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Shadowland
posted December 18, 2006
 

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Creator: Kim Deitch
Publishing Information: Fantagraphics, softcover, black and white with some color pieces at the end of the volume, $18.95, 180 pages, November 2006.
Ordering Numbers: 156097771X (ISBN)

Another near-masterpiece by Kim Deitch, more surprising than the Mishkin Saga because of the way it was spread out over several years and two distinct mini-series before being brought together here. In other words, it's almost like Deitch snuck this one in. A handsome volume from Fantgraphics, oversized and on thick paper, including fold-outs and color at book's end, this could be a dark horse book of the year candidate.

Whereas the Mishkin books told the story of early animation up through the crass commercialism of theme parks and licensed property empires based on the odd fruits of the early cartoon industry, Shadowland goes a generation further back into Wild West shows and almost frontier entertainments, connecting into movies as another traveling show to be sold city to city. It's extremely rich subject matter, made more so because of the way Deitch intertwines his witness characters with those involved in the drama. Rather than a set concept or person bringing us the entire story, a series of characters kind of walk out of the extended saga and stay with us for a while as a guide before in many cases fading back in. I'm not sure of any other narrative work that does this as seamlessly.

The reason that it works is because whereas the Mishkin stories kind of intertwined with the mental health of its leads, as made weirder and more abstract through the cartoon spirit Waldo, the interaction here is between early show business and the various audiences that consume them. This is represented most concretely by two different communities of smaller people, also less expressive and unique, that have built fantastic culture around watching and enjoying the fruits of these lives in art. It's maddening to consider the possibilities for which Deitch may be reaching here regarding the consumption of art versus the making of it. Even more impressively, there's not the beautiful out of the characters losing themselves in the art itself, as happened at moments in the Mishkin Saga. Here, losing oneself to art is both a way to order one's life and a way to lose it, to grow old and not realize what happened.

This book deserve and maybe even needs thousands and thousands of words of analysis. I'd say it's a must-buy, and if none of the themes described here intrigue, be assured it's funny, and profane, and dark, and sad, and beautifully decorative and all the things we've come to expect from Deitch by the page.