Alias the Cat by Kim Deitch

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Alias the Cat
By Kim Deitch
Pantheon

Kim DeitchAfter the first few pages, it’s pretty clear where Kim Deitch is going with this thing—something of a lighthearted rehash of Seth’s It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken: a full-time cartoonist, and part-time collectibles obsessive, wading deeper and deeper into the niches of willful obscurity, Deitch through a fascination with celluloid, and his wife, Pam, at his side, knee-deep in her decidedly creepy collection of stuffed black cats.

And then something strange happens—or rather, the many, many strange dominoes begin to fall.

Not unexpectedly, said strangeness stems from a collectible—one of Pam’s: a stuffed Felix the Cat-esque doll sitting front-and-center in a rather sparse looking flea market booth, while the owner, in sailor’s knit cap, swilling a nondescript bottle and snatching Felix away, doesn’t quite utter the expect, “it’s not for sale,” he shouts the next best thing, demanding, “a thousand bucks, American, see.”

A page later, we’re in a bar with the fellow, and he’s explaining the story of how said ‘artifact’ came into his possession. The story, thankfully, is a doozy—and even more thankfully, it’s the first of three, increasingly outlandish tales, told through a combination of exposition and heirlooms, all seemingly unconnected, only to be unfolded by Deitch, who once again proves himself to be a master craftsman, with his own character submerging deeper and deeper into one of the most playfully surreal secret worlds that the genre has produced since Clowes’s Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron. The word ‘Lynchian’ might be more easily bandied about, where Deitch’s strange New Jersey world a bit less like a cross between Toon Town and the Keebler Elf tree house.

Deitch’s dream world, on a whole, is fairly easy to accept on face value, save for his insistence on making plain his own perceived lunacy, upon letting down the third wall. The absurdity, it seems, would be a good deal more plausible, were Deitch not so eager to address his own insanity, just barely on the other side of collecting obsessions. It’s a minor complaint though, and Deitch does manage, rather skillfully, to make his steady descent into madness pay off in the end, in the form of some manner of moral. It’s a lesson about what happens when you live your life in the past, but even after all of our time together, it remains unclear whether this is a good thing or bad, but let’s face it, if you were searching Alias the Cat intently for some unambiguous life lesson, you just missed out on one hell of a ride.

–Brian Heater

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