Monday, March 22, 2010

Comics Review: Deitch's Pictorama, Kim Deitch, Simon Deitch, and Seth Callan Deitch

This is a revised version of a review first published in The Comics Journal #296. It first appeared online on Pol Culture.

Kim Deitch and his brothers team up in an ostensible effort to combine comics and prose fiction into a new form. But apart from an elegant autobiographical piece by Kim, the book never really comes together.

The five stories in this collection of work by Kim Deitch and his brothers Seth Deitch and Simon Kallan Deitch aren’t really comics; they are prose pieces that occasionally try to combine the two media. In his introduction, Kim writes that his ambition for the book was “to contribute toward a hybrid medium for graphic novels, better merging the written fiction and comics mediums [sic].” Kim’s “The Cop on the Beat,” which deftly mixes prose exposition with cartooned scenes and asides, is the only piece that succeeds in this regard. “The Sunshine Girl,” adapted by Kim from interviews with story protagonist Eleanor Whaley, handles the blending of media far more awkwardly. And “Unlikely Hours,” a prose story by Seth that Kim attempts to shoehorn into the format, would have been better served if it had been left alone. The interplay between prose and pictures often seems gimmicky. Worse, it frequently disrupts the flow of the story. “The Golem,” written by Seth with art by Simon, is an illustrated story in the traditional sense. Seth’s “Children of Aruf” is all but exclusively prose; the only illustration is Kim’s frontispiece.

The story quality is mixed. “The Cop on the Beat” is the best of them. It’s an autobiographical piece about an unrequited romance of Kim’s that shifts into a discussion of the musicians Kim loves from the 1920s and ‘30s. It ends with an amusing epiphany that ties the two parts of the story together. “Children of Aruf,” which imagines a world in which dogs can talk, is the most enjoyable of Seth’s contributions. “The Sunshine Girl” and “Unlikely Hours” are ostensibly autobiographical pieces (“as told to” with the former) that veer into wild fantasy, and they both have the same problem: the stories don’t effectively prepare the reader for the outlandish climaxes. This makes them seem absurd. “The Golem” recounts the Hebrew legend (in a Holy Land setting instead of Prague); its only distinction is in using shifting points of view to tell the familiar story.

The lettering in the book is a distracting flaw. Kim’s stories are both hand-lettered, and given the sloppiness, typesetting would have been preferable. There are numerous problems with baseline adherence, word spacing, and size consistency. The lettering also occasionally butts up against the pictures. These may seem like minor matters, but they make the book a needlessly bumpy ride.

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