? That was crazy and I raged a bit, but it was indeed true. The marathon is quite simply an immovable reality of New York life.

 

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Yorkville – 86th between First and Second Avenues.

 

Over time it became a marker in each and every year. There were years when I crossed First Avenue early and returned late, thereby avoiding the issue of crossing during the thick of the run which lasts a few hours. When I worked for Central Park we hosted a brunch at the north end of the park – Central Park always plays a key role in the marathon as the finishing point and I always like to see it showcased, often at its best with leaves blazing with fall color.

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Fall flowers on Park Avenue recently.

 

If you are wondering, no it has never occurred to me to watch the marathon from our perch. Standing on First Avenue and cheering does not much interest me. We can usually hear the cheer go up for the front runners and then an ongoing later as the pack swells and travels up the Eastside.

One year I unthinkingly made a date with Carol Lay for lunch downtown in the East Village and had to perform the maneuver I like least which is sort of running along with the participants up a few blocks while you cross – trying not to distract or impede them in any way. I successfully managed it that day, however shortly following me there was a nasty incident where an older man who was blind insisted on being escorted across and it ended badly with a crash with a runner causing some injury to both. This incident scarred me for attempting that crossing in future years.

Meanwhile, the date with Carol stands out in my mind because she had given my phone number to an inquiring Kim Deitch at a Halloween wedding. The result was a date with him on the long Veteran’s Day weekend the following week, 25 years ago this year and the rest is our marital history. Nonetheless, other years have dictated a need to cross, although it is generally manageable if you at least time it so you are not in the thick of it.

In recent years I have accepted the limitations of the day for the most part. The largest irritant has been trying to time a trip to and from the gym at an optimum time. I recently joined a gym in our building so this year even that doesn’t concern me much. I generally devote this day of urban captivity to turning over my closets to fall and winter clothes (another fine tradition of New York life in a small apartment, the seasonal shift of clothing from our basement storage unit), but this year we are too tightly packed and distressed by our kitchen operation for me to manage it right now. At this rate you will see me layering my summer wardrobe way into winter and throwing a wool coat over it. (With an upcoming trip to Madison, Wisconsin in about ten days this could get interesting. I think they have already had snow this season.)

Although I am very fond of working out I am not a runner. Persistent and systemic arthritis have prevented from me exploring it – the constant pounding hastening an eventual need for fusions and replacement joints which lurk in my future. My cardio takes place on a more forgiving elliptical machines or a bike. I don’t think I have marathoning in my nature though either. I have always thought training for a triathlon would be more my style – breaking running up with swimming and biking. It is unlikely to happen with this body in this lifetime however.

Nonetheless, I have made my peace with my role as temporary prisoner to the marathon and accept it as a rite of autumn. Today’s grocery delivery, trip to the drugstore and to buy sample paint will wait until the day is longer in the tooth and a fewer, slower runners remain, making their way up First Avenue, as the now earlier than yesterday sunset overtakes New York City.

 

 

Brooklyn Bound

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

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

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Our apartment earlier this week. Arg!

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Renovation: Right in the Thick of It

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Blackie curled up in bed, as usual.

 

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

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

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

 

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

Kitten on the Keys via the New Yorker

The Many Reincarnations of Kim Deitch

Info on the Comic Arts Brooklyn gig

 

 

Reincarnation Stories: A Very Biased Review

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Photo of Felix potty chair as supplied by Mel Birnkrant

 

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This is a delightfully Deitchian color page!

 

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

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

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

 

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

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Buck Jones and his horse, Silver

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reincarnation Stories Revealed – Making the Comics

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It is a very exciting week here at Deitch Studio! As I write today (they are yanking our windows out of the wall as I start this) the big news here is that Reincarnation Stories is hitting the stands at last! Yay! Today I am putting on my dyed in the wool Deitch fan hat and telling all about how the books get made, followed by my honestly biased review of Reincarnation Stories tomorrow. While I have written about Kim’s work in the past (see my recent post about his book Beyond the Pale which was my introduction to him here) this launches with a bit of a diatribe on the subject of the books he has done during the time we have been together.

