The Search for Smilin’ Ed
Written & Illustrated by Kim Deitch
Published by Fantagraphics
The Search for Smilin’ Ed is the latest book collection from Kim Deitch, a longtime favorite cartoonist of mine. The story, originally serialized in the Fantagraphics anthology Zero Zero in the latter part of the 1990s, details Deitch’s research into the life of a forgotten (and mostly fictional) children’s TV show host, one Smilin’ Ed.
Deitch’s narrative weaves Deitch-as-character (with real-life acknowledgements) into a fictional tapestry of demons, underground societies, and pop culture oddities. Stacked with surprising twists and intricate plotting, Smilin’ Ed revels in Deitch’s increasingly complex personal universe, threading new characters into the established histories of his previous protagonists. Densely detailed and creatively laid out, the art can absorb a reader’s eye for days, with tons of nods, winks and subtle touches embedded in nearly every scene.
The plot, however, isn’t necessarily one of Deitch’s best. Smilin’ Ed comes across as somewhat half-imagined (by Deitch’s standard, which means it’s still three times as outlandish as most anything else out there), a series of disjointed sequences, failing to coalesce in a meaningful way. Despite this shortcoming, there’s more outlandishness going on in The Search for Smilin’ Ed than any five issues of most comics, and Deitch’s detailed, stiff renderings and engaging page designs make it worth the time for regular Deitch readers. Kim Deitch newcomers are directed to Alias the Cat or Boulevard of Broken Dreams to see the master shining his brightest.