Skitzy by Don Freeman

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Skitzy
By Don Freeman
Drawn & Quarterly

donfreemanskitzycoverFor 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.

–Brian Heater

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No Comments to “Skitzy by Don Freeman”

  1. Craig Yoe | December 11th, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    yo! i LOVE this story by freeman and wish D&Q the best of luck with this. but speaking about it from a historical document angle: where the hell did that cover come from? i have an original 1955 edition and it doesn’t have those background scenes on the cover (or inside). was this a later edition? was there color on that edition’s cover? the background art almost looks to be scanned from original art!? inquiring minds want to know!–craig yoe

  2. Craig Yoe | December 11th, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    my copy, btw, is accompanied by the original envelope that freeman sent it in to an art store in 1956–maybe it was a sample prototype and this D&Q cover (pretty sexy) was added later?

  3. Sherm Cohen | December 11th, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    Thanks for the tip! I love Don Freeman’s loose drawings from the forties and fifties. Thanks to your post I just placed an order for the book.

  4. Tom Devlin | December 12th, 2008 at 11:11 am

    Craig,

    I did new covers for the book (plus ends and there’s an afterword by cartoonist Dave Kiersh who helped bring the project to us.) The version I had was basically a spiral bound coverless affair (sent to us by his son, Roy) so I assume that’s all that ever existed. Our version is at size too, rather than the original 3 x 4 inch pamphlet that Don produced. Ultimately, we were trying to create something that would fit in bookstores. And yeah, I used uncleaned scans of the original art for those covers to show his bluepencil and whiteout because I thought it looked cool.

    I should also point out that the endpapers and a single page in the middle somewhere are outtakes from Don’s original artwork stash for this book. I tried to not do any editing but I put that one page in because it was blank in Don’s original and I figured it would look like a mistake in a hardcover book. For all I know, Don actually intended for the image to go there but the printer made an error. It does seem an odd omission.

    There’s a blogpost explaining some of the extras here: http://www.drawnandquarterly.com/blog/2008_02_01_archive.php#8046562611325963611

  5. craig yoe | December 12th, 2008 at 11:41 am

    geez, tom, since i have the original book (gotta say, it must be RARE from what you are saying) i was hoping to no have to buy the D&Q re-issue, but from what you’re telling me i’m gonna have to get yours and obsessively, geekily, anal-ly, compare ‘em. :(

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