Kim Deitch, Author . Pantheon $21 (160p) ISBN 978-0-375-42191-4

One of the godfathers of American underground comics, Deitch grew up among animators, and this graphic novel is his twisted allegorical history of the rise and fall of American animation. Spanning from 1927 (when theatrical cartoons began to hit their stride) to 1993, it's crammed with intrigue, mysteries and Deitch's trademark exploding page layout. The story concerns a close-knit group of employees of a minor animation studio, Fontaine Talking Fables, but it's driven by a malevolent talking cat named Waldo who's just real enough to drive some of the cartoonists who created him into alcoholism and madness. (Waldo's been appearing in one form or another in Deitch's work for 35 years.) It helps to know a bit about animation history to catch some of the jokes (animator Winsor Newton and his creation Milton the Mastodon, for instance, are clearly inspired by Winsor McCay and Gertie the Dinosaur). But even without this knowledge, the culture of the studios comes across clearly and the story's complicated chronology is remarkably engaging, albeit weirdly paced. Deitch has an odd, idiosyncratic visual style: his real-world characters are crudely two-dimensional, but they're drawn into distinctly un-cartoony tableaux of squalor and shadow. His funny animal characters, meanwhile, have all the squishable malleability of their silver-screen counterparts with an additional tinge of dark Surrealism. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 12/02/2002
Release date: 09/01/2002
Ebook - 160 pages - 978-0-307-51475-2
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