By Don Freeman
Drawn & Quarterly
For comics fans, there’s little revelation to be had in the story a cartoonist’s dual life. Many of the creators of our best-loved children’s books have made their share of adult-themed work, whether as an attempt at a secondary career, or merely to feed the creative process through means that can’t always be satiated in all age works. Don Freeman, it seems, fits into the former category.
The artist, best known today as the author of Corduroy, the adventures of an overall-wearing teddy bear, also spent time focusing on far more adult subjects, like New York City street life. Skitzy, reissued by Drawn & Quarterly as a “pre-modern-era graphic novel,” falls somewhere between the two, as a decidedly adult affair with only a touch of moral ambiguity.
As much as the book’s title can seemingly be applied to the author’s dual existences as both an adult and children’s author, the schizophrenic drive refers to another aspect that the author no doubt shares with his protogonist—the internal war between the desire to create art and the need to make a living. So strong are these two facets in Mr. Skitzafroid, in fact, that they literally split the character in two, the left and right sides of his brain pursuing divergent paths, one the manifestation of a seemingly repressed bohemian artist, and the other a continuation of the working man day-to-day pencil pushing existence.
Freeman tells the story in largely wordless pages, devoid of all dialog, but occasionally falling back on the use of expositional title cards. Freeman employs no panels, and his pen work takes on a far sketchier feel than that which is represented in books like Corduroy. His freely drawn inky lines bring to mind the work of fellow part-time children’s book author Jules Feiffer. Especially impressive in terms of this line work in the ability to convey familiar city settings with a few key strokes of a fountain pen.
While Freeman no doubt had an older audience in mind while penning Skitzy, the author still saw fit to wrap up the book neatly with something resembling a moral. The artist, it seems is convinced that the dual nature of the artist need not be in conflict, that, with a little creative thinking, the desires to create art and make a living can, in fact, be complimentary.
The short and silent book is consumed easily in a single sitting, which will, no doubt, make the $20 cover price a bit hard to swallow for some. The purpose of the reissue, it seems, is aimed less at casual comics fans than it is at those interested in the work as an historical document, and as such, will no doubt hold a good deal of interest to those curious about both Freeman’s career outside of kid’s book and the early history of the graphic novel.