Underground(s): Kim Deitch's Presentation at the 2003 UF Comics Conference
- You've heard of "Army brats," well I guess you could say I was a cartoon brat.
- Making animated cartoons is what my father, Gene Deitch, has been doing since I was 3 or 4 years old.
- So, from the late 40's on, I watched my father rise in that business as he moved from studio to studio from Los Angeles to Detroit, to New York City.
- Around 1956 he got the plum job of running Terrytoons, a huge cartoon studio in New Rochelle that had been there since 1930.
- My own interest in animation was quite high by that time and I was thrilled to be able to explore that fabulous old mausoleum of a studio.
- I met old guys there who'd actually worked on the old Aesop's Fables cartoons of the 1920's. . .which, believe it or not, were probably the most frequently shown cartoons on TV back in the 1950's.
- It was quite astonishing, to me, to see these same old guys now making modern art style cartoons with my father all those years later.
- Also, around that same time, I started making my own, home grown, animated cartoons with my best friend Tony Eastman...another cartoon brat. His parents met at Disney back before the big strike of 1942.
- As a matter of fact, the first crude cartoons of mine, that I ever put on film, were shot on Paul Terry's original 1915 animation stand that my father found abandoned in the TerryToons Basement.
- So I guess a logical question you may be asking yourself at this point
is--How then did I end up doing comics instead of animated cartoons?
( Well it's a good question even if you didn't ask.)
- God knows I've always been movie mad.
- When I was a kid, I loved nothing better than editing film together into something that might hold a person's interest on a movie screen.
- And I've always loved old movies for reasons even I don't completely understand.
- I would have killed to have been in on the birth of movies, but I was born too late.
- Then there was the issue of my actual drawing ability.
- My father summed it up this way when he said, "You know, when I was your age, I could draw circles around you. We might be able to make a writer out of you, but I don't see much future for you in animation.
- And generally speaking, he was right.
- And anyway, even if I'd had the right stuff for animation, its future looked bleak when I was coming up in the 1960's.
- Cartoons were mostly being done overseas by then--where they could be produced more cheaply.
- And most of them (at least for me) weren't much fun to watch either.
- Basically a job in animation, in those days, meant you were working for 'the man.'
- If you were luckymaybe you could get a job somewhere working on TV commercials.
- At best you might be a cog in someone else's machine working on someone else's person vision.
- Comics on the other hand were starting to look more interesting in the 60's.
- They were still dishing out variations of the same old stuff, but a lot of it (particularly the stuff being done at Marvel) was starting to look pretty interesting.
- And as a result a lot of people, including me, were beginning to sense an untapped potential in comics.
- When Jule's Feiffer, in his 1965 book, Great Comic Book Heroes, referred to comics as "movies on Paper," a light definitely went off in my brain.
- Here was a great, low rent, imminently doable, way to create stories, and, hopefully, entertain people!
- Simple as it sounds this was a huge revelation to me!
- And it was that kind of yearning and thinking by myself and others that eventually led to the underground comics boom of the 60's and 70's.
- What's more, the crudeness of the earliest comics that I saw in underground newspapers gave me hope that even my primitive abilities might have a chance to develop in this emerging new field.
- Shifting gears hear, I'd like to tell you about The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, and how it happened to come about.
- To do that, I need to tell you about an old time cartoonist named Winsor McCay.
- At the top of the 20th century, McCay drew a highly cinematic comic strip called "Little Nemo in Slumberland."
- The cinematic part was no coincidence,
- ... for as many of you I'm sure know,
- At about that time McCay was also making some of the very earliest animated cartoons.
- His most famous cartoon, which he toured in vaudeville with, was called "Gertie the Dinosaur."
- When I say he toured vaudeville with it, I mean he was actually part of the show.
- It was an interactive deal, McCay appeared onstage right next next to the projected image of his dinosaur character, Gertie.
- The projected cartoon was carefully timed so that he could give Gertie orders with various comic results.
- McCay's cartoons, made in the years before World War I, were quite wonderful...
- ...and were technically way head of anything that came after them for a good long time...
- ...but it was a tough act to follow, even for McCay, and after a while he drifted back to newspaper work.
- Okay time goes by and in 1927 or 28, Max Fleischer, a rising star in the emerging animated cartoon business, decided to throw venerable old Winsor McCay a testimonial dinner.
- Rumor has it that animators from the various New York studios pooled their talents to make a pornographic cartoon to liven up the party.
- Rumor further has it that the party got so wild and everybody got so drunk that the projectionist ended up rolling around on the floor with the unspooled film instead of showing it.
- Anyway, it's fairly well documented that at some point, McCay got up to deliver some remarks and launched into a lofty speech about what the future might hold for animation.
- But he wasn't too far along when he realized he was losing his increasingly pie-eyed audience.
- What happened next forms the basis of how Boulevard of Broken Dreams begins.
- My brother Simon and I changed some names and threw my cartoon cat Waldo
into the mix,
- but what I'm about to show you actually contains a good deal more truth than fiction.
- and it seemed like an ideal place to begin a story about the ups and downs of the fascinating, precarious animated cartoon business.
- Okay this is the family section. I included this sketch of Bert Simon (kind of a stand in for my father in Boulevard) to remind me to plug my dad's new book, Cat on a Hot Thin Groove by Gene Deitch--coming soon from Fantagraphics; watch for it.
- I'm sure many of you are wondering what my brother Simon, who collaborated
with me on Boulevard, is up to these days. Here's a sample
of the really cool golden age comic book style art he's been doing lately.
[Those in the know will see that he's riffing on the stlye here not so much Jack Kirby as Al Avison who took over Captain America in 1942.]
- And I hope you'll all check out Chis Ware's Ragtime Ephemeralist #3, which features this story by my youngest brother Seth (with illustrations by me). Seth has been totally knocking me out lately with one great story after another.
- And finally, here's the back cover of my newest comic book, "The Stuff of Dreams," with a picture of my lovely wife, Pam, and all her cats, real and otherwise — and Pam also is a great artist. You can catch up with some of her work in Blab! magazine.
watching and waiting in vain.
It seems that life's a stormy seas hold nothin' for me
but broken dreams — and shattered schemes."
My ships! Why, my ships are sailing home to me!"
and so on — but then —
"Why, there's something wrong.
They're not stopping.
Those are not my ships!"
I wonder where they can be."
And one day in 1929, it gave Ted Mishkin a great idea.
Fontaine Fables, where Ted worked as an animator, already had a spectacular project for the new talking pictures.
But now, amazingly, some cell set ups have been unearthed. So here, for the first time, are some incredibly rare scenes from that lost cartoon and a few others to boot.
- We're heading for the movie portion of this show, which I'd like to introduce by reading one more short comic.
- That summer saw us bossing our younger brothers all over Manhattan with
a fake mummy case.
[Figure 45] [Figure 46]
- Dial M had topical humor:
- A "Payola" joke.
- Even a feeble Eisenhower gag.
- Thanks to a lot of stolen stock footage, our big war sequence had thundering cossacks, an atom bomb blast, and great guest stars like Stalin and Pope Pius.
- Tony Eastman's special effects were brilliant. Seen today, his stop-motion
work in the film's dinosaur sequence is still a show stopper.
[Figure 47] [Figure 48]