The Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Reviews by Steven Heller
646 words4 min read

Waldo the cat is a demonic figment of Ted Mishkin’s imagination. Yet so diabolical is this evil Felix-The-Cat doppelganger that he has wreaked havoc on every aspect of Mishkin’s psyche. Waldo is both scourge and muse to Mishkin who, in case you’re wondering, originated and draws animated cartoons for Fontaine’s Fables, a Thirties-era animation company that featured the crazy feline as the star of an ongoing popular cartoon feature.

By the way, did I mention that Mishkin is also unreal and along with Waldo is one of the many tragi-comic characters in Kim Dietch’s exquisite new comic strip novel, The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, the first book length sequential narrative by this underground comix master.


For those like me Sixties underground comix were transformative. Given the many repressive post-war taboos against comics and rock and roll, alternative comix were a breath of fresh ink for they ridiculed and exposed hypocritical government prohibitions against language, art, and ideas, not to mention sex. Deitch is the creator of one of the best of these underground comix, Tales of the Sunshine Girl, which appeared regularly in the East Village Other in the Sixties and early Seventies. The subversive strip is about a portly naïf, young flower child (she actually looked like a daisy) searching for existential truth (and aren’t we all?). Deitch, whose father was a respected UPA animator during the forties and fifties, developed a primitive cartoon style that conveyed layers of psychological complexity cut with acerbic wit—wedding autobiography to social concern. Yet, after the Sixties/Seventies he did not achieve the same fame or acclaim due him as did R. Crumb or more recently, Chris Ware.

Deitch’s latest comix are situated around the animation industry, with emphasis on behind-the-scenes doings as well as parodies of classic characters. Among his betes noir Deitch reveals intense enmity for Disney who, in Boulevard, is overtly and covertly accused (and rightly so) of extruding the heart and soul from animated cartoons. This is vividly clear in the subplot of Boulevard, when the exploitative (and ultimately exploited) Mr. Fontaine humiliates a great cartoon pioneer, Winsor Newton (influenced by the real-life Winsor McKay) who created “Milton the Mastodon” (based on McKay’s “Gertie the Dinosaur”). Seduced by the need to make profit the opportunistic Fontaine forsakes psychologically complex cartoons for more crowd-pleasing Disney-esque attractions.


Throughout Boulevard Deitch creates emotional tension between those who are fervent about original iconoclastic cartooning versus those who proffer derivative, market-driven pap. However, this book is not merely a polemic against mediocrity, but rather a gripping narrative about failure, betrayal, passion, and cruel twists of fate. Poor Ted is not only betrayed by Fontaine, who in turn is betrayed by Ted’s brother Al (the production manager of the Fontaine Fables who is having an affair with Fontaine’s wife) but by Lillian Freer, an animator who Ted loves, who in turn is sleeping with Al, but is guilt-ridden throughout her life.

For all the lurid, soap opera details and to understand how the “Broken Dreams” of the title grip the lives of everyone in the book you’ve got to read Boulevard in one sitting. And it is well worth the effort not only because the three chapters, “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “The Mishkin File,” and “Waldo World,” are so brilliantly conceived, paced and written, but because the drawing is virtuoso. Deitch’s earlier comix have a lighter and more rigid line, here the line is bold, the rendering is flawless, and the detailing will keep you interested for hours.

What I found truly inspiring is how frighteningly real Waldo comes across. The recurring apparition in Ted’s mind is unmerciful and masterful not only because it weaves so fluidly through a degenerating life but also because it is a stunning analysis of how dementia really takes control of the mind.

  • Art director of the New York Times Book Review and founder and co-chair of the School of Visual Arts, New York MFA/Design Program. He is the former editor of the AIGA Journal of Graphic Design and author or editor of over 80 books on popular culture, graphic design history, and political art. His most recent books include The Graphic Design Reader, Allworth Press, The Education of a Design Designer, Allworth Press, and Counter Culture: The Allure of Mini-Mannequins, Princeton Architectural Press. His forthcoming books include: From Merz to Emigre and Beyond: Progressive Magazine Design of the 20th Century, Phaidon Press, Cuba Style: Graphics From the Golden Age of Design, Princeton Architectural Press, and Graphic Humor: The Art of Graphic Wit, Allworth Press.