The Search for Smilin’ Ed!

By Kim Deitch (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-324-8

Kim Deitch has been one of the leading lights of America’s Comix Underground since its earliest days, although as with Harvey Pekar and American Splendor, it is only in recent years that he has won wider acclaim: in his case with 2002’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams. For the past two decades Deitch has been producing occasional short stories about a down-at-heel carnival the shabby, eccentric no-hopers that have populated it through-out the 150 years, the eerie aliens who have preserved its posterity and of course, the immortal Waldo the Cat, star of the graphic novel under review here.

In The Search for Smilin’ Ed! we have a formalised, recognisable Kim Deitch Universe – gloriously captured for your delight and delectation in a fabulous full-colour fold-out bonus feature within this comfortingly eccentric and incredibly accessible chronicle – as the author returns, albeit tangentially, to the outré characters of his fabulous Shadowland collection, expanding his ever-growing cast and still tellingly concerned with an absurdist examination of American popular culture scenarios.

With this surreal historiography of the hunt for a childhood landmark of misspent youth, the author once more shares the intoxicating joys of living in the past and dwelling in shared memories. This reassuringly weighty, mostly black and white tome leads with a terrific potted history and incisive essay, ‘Auguries of Brilliance: The Kim Deitch Universe’ by Comics scholar and educator Bill Kartapoulos, followed by the aforementioned universal crib-sheet fold-out, before the narrative wonderment unfolds in a progression of serialised episodes culled from the hallowed pages of famed alternative comics anthology Zero Zero.

One of Deitch’s most enduring characters is the irascible animated cartoon cat Waldo, who here returns to converse with the author himself as they reminisce, revel and ultimately reveal the hidden history of Smilin’ Ed, a pioneer of children’s television who mysteriously disappeared from public gaze in 1954, and was found dead on his yacht. But was he…?

Deitch’s stories are about stories – and particularly storytellers. As his authorial counterpart and the devilish Waldo converse, a cascade of mysteries are revealed when the monochrome moggy unburdens himself of his role in the vanishment, which in turn leads to a convoluted saga of fame, kidnapped boys, murdered children, fortune, a frog and demons, extraterrestrial cultural anthropologists – or voyeurs (?) – immortal pygmies and a social call to the Drawing Rooms of Hell…

Combining the utterly irresistible power of nostalgia and insatiable curiosity with science-fiction, conspiracy theory, urban history, fact and legend, show-biz razzmatazz, supernatural horror, Film Noir and a highly developed sense of the meta-real, Deitch once more weaves an irresistible spell that charms, thrills and disturbs whilst his meticulous drawing holds the reader in a deceptively fluffy, yet inescapable grip.

This volume further breaks down the thin walls of perceived reality by adding a lithograph ‘Ignacio the Bullfighter’ which was part of the narrative to the extra-textual content and also contains an all-new sequel and 21st century update, ‘Consider the Beaver’, which brings us up to date on the world of Waldo whilst delineating the forced evolution of Mankind’s potential successor. As always fact and fiction are seamlessly blended together until only a hyper-cranked search engine could discern truth from fable…

Follow the saga of the World According to Deitch in this wonderful compendium and you too could join the unfolding cartoon parade of the “Americana Way”. In Fact – or Fiction – you might already be there, but you’ll never know unless you look…

Characters, stories and artwork © 2010 Kim Deitch. All Rights Reserved.