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SKITZY reviewed by Rob Clough

Updated February 27, 2009


Art and Commerce: Skitzy
Rob reviews a reprint of the 1955 book by Don Freeman, SKITZY (Drawn & Quarterly).
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 25, 2008
Rob Clough

One has to admire the willingness of Drawn & Quarterly to