I realize I cannot help but start with Kim’s process of making comics because when I open a book that I have watched him make for me, the process of getting there, and the lingering memories of what we were doing during each stage telescopes before me. These are microcosms of our daily life and certain drawings take me back to utterly unrelated events. (We were watching the election back when that was drawn; I was traveling in Shanghai when he came up with that…) However, mostly I remember watching it all come to life on blank sheets of paper – or even before when the story was just a kernel that Kim told me or that grew from a nascent conversation, or with him waiting for me to wake up on a Saturday morning, sitting on the edge of the bed and anxiously saying he has a story idea he wants to try on me.

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Kim may be surprised to know that this cover takes me right back to when we first started dating! I was beyond delighted to watch it come to life.

 

The first story I remember watching Kim work on was Molly O’Dare from what would become the Shadowland book. (Molly comes back for a rip roarin’ turn in Katherine Whaley.) We had started seeing each other and, Kim being Kim, he had his work along with him so that he could fit a few hours in here and there. It was my first chance to see how the sausage is made in a Kim Deitch comic book (they still were published as comic books, pamphlet length, then) and I was fascinated. The process from the simplest un-readable lay-outs to proper roughs and then fully realized lay-outs – which would then be traced and inked. (I had missed the character development sketch pages for that story. In some ways this has since become my favorite part of the process.)

As someone who draws (and actively was at the time) I was fascinated by Kim’s process. After writing the story in outline form, he more or less draws the entire book about four times. There are the roughest of roughs where the script sort of gets put down, and at that point Kim has to walk me through it because it isn’t legible. Then come the readable roughs. It was more layers than I would have dreamed possible.

About this time, if not earlier, those character drawings start fleshing out not just characters, but locations too, teasing out situations. Sometimes there is some back and forth – Kim using writing to push drawing forward and the other way around. If you’ve suspected that there is a Deitch universe behind every book, that somehow you never quite get to see – that’s it! The El Dorado – there actually is one! These are glorious pencil drawings on 11″x14″ copy paper. He makes piles of them.

Some have notes he’s written to himself with an arrow or box – sometimes it is a tidbit about the character Pam in her new size body or Transferring the souls of dead human beings into new miniaturized living bodies as from a new sheet hot off the press, shown below. Yes, I am here to tell you, everything does have a history and background. Some of the folks who follow Kim on Facebook see these as they develop. You too are getting a great backseat view of the process, albeit in pieces. And yep, we have ’em all and someday I want to see the best of them published.

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Snapshot of a design page, snatched from the pile, for Kim’s next book, How I Make Comics.

 

Meanwhile, the process marches on and readable roughs get turned into layouts which are amazingly finished looking, yet further changes are made before – voilà – they are finally traced onto Bristol board before being inked. The lightbox Kim uses to trace his drawings was a novelty to me. (A small Butler-Deitch fact is that a lightbox of my own was the first gift he gave me – one that eventually went on to be a shared one when his died. I believed we are now ironically using one that I in turn bought him when that one died. Something about lightboxes.) I had, before meeting Kim, been holding things up to the window to trace them, usually in order to flip them. (Welcome to the 20th century Pam.)

Anyway, the sheets of drawings quickly pile up – first the Xerox paper pages, followed by piles of inked finished pages, until (awash in paper) the story sits finished in a grand pile next to Kim on his desk. (I believe I have mentioned that we live in a single room where Kim also works? Yes, storage is an issue.) These days things then get scanned – there was a time within memory when they were carefully wrapped, packed up and Fed Ex’ed to Fantagraphics. We would be on pins and needles until we were assured they had arrived safely – and again when they were to be sent back. Scanning has its own issues – faithful Pictorama readers know that our scanner died on the very last page of Reincarnation Stories. We are hard on scanners. (There is great grousing during the scanning phase which is persnickety with making sure all pages are scanned, kept in order and all the scans are good.)

