by Jordi Costa
We tend to associate the splash-page resource –that vignette that ends up occupying a whole page– with superhero comic books, where it has the function of marking the bombastic introduction of some pompous villain or of freezing in an instant of sculptural strength a battle between supra-humans. The splash-page analysed in this instance of the section Stolen Cartoons belongs to a completely different family: it’s a splash-page at the service of a personal epiphany, a moment of suspension associated to a delirium of overflowing spirituality, an ecstatic instant framed by a celluloid reel, but taking place in the chaotic and incongruous space of a mental hospital.
This image belongs to the album The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, by brothers Kim and Simon Deitch, and was published in Spanish by La Cúpula in 2007. The Deitchs are sons of Gene Deitch, an animator trained at the UPA that created a few truly iconic characters –such as Tom Terrific and Sidney the Elephant– and who, as of the 1960s, moved to Czechoslovakia for love, from where he’d take charge of one of the many resurrections of the famous Tom and Jerry, one that purists would consider among the worse periods of the duo, but which some graphic sybarites would appreciate as it deserved.
With a deliberate naive style and a penchant for shading that evokes the game between light and shadows in an old print, Kim Deitch has devoted his work as comic book artist to proposing a kind of secret and oneiric history of Hollywood: in The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, he and his brother form an alliance in order to create a uchronia of the splendour and decay of American cartoons. On the image, Windsor Newton, an alter-ego of Windsor McCay, pioneer of animation committed to the redeeming nature of the media and scourge of its more commercial drifts, tells his utopian dream to tortured animator Ted Mishkin and the long-suffering love of his life. In the celluloid reel surrounding the image, Waldo the Cat –a sort of evil Felix the Cat, Mishkin’s personal demon– builds his very own Arcadia. The book sums up, very quickly, the history of American animation, from the first vaudeville shows with Gertie the Dinosaur –in Spain, Milton, el mastodonte– up to the climax of the foundation of Disneyland –the triumph of the commercial over art–. This magnificent cartoon captures, thus, a moment of fragile beauty: the manifestation of a liberating possibility in an environment of madness and delirium that foresees the fatal destiny of our best dreams.