Cat O' Many Tales

Kim Deitch Gets Animated

Boulevard is the story of people (and not-so-funny animals) who fall in and out of love, who get sick and die—who interact in emotional as opposed to plot-driven ways. Lillian Freer, union activist and ace ink-and-painter, grows from a little girl thrilling to an early animated vaudeville routine into the elderly caregiver of an invalid, doddering Ted Mishkin. Along the trajectory of her life, she's portrayed as the muse of Art, Eve in the Garden, cartoon feline, and luckless paramour of a parade of unworthy cads, such as serial adulterer Al Mishkin at the studio and Waldo on celluloid.

The yarn encourages re-readings to decipher the complex page layouts; the art drives the story, rarely repeating what has been said in the text. Deitch's brother, Simon (also a cartoonist, and one of the creators of Nickelodeon magazine's "Southern Fried Fugitives"), helped lay out some of the scenes. In one, the action flows from a studio soundstage up onto a screen of cavorting animals, then moves into their dreams—characters imagining characters, who ultimately burst out of the cartoon and bring the action back into the "real life" of the story. The wonder of Deitch's art exists right there, in that space where cartoons and reality disconnect.

Boulevard feels absolutely contemporary. Undoubtedly, years of uninhibited work in the underground has given Deitch empathy for those early animators who created an exhilarating new art form amid the Depression and gathering war jitters. Movements come and go, but individuals keep up the good fight. Some, like Ted Mishkin, are casualties, others survivors. Either way, their creations live on in the world. Or, as an irate studio backer complains, "Waldo the Cat is no Mickey Mouse"!

Fuckin'-A right—else, old Walt would be spinning in his grave.

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