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Kim Deitch: The Boulevard Of Broken Dreams


The Boulevard Of Broken Dreams

Author: Kim Deitch
Publisher: Pantheon

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Part history, part fiction, and part sly amalgam of both, Kim Deitch's graphic novel The Boulevard Of Broken Dreams mirrors real-world events, but blends them liberally with fiction and metafiction, as if to discourage readers from trying to take them literally. Deitch ups the ante on his narrative stew by mixing his characters' real lives with their dreams, delusions, cartoons, cartoons about dreams, dreams about cartoons, delusions about cartoons, cartoons about delusions, and so forth. Even Deitch's introduction—in which he implies he met some of the book's characters and had a pair of eye-opening encounters with a mystical incense burner—contributes to the mythos. The end result is a giddy, phantasmagoric blend of shifting realities that has its visual and textual basis in the Fleischer cartoons of the '20s and '30s. The nonlinear story returns frequently to Ted Mishkin, a talented but troubled animator whose primary claim to fame is Waldo, a debauched anthropomorphic cat. Waldo (who should be well-known to Deitch fans) is the star of the Fontaine Fables animation studio, where Ted works under his sleazy brother Al. But Waldo has also been Ted's imaginary companion since childhood; Ted's detailed explanation of the "real" Waldo mostly earns him amused contempt, until Fontaine Fables attempts to copy Walt Disney's success by turning the churlish cat into a naughty, chubby-cheeked child, and Ted's already-destructive hallucinations seem poised to consume his life. Boulevard Of Broken Dreams stretches between 1910, when a young Ted is working in vaudeville with his idol Winsor Newton (on an act resembling a stage show created by animation pioneer Winsor McCay), and 1993, when Al's nephew Nathan has taken over the Waldo delusion. Or is it a delusion? Deitch leaves that open to interpretation by making Waldo into a crucial narrator who supplies information and damaging advice to both generations of Mishkins. Waldo's reportage helps piece together a complex narrative revolving around Ted, Al, their shared love interest Lillian, Winsor, and the changes that 80 years of public tastes and studio stunts bring to cartoon animation and Waldo in particular. Deitch's complex personal success-and-failure-cycle fables are somewhat similar to the gritty city stories of comics pioneer Will Eisner, but his illustration style and his wild, crowded imagery are straight out of the Fleischer brothers' bizarre, psychedelic Betty Boop cartoons. The combination fleshes out a vivid, rich story whose many carefully crafted layers cloak reality under fantasy just as the Fleischers' best animation sometimes did. Boulevard Of Broken Dreams ends with Waldo watching one of his old cartoons and commenting, "No two ways about it. They just don't make them like they used to." Deitch's expertly rendered work proves him wrong.