Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Reincarnation Stories by Kim Deitch

Kim Deitch's graphic novels are usually about old, forgotten entertainment -- vaudeville, early movies, stage magic -- that don't actually exist in this world. And they generally feature prominently a character named Kim Deitch who tells us the story and gets involved in mysteries about those old pieces of entertainment, as well as some events that may be mildly supernatural.

In the books, it's all straight-faced. I'm pretty sure Deitch knows this all is fiction, and plans it all as fiction, though he's not usually one for winking at the reader to give that away...but I think I caught a few winks in his most recent book, Reincarnation Stories.

He might be winking here because this book is even more centrally about "Kim Deitch" and his wife Pam than earlier books have been -- the flashbacks here are mostly to Kim as a child, not to movie sets and vaudeville theatres and mysterious lands. (Though there's some of each of those as well.)

So the first thing to know about Deitch is: this is fiction. You know it's fiction, he knows it's fiction. But what if it wasn't? That's the joy of a Deitch book -- that and his lovingly detailed drawings, which often stretch across entire spreads under long, descriptive captions. (Have I mentioned Deitch is a master of comics? He's been doing this for fifty years or so now, and he's pretty damn good at it.)

This time out, Deitch learns he is, or might be, the reincarnation of failed screenwriter Sid Pincus -- first identified as such at the age of four, by D.W. Griffith in the last days of his life. Stories is told in about a dozen-and-a-half chapters, each of which I believe originally appeared somewhere semi-separately. And each section does somewhat stand alone; Stories is the comics equivalent of a Van Vogt fix-up, all of the pieces written to be both things in themselves and part of the larger whole. That does make the whole thing episodic and slightly less strong than Deitch's best books like Alias the Cat or The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

But it's still got that unique Deitch energy, that vibration of truth and fiction on every page. And it's centered around "Kim Deitch" learning some quirky and bizarre (and, need I say it again, entirely made-up) truths about the world, life, human existence, and the meaning of everything.

So if you happened to miss it -- it was published at least a year ago -- you have a treat ahead of you.

But if you've never read Deitch before, pick up one of the books more centrally about Waldo, his trickster alter-ego/externalized id to start out with. There'll be plenty more Deitch to dig into, so start with the killers.

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