The Amazing, Enlightening And Absolutely True Adventures of Katherine Whaley

I should be more familiar with Kim Deitch’s work than I am, since he’s been making comics since the underground days. The Amazing, Enlightening And Absolutely True Adventures of Katherine Whaley was a wonderful introduction, though, combining history, philosophy, a light touch of science fiction, and bizarre examples of human nature into a fantastic, unbelievable life story.

It reminded me of Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures in its story of a small-town girl swept up into the movies in the early days of the industry. Katherine Whaley, though, has a much less typical and much weirder experience.

She starts her career by playing piano to accompany the films at the local theater in a small lumber mill town. A movie crew comes to the area to film a classic scene of the girl tied to a log heading towards a buzz saw, which gives Katherine new insight into the foibles of her cinema idols. But then she meets Mr. Varnay, a traveling lecturer with a remarkably intelligent dog named Rousseau. Turns out that Katherine looks just like a nude statue Varnay has of “The Goddess of Enlightenment”, so he wants her to star, naked, in a movie serial he’s working on to bring a new truth about the voice of Jesus to the masses. Along the way, she moves to the big city and expands her acquaintance to many different types of people. Ultimately, she discovers some of Varnay’s secrets, which are stranger than she could have ever imagined.

Some of this might make a little more sense to those who’ve read previous Deitch works, since he reuses characters and makes reference to “The Sunshine Girl”, Shadowland, and “Alias the Cat”.

Deitch’s pages feel like entries in a scrapbook, where one or more images are surrounded by hand-lettered text, sprawling in and around his drawings. The publisher has posted preview pages and a book flip-through, so you can see what I’m talking about. His figures look a tad wooden, but that fits in with his dense pen-and-ink style. Together, it all feels like an old, posed picture, where it took so much time to take the image that everyone was very still. That suits his reimagining of some of the early years of American innovation. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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