Alias the Cat!
written by Kim Deitch
A classic (and decidedly phallic) image of Captain Marvel (the superhero who shouted “Shazam!” to get his powers) showed the big red hero riding a rocket in a bit of pro-America World War II zeal. A tribute to that image graces the cover of Alias the Cat!, although the cat on the cover has a devil’s grin and evil in his eyes.
So what to expect from such a book if one is judging this graphic novel by its cover? It’s hard to say, but it probably isn’t what the reader gets inside the pages of this truly artful and thought-provoking work. Author and illustrator Kim Deitch has a special touch with his creation (Deitch has been in the business for decades, often not getting the due he so richly deserves; but in that time, he’s honed his craft to an eloquently fine point—is that Deitch and his wife are flea market experts who collect odd and classic things. One day they meet a man selling a vintage Waldo the Cat doll for $1,000. The man spins a yarn about the doll’s origins and why it should fetch such a high price, giving us the first story within a story in Alias the Cat! Thankfully, it’s not the last.
Deitch uses these stories to flesh out his work in delightful ways and to draw parallels with the history of the comics medium through the decades. Deitch is also a film buff, one who scours flea markets and the Internet looking for old movie reels and stills. His brief asides on the history of film are fascinating, too, but even more so because of the way he ties that visual medium in with comics and lets us truly appreciate the dawn of the art form (and its eventual decay) in a time and place that seems worlds away from modern living. It’s hard to separate the birth of comics, at least in its stages of growing popularity, from the larger picture of the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression that followed, and Deitch’s view of it is both fun and intriguing.
Alias the Cat! originally unfolded as three separate comics magazines; all three are collected here. It begins as a simple story of a couple looking for collectibles but quickly turns into so much more: a quest for something mysterious, a pulp-fiction-inspired adventure tale, a foreboding story of dread, and a grand epic that’s just too engrossing to put down. But mostly it’s just a simple, very human story that relates to the growth and evolution of a medium.
Deitch interacts with his readers directly in all three parts of the story (reaction to the first issue ties in to the story of the second issue, for example), and it’s clear he’s having fun. So are the readers.-- John Hogan