Kim Deitch is sort of a second-tier comics alterna-Deity. He’s not as famous as Art Spiegelman or Dan Clowes, or Chris Ware or R. Crumb — and his work isn’t as straight-up pretentious as any of those artists, either. As such, I’ve tended to try to ignore his stuff; it’s boring and nostalgic and generally leaves me saying, “who cares?” but it could certainly be a lot more irritating than it is.
I’ve gotta say, though, that Deitch’s cover for the latest Comics Journal is pretty fucking godawful. (It’s reproduced below: copyright Deitch himself, or the Comics Journal, or some combination of the two, presumably.)
How does it suck? Let us count the ways….
1. Butt-Ugly Drawing
I’ve never been a huge fan of Deitch’s draftsmanship, but seeing it in glossy four-color really pushes it from “eh” to “ergh.” The character designs are awkward and flat and generally unmemorable. Neither realistically detailed, nor cartoonishly amusing, nor beautifully stylized, they hit that particular sweet spot of aesthetic alterna-nullity. Really, it seems like he drew this in Toys R’Us while gazing at some particularly unappealing humanoid plastic detritus.
2.Massively Lame Layout
Yes it’s cluttered and awkward, but it’s the clichés which kill me. The ironized faux pulp action cover page with the exclamation points and little yellow Splash! Bang! panels — how many more thousands of times do we have to see this crap? I guess it was sort of funny when underground folks like Deitch did it in the 60s…but that was getting on 50 years ago now. Could we come up with another cutesy layout gag to cover for the fact that we have no idea how to organize a page? Please?
3.Boring, Insular Content
We know you’re being interviewed, Kim. But couldn’t you maybe come up with something a little more interesting than just a picture of yourself and your relatives talking on the phone with Gary Groth? I know that would require a modicum of imagination, but it is a goddamn four-color cover — a showcase, you know? And no, putting that lame cat who’s in all your comics on the page doesn’t qualify as whimsy — it’s just another way of saying that you only have, like, the two ideas. (Incidentally, I did peel off the cover sticker; there is Additional Secret Content under there which, I am pleased to report, is just as boring and clichéd as the plainly visible content. Points for consistency, I suppose.)
I don’t know…maybe Deitch was having trouble meeting the deadline or something? As I said, I’m not a fan of his art in general, but this does seem a cut below his usual standard. In any case, it’s kind of embarrassing for a magazine devoted to comics to have such a thoroughly crappy cover. To say nothing of the embarrassment to the alterna-fanboys who worship this stuff (and yes, that includes you, Chris Ware.)
(To be fair, I thought last issue’s Tim Sale cover was beautiful. I guess they can’t all be gems…)
Update: Through the bizarrely instantaneous power of the Internet, there’s already a thread on the TCJ message board about this post. Ben Towle very politely suggests that I have crossed the line into personal attack, which certainly was not my intent. He also posted this image from Deitch’s Alias the Cat:
I quite like that, actually. It’s got a very nice Winsor McCay feel with the clean design and the manipulation of scale. He’s actually using the fact that his figures look like stiff, creepy dolls, too — and I really like details such as the smoke belching out of the castle. The colors are beautiful too, again in a McCay/art deco style. I can certainly see what Chris Ware loves about him here. So obviously Deitch can do imaginative, exciting work…. I don’t know, maybe there really was a deadline problem? Or maybe TCJ just brings out the insular hack in all of us?