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The pile today. To my knowledge this is all of Reincarnation Stories and some of the new book, How I Make Comics. Kim notes that the other half of the book pile lurks, barely visible behind the lamp.

 

Kim and I met after Boulevard of Broken Dreams was published as comic books, although I had the pleasure of revisiting it all when it was published in hardcover as a single book by Pantheon (’02). So now I am going to start to wear my fan hat a bit more and say that as much as I loved seeing Boulevard published as a book, the size disappointed me and I felt the same about Alias the Cat (’07) – as beloved as it is for me. Both are better printed in comic book size – some of the detail isn’t sharp enough when you take Kim’s drawings and scale them down. Shadowland, a book of ribald carnival related stories displaying Kim at his best with this genre, collected and published by Fantagraphics at the about the same time (2006) was printed in a glorious size which further highlighted the difference. (It is in a trade paperback format of roughly 9″x12″.) I would love to see all his books re-issued in this or the same size as Reincarnation Stories. (Just sayin’ to you all at Fantagraphics.)

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Alias isn’t my first appearance in Kim’s comics (I have a cameo in Smilin’ Ed) but Alias is the first time my comic book character is in fully realized glory. I could and probably should devote considerable space to my love of Alias the Cat – I am quite sure few women can claim such a declaration from their spouse as this book is to Kim seeing me via my cat collecting mania. Now, looking back, the collection was in the somewhat early stages – readers here know that it has grown in leaps and bounds. Anyway, the thrill of opening that book never quite pales for me.

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Sporting a great coat designed by Kim, but a hat I really own – book held open by a rather sharp beaver paperweight I gave Kim during the beaver story in Katherine Whaley.

 

In passing I will say, as I am wont to do in person, that my comic book character is a tad more volatile than I think of myself. I don’t think I lose my cool as quickly as she does. (She’s a yeller and I am not.) Although some of her wardrobe reflects mine (a black beret-style hat I have worn for many seasons, handmade by a Japanese couple who used to have a store down the street – I have been recognized in it a comic book stores and cons when wearing it), but some is clothing designed by Kim I would love to own in real life. There is a certain winter coat that I would love to have – and the dress that I wear at the end of Reincarnation Stories is pretty spectacular too. I suppose my character being immortalized in them will have to be sufficient.

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Detail from the What It All Means section of Reincarnation Stories – the dress I wish I owned!

 

The Amazing, Enlightening and Absolutely True Adventures of Katherine Whaley (2013) breaks all the rules and the tosses much of the tradition of the making of a Kim Deitch comic book up in the air with an original more text (but not less drawing) format. While I do not appear in it (Kim barely does) I have a very strong sense that the design for Katherine Whaley is very much me, and Kim has said that the Eleanore Whaley character has much of me. Another shout out to Fantagraphics and especially the late Kim Thompson who edited that book – he took a chance and allow Kim to design it as a horizontal which the early art just screamed out for and it looks wonderful. Kim T. did a lovely job on that book and it is dedicated to him.

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Uncredited Pam drawing making an appearance here in the epilogue of Katherine Whaley

 

Meanwhile, the fact for the day for you Deitch Studio aficionados is on page 164, in the epilogue, is a small drawing of some beavers and the main character drawn by me. While the making of Katherine Whaley was in some ways stressful, it was a somewhat different process for Kim and the concern of whether or how it would be made to work remained a question during much of the conception and production, it really came out full blown from his mind in a very coherent way and he blasted through it. (It is my own opinion that this book will someday be considered a pivotal contribution that Kim made to the evolution of the graphic novel and perhaps suffered from being a bit before its time. I say that both as a biased wife and an uber Deitch fan.)

So, as I sit down now with this yummy amazing and satisfyingly fat copy of Reincarnation Stories I couldn’t be happier or more proud of Kim! Tomorrow I will get into what I will call a wife’s Very Biased Review of Reincarnation Stories. I hope your copy has arrived and that you will take the trip with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joyeux Anniversaire: an Anniversary Ode to Kim

Pam’s Pictorama Post: For those of you who are wondering where all the photos have gone I assure you that I am storing up a few that are slowing coming in by mail. Much like the Felix fiesta of a few weeks ago, a photo phase is in our near future. However, today following on yesterday’s whining about our apartment woes, I am scribbling an anniversary ode to Kim – tomorrow is the day. (Surprise Kim!)

