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Cadenza: Swinging the Funnies

One of the delightfully weird things about the underground comix of the 1960s and 1970s was how retro they were musically. Sex and drugs were thematic constants, but rock and roll? Forget it. R. Crumb, who led an old-fashioned string band that issued recordings on 78s, fetishized ancient blues and jazz guys. Justin Green went from Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary to the largely pre-Elvis strip Musical Legends. And Kim Deitch, the best storyteller of the lot, sprinkled subtle jazz, crooner and dance-band references as a background score for his intricately lurid century-spanning foundation tales of American show business.

If Thomas Pynchon could draw, he might be Kim Deitch, whose primary subjects include rampant paranoia, the nexus between the real and the really imagined, parody as a means of containing the past, and decline and fall (in the Pynchonian lexicon: entropy). Having loved Deitch’s work for nearly 40 years, I come now to sing its praises because Fantagraphics has just published Shadowland, his most masterly achievement since The Boulevard of Broken Dreams (2002). Boulevard tracks the fortunes of animation from pioneering visionaries to meretricious assembly lines, with delusions of theme park grandeur as the abiding punch line.

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Originally Published

Gary Giddins

Gary Giddins is the author of 12 books, including Rhythm-a-Ning: Jazz Tradition and Innovation (1985), Visions of Jazz: The First Century (1998), Weather Bird (2004), and the three-volume biography Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star, of which two volumes have been published to date. Between 1974 and 2003, he wrote a regular jazz column for The Village Voice, winning six ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards for excellence in music criticism. From 2002 to 2008, he wrote JazzTimes‘ Cadenza column.