Kim Deitch’s comic work has spanned generations of fans, subverting the talking animal genre and merging it with an underground, counter-culture world of pot and paranoia.
Alias the Cat is a wonderful example of this. It’s indicative of how comics that might have been considered subversive a few decades ago, are now being published not on college photocopiers but in hardback books by big publishing companies.
The book is divided into three parts, originally published separately by Fantagraphics but now conveniently collected into chapters in this single volume. The first part will remind you of Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, as Deitch details a particular element of his life: his wife’s adoration of and addiction to collecting cartoon cats fom the 1920s and 30s. This leaves them spending a lot of time and money on eBay, and scouting around flea markets to find the cats they want. It also brings them into contact with a sailor, who may or may not have gone nuts, but believes he knows Waldo, a recurring cat character from Deitch’s comics inspired by the cartoon cats of early 20th Century, but altogether more subversive, mischievous, and possibly downright evil.
That’s when it all kicks off: Deitch becomes obsessed with the mystery surrounding Waldo and his investigations lead him deeper and deeper into a tangle of conspiracy and paranoia in the entertainment industry. Comics in daily newspapers mirror events in real life and a mysterious, shadowy, cat-like figure manipulates people’s lives.
It’s gloriously worked, deliberately warping perception and manipulating the reader almost as much as the characters work over one another. The book has the look of underground comics from the 60s and 70s, mostly thanks to Deitch’s of-the-time illustrative style, but it’s seamlessly integrated into a modern graphic novel. It’s a must for any reader who likes a little bit of mind-bending, paranoid fun with their intelligent, thought-provoking graphic literature and is an absolute joy to read.