The Daily Heller: Cool Jazz And Cool Jazz Cartoons

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I've known about the great cartoonist and animator Gene Deitch (1924–2020) because I am a fan of his son, the underground comics artist and writer Kim Deitch. In 1955 the elder Deitch had an apprenticeship at the famed animation studio UPA, and later became the creative director of Terrytoons. For them he created Sidney the Elephant, Gaston Le Crayon and my favorite, Tom Terrific. In 1955 he wrote and drew the United Features Syndicate comic strip The Real-Great Adventures of Terr’ble Thompson!, Hero of History, starring a courageous child in fantastical adventures; a skit about Terr’ble Thompson had also been recorded by Little Golden Records (with comic actor Art Carney and bandleader Mitch Miller). In early 1958, his theatrical cartoon Sidney's Family Tree was nominated for an Academy Award. Later that year, he was fired from Terrytoons and set up his own studio in New York called Gene Deitch Associates Inc., which primarily produced television commercials. He was literally one of the fathers of underground cartoons.

What I didn't know about Deitch was his longstanding contributions to The Record Changer magazine—nor did I know about the magazine at all until recently finding a copy of the Fantagraphics 2013 edition of The Cat on a Hot Thin Groove, a marvelous collection of covers and cartoons from 1945–1951. The cool "Cat" in the title of the book was Deitch's character. His drawings were among a coterie of jazz-inspired artists of the era, notably James Flora, for the combined abstract and surreal comic imagery in a manner that defined the postwar period.

Viewing the magazine with Deitch's images, I was happy to see that his comic consistency helped make a publication that was specific to its niche audience yet welcoming for all. "It was my role to attempt to brighten the high-strung but lo-fi world of rare jazz record collecting," he wrote in 2003. "It was a fanatic's world, and I was one of the fanatics."