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The Search For Smilin' Ed
posted May 20, 2010


Creator: Kim Deitch
Publishing Information: Fantagraphics, softcover, 144 pages, June 2010, $16.99
Ordering Numbers: 9781606993248 (ISBN13), 1606993240 (ISBN10)

imageThere's no cartoonist out there that makes better use of expanding canvasses than Kim Deitch. Literally and figuratively. The rhapsodic spreads -- one, two, even four pages -- he drops into his narratives are one of comics' finest stand-alone effects, and he creates short stories that are perfectly enjoyable as discrete units but somehow defy those idiosyncratic qualities to work just as effectively as building blocks in his grander books, like this new one from Fantagraphics. Deitch's longer narratives sneak up on you, a quality he shares with a few great cartoonist but perhaps most strongly Gilbert Hernandez. You think you're getting a statement or idea or an event so specific you'd never want to hear its telling twice but when strung together with several other such moments yours eyes widen as the complexity and grandeur of the bigger canvas is revealed. I'm not sure how he does it. I'm not sure I want to know.

In The Search For Smilin' Ed, Deitch uses his signature Waldo character, a dollop of self-reflection and perspective via what seem like autobiographical comics (I'm never 100 percent prepared to say they aren't until I've had some time to recover from my latest reading), and his wild take on the interaction between art, artist and audience in creating modern entertainment to provide 144 pages stuffed with material that both studies and reflects the anarchic entertainment of early television and creates a value system for art that encompasses everything from the comics you're reading to performance of Shakespeare that you'll never get the chance to see. Not bad, huh? The reliance in Search For Smilin' Ed on inexplicable connections, quests for information and the role of others including demons, aliens and altered human may force into consideration that this is a religious story, a uniquely spiritual take, in a sense, on Deitch's core areas of interest. Artists are motivated in part by the compulsion of demons and the limits of memory; their work reaches the pantheon of great art not by cultural approbation but when it's pursued and consumed by the ultimate audience for such works -- an audience freed by nature and technology from preconceived notions of value. Oh, to be on either side of that relationship, or to see the world as Deitch must for an hour, a week, or even a year.