The Boulevard of Broken Dreams
by Kim Deitch
Pantheon Books
hardcover; 192 pages

 "At last, the general public will be allowed to discover one of the best-kept secrets in comics for the past thirty-five years. Kim Deitch has created a private world as fully realized in its own way as Faulkner's. He's an American original, a spinner of yarns whose beautifully structured pages and intricate plots conjure up a haunting and haunted American past."

     —Art Spiegelman

Review by Yakov Chodosh

Kim Deitch has been working in underground and alternative comics since the 1960's. Over that time, he has created a body of work that places him as one of the "all-time greats," according to Art Spiegelman. Every story, drawing, and illustrated text in Deitch's oevure weaves itself into an overarching narrative of incredible scope.  Although Deitch's world includes midgets, circus freaks, extraterrestrials, and demons, his stories are, above all, driven by his characters.  Jim Woodring writes, "The more he draws, the more we see of previously unsuspected relationships between characters and events, relationships that go forward and backward in time and which cross the borders of many different realms which are gradually revealed to be different aspects of the same reality."

Waldo is a blue cartoon cat, patterned after character designs from 1920's cartoons.  Waldo's relationship to reality is complex.  Like Mr. O'Malley from the 40's strip Barnaby, he exists "kind of on the edge of things" and is only visible to certain people.  He is, according to a model sheet, "a bad ass... smart, lazy... thoroughly corrupt... occasionally guilty of an act of kindness," like an urban Bugs Bunny.  Ted Mishkin, a visionary animator at the Fontaine Fables with alcohol problems, is the only person who sees Waldo (until a pivotal scene in The Mishkin File, which I won't give away).  He has a crush on his coworker, Lillian Freer, who is secretly sleeping with his brother, Al Mishkin.  Fred Fontaine and Al run the studio.  Other characters are Winsor Newton, a Winsor McCay-esque character, who instructs and inspires Ted and Lillian; Jack Shick, the new executive in charge of "changing the look" to a corny Disney style; and Nate Mishkin, Al's estranged son, who is an alcoholic adult in Waldo World.  Waldo the cat is present throughout the narrative, as is his complex relationship with Ted and Nate Mishkin.

Because of many recent works by such artists as R. Crumb, Seth, Julie Doucet, Chester Brown and Joe Matt to name a few, many readers have stereotyped alternative comics as a field dominated by self-absorbed, confessional autobiographers who have nothing to talk about besides their boyfriends, crappy jobs, and private fantasies.  Kim Deitch, however, does not come close to fitting into that category.  His wholly fictional story runs from the 1910s until 1994, and it includes, as Waldo World #1's cover states, "Comedy! Romance! Adventure!" in the style of 1920's movies (which appear in the backgrounds on some of the pages) or magazine serials.  Jim Woodring calls the title story a "masterpiece" that contains "one of the most frighteningly effective emotional climaxes ever achieved in the medium."

Kim Deitch's art deserves an essay in itself.  His use of parallel lines for shading may take a little effort for the reader, but once you are in, you will wonder how you ever thought it was hard to read or unclear.  Thoughts are made clear by the facial expressions.  His style is strongly influenced by old Fleisher cartoons; panels can include up to fifteen individual faces, all belonging to characters with their own evident personalities.  And his layouts are some of the most innovative that have ever been seen in comics, but his innovations always exist to tell the story.

The stories collected in this book are "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams," "The Mishkin File," and "Waldo World," all originally printed in the early 90's in various publications (see our Kim Deitch Bibliography).

The book itself promises to be a splendid edition.  Chip Kidd has reported on the TCJ Message Boards that the stories were revised and appended with a full twenty pages of new and unreleased material.  Kidd and Deitch collaborated on the covers and design.  With any luck, this Pantheon volume will bring some much-deserved, overdue attention to the work of a man whom Art Spiegelman calls, "the best-kept secret in the avant-comix world."  Buy it!

retail price - $21.00
copacetic price - $17.85

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To discover more comics by Deitch, check out our Kim Deitch Bibliography (It's far from complete, but there's more than enough to sink your eye-teeth into.)

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Price and availability current as of 15 October 2005
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