While at the moment we find ourselves largely devoted to the more ho hum aspects of our lives – packing for the window replacement, doctor’s appointments, a loaf bread gone unexpectedly moldy, and Cookie stealing Blackie’s favorite sleeping spot (Blackie is pacing the apartment grumbling as a result), our 19 years rates some ballyhoo I think despite the fact that we rarely put much into celebration of the day. (Also of note, come November we will have met 25 years ago and have lived together for most of that time. Sometimes we seem to focus more on that anniversary than the day we actually got hitched.)

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Bronze cat based on Benin design and perched on local fabric, all brought back from South Africa

 

One’s 19th anniversary is evidently the bronze anniversary, symbolizing stability and health within the union, reflecting the way the couple have supported each other through challenges and obstacles, according to our friends at Google. (Kim, a heads up that your favorite metal, copper, doesn’t come up until our 21st.) Having just purchased a bronze cat (which is perhaps the only bit of bronze we own) we will attribute it to the anniversary granting me credit where it is perhaps not due as I only looked that up this morning. Meanwhile, I tend to agree with Google – the 19th seems like a moment to raise your head up and acknowledge that the corporation is running just fine and to take a moment to give a nod to the Board of Directors. Yay us!

I think the best tribute I can give to our union is that when I congratulate people on getting engaged I tell them all that I wish that they will be as happy with the decision as I am and I mean it very literally. Quite simply, it is the best decision I have ever made and it was not one I arrived at easily either. I still marvel at the workings of the machine that is marriage, and I am the first to say it seems to be tricky business – to the extent one can claim to get it right.

Putting romance aside for the moment, I think of it more like a corporation. Your spouse is your teammate on all the things to come every single day, as long as you are together. (Not to mention that your lives will be one long continuous conversation – people should consider that when picking out a spouse. I beg people to consider this and make sure they are really interesting.) That covers a heck of a lot – everything from career decisions, to leaky faucets, to which side to support in the coup d’etat of the co-op board. It is damn hard to find the right person to partner with in all of what life throws at us so I don’t blame my younger self for questioning if I was up to the task of finding one.

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However, in Mr. Deitch I am pleased to report that I find the best yang to my yin. Where he is fuzzy I am on point, where I have moments of panic he remains calm. He is dreamier and I am more concrete. This puts us in charge of different segments of the corporation, Deitch Studio if you will, but doesn’t mean that one doesn’t inform the other. Kim’s right there when I make career decisions and I make my nascent contributions to Kim’s comics world.

Meanwhile, the world of Deitch comics is pretty much one you enter into when you walk through the door of Apartment 16D here on 86th and York Avenue. As a mega-Deitch fan I enthusiastically embraced being a card carrying member of that world immediately when Kim and I first started living together and my appreciation has only grown. It is an interesting and delightful (if occasionally dark) place – and there is nowhere I would rather reside. Somehow we still manage the day-to-day of bill paying, grocery shopping, long work days, and periodic separations such as my recent trip to South Africa for work, while keeping one foot happily in the realm of Deitchiana.

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Reincarnation Stories hits the stands the day after our anniversary! Lucky me, my comic book avatar makes numerous appearances.

 

We rarely actually fight, but do disagree and snipe as people will – especially perhaps people who live together in a very small space. And only being human we nurse our gripes and allow them to fester until they take on velocity and grow to unwarranted proportions upon which a periodic reckoning takes place. This is always very painful as ultimately we are each other’s best friend and to be on the outs with each other is really being out of sorts with yourself.

So today I raise my metaphorical glass to my mate and wish us many more decades ahead. One cannot know where time and life will take us and how we will respond, but it is my fervent wish that I am penning much the same sentiments for years to come. For now a tip of the hat to the first nineteen years.