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An Orgy of Playboy's Eldon Dedini
posted December 5, 2006
Eldon Dedini (creator), Hugh Hefner, Michelle Urry, Gary Groth (editors), Various
Fantagraphics, Hardcover, 220 pages, December 2006, $39.95
This is a ridiculously pretty book, smartly art directed, tastefully appointed (any super-nerdy fans looking forward to the all-star cartoon editor Groth-Urry team-up should be more than happy), and well-supported by text and a surprise DVD documentary about its subject. That subject would be the late Eldon Dedini, the longtime full-page gag cartoonist from Playboy
, whose comics works make up the bulk of the book. Looking at these cartoons under one cover is kind of like eating all of the frosting off a wedding cake. Dedini drew people scooped from pregnant pieces of foam and placed them against backgrounds of light, wood and velvet; he practically owned the color red. He was also funny, and this book reveals that he had a point of view.
The majority of Dedini's cartoons depict a heavily sexualized or decadent situation; the gag comes out of someone's "Hell, Yeah!" throaty celebration of the same. A man surrounded by a swimming pool's worth of bathing suited lovelies: "Well, I've always looked at it as sort of stockpiling the American Dream." It's easy to imagine a great many of the punchlines as if they were bellowed by Oliver Reed or Tallulah Bankhead, and Dedini manages, barely
, to keep things out of high-five territory. There's something vigorous and exhilarating in the way Dedini's characters embrace the good life, or at least the good life from knees to neck. Watching someone enjoy themselves is almost always a entertaining time, even if you don't necessarily take to what they're doing.
Even with a few pages given over to Dedini's lovely preparatory studies, there are enough completed cartoons on hand that the attentive reader will come away with a sense of Deldini's minor keys as well. The most effective of these secondary approaches comes when a character fights the forward momentum of a scene with the same energy brought to its establishment. In one that made me laugh out loud, a small boy dragging his drunken father home tells him "Gotta tell you, Pop -- this keeping the family together for the children's sake ain't worth shit!" There's something about the raised voice that's almost participatory and works against the harshness of tone, a grand ol' time turned sour receiving a spirited trumping. Other cartoons, especially those few where a reluctant actor is involved, work hardly at all. They feel mean-spirited, like bullying. Luckily, most of what's on hand here proves highly pleasurable, loud and lush and decadent to the exact point right before things begin to rot.