The Family Artistic: Kim Deitch on Pictorama
Kim Deitch on Pictorama
It’s hard to imagine visual storytelling without the Deitch family. Kim Deitch’s name seems to be synonymous with important comics. He’s often mentioned as one of the pioneers during the independent comix movement of the late 60s, and he was a frequent contributor to art spiegelman and Francoise Mouly’s RAW magazine in the '70s and '80s. For the past two decades, he’s focused on long-form stories – often featuring his most famous creation, Waldo the Cat – each achieving greater acclaim than the last.
Kim’s brothers Simon and Seth Deitch have each carved out their niche writing and drawing for various independent publications and short story collections, as well as for comic book fandom.
Gene Deitch, father of the trio, is a major figure in animation, having worked for nearly every major studio, including a time with MGM on Tom and Jerry shorts, and a three-year stint creating Krazy Kat shorts in the early 60s. His comic strip Terr’ble Thompson ran through 1955, and is currently available in collected form.
Now, the entire Deitch clan is under one cover, contributing to Deitch’s Pictorama (with dad Gene contributing the introduction), due from Fantagraphics in early September. Combining prose and art and comics, Deitch’s Pictorama showcases the Deitch family creativity.
Newsarama: Kim, your last few books, Shadowland, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, and Alias the Cat, were all longer narratives. Deitch’s Pictorama is a return to shorter work. Was that a conscious decision on your part?
Kim Deitch: I guess you could say that Pictorama being shorter pieces was a conscious decision, since it was a book that I decided to do with my two brothers. It was initially planned to be a relatively small book; more like a comic book pamphlet type deal specifically to showcase work by my two brothers along with myself.
The first work that inspired this was pencil drawings of a medieval Golem story that my brother Simon started drawing. I though they were promising, and I showed them to Kim Thompson at Fantagraphics one time a few years ago when he visited me here in New York. It occurred to me that such a book might also be a good place to feature some of the fiction writing of my brother Seth and that maybe I could also illustrate one of his short stories in such a book. At some point after Kim Thompson gave me the green light to do the project it occurred to Simon that maybe Seth could write some kind of continuity for his Golem drawings. I thought it was worth trying, though a long shot.
Seth came through and wrote such a story. On one hand I was appalled that he wrote such a long story. It really was too long for the project I had in mind and had pitched to Kim. On the other hand I loved the story and I never for a second considered trying to cut it down. Instead I went back to Kim and told him what happened and asked him if we could enlarge the project. He said okay and that's when what eventually became Deitch’s Pictorama began growing into a larger project.
NRAMA: As you just said, Pictorama is a shared book, with work by you, and your brothers Seth and Simon. Whose idea was it to put out a book of short work by all three of you?
KD: Well, as stated above it was my idea. My brother Seth has been writing really good fiction pieces for more than a decade now. I had already illustrated one of them in the third issue of Chris Ware's fanzine, The Ragtime Ephemeralist, a really nifty short story called A Face In The Echoes. I feel it is time to get his work out in front of the public which is one of the specific goals of Deitch's Pictorama.
NRAMA: When were these stories created?
KD: The stories were created at different times in the last few years. The first piece written was Seth's story Unlikely Hours, which was already a written stand-alone story before I got the idea for this project. Then came his continuity for the Golem story. While Simon was then supposedly doing more Golem illustrations to fill out that
written text, I went to work on illustrating Unlikely Hours and working out what I thought would be my only solo contribution to the book, The Cop On The Beat, The Man In The Moon And Me.
About a year in on all of this, I looked over my shoulder and discovered to my dismay that Simon had let a whole year go by and had done squat on filling out The Golem story with more illustrations. I began to get a little panicky since I saw The Golem as our big featured cover story and figured I had better cover my butt and come up with another lead story just in case Simon totally dropped the ball on me, which is when my 78 page story The Sunshine Girl began to come into being. While I was doing that Seth wrote his talking dog yarn The Children Of Aruf which I liked and decided to also include in the book.
NRAMA: One of my favorite things about your work is the peek into a hidden world within the world we know. You get into that shadow reality again here, in both of your “solo” stories, The Sunshine Girl – bottle cap collecting - and The Cop on the Beat – old-time songwriting and crooners. What keeps you coming back to the underbelly of collectible culture and the entertainment industry of the early 20th century?
KD: I just feel that the twentieth century was really terrific in terms of all the great entertainment that occurred in it. I also feel that it all peaked maybe a good ten years before I was born in 1944. One of my great passions in life is exploring and immersing myself in all of the spectacular creativity of that century and this is a big inspiration for much of the work that I do.
NRAMA: Simon and Seth’s The Golem is a really great historical piece, touching on religious persecution, and playing with timeless iconography. Who provided the illustrations for that piece?
KD: The illustrations were drawn in pencil by my brother Simon, many of which were done before the story was actually written and in fact inspired the writing of the story.
NRAMA: Seth’s Unlikely Hours reminds me of your work, but with a more sci-fi bent. Do you read each other’s work and offer feedback as you’re creating your individual stories?
KD: Seth and I read each others work, though not always as it is being done. That does happen some times though. I did just read an early draft of an interesting new story of his. A thing I like about occasionally illustrating his work is the fact that it gives me a chance to work on material I like which is in some ways similar to my work, but in his work there is often a level of sophistication not usually in my work which I enjoy, and which gives me a chance to be involved in work different than my own stuff in that respect.
NRAMA: Children of Aruf is hilarious. Seth’s a dog-owner, isn’t he?
KD: You know, Seth is not a dog owner, although I too would have guessed he was after reading that story.
NRAMA: Ha. Your father Gene, an animation pioneer, wrote the introduction to Deitch’s Pictorama, keeping the family feel of the entire book. How exciting is it to have the entire Deitch family under one cover?
KD: It's very exciting. It's been a somewhat rocky road getting there but I am glad and grateful that it managed to actually happen.
NRAMA: Will you ever collaborate with your father on a comics project?
KD: I don't know if that will ever happen. However I often show him my work and my two brothers do as well. He's a good critic and more than one idea of his has found its way into our work. He is the best kind of critic. First of all he is blunt and truthful. Secondly, when he sees something he does not like or thinks could be done better, he is forthcoming with a suggestion of how it might be done.
NRAMA: For readers who know Simon mostly as your co-writer on Alias the Cat, do you think they’ll be surprised to see his work here?
KD: I think many will be surprised. Many will be less surprised as his solo work has been showing up in the last few years, particularly in the pages of Mineshaft magazine.
NRAMA: What other projects are you working on these days?
KD: I think there has been a natural progression in my work lately toward longer stories. While working on the 77 page story in Pictorama, I really got to like the main female character in that story and felt sorry when that story was coming to a close to be leaving her behind. I am now working on a spin-off of that story which has not got a title yet, though it will eventually be a full length illustrated novel. It may take awhile to finish so I'm thinking I may also try to get out a second issue of Deitch's Pictorama in the mean time.
Simon has a great idea for a new nonfiction story that I will probably do the final art for. And I have an idea also for a new nonfiction story that could also run in that issue. Seth is always writing something new so I'm thinking there will probably be another issue of Pictorama. And the full length novel I am working on could conceivably eventually be a third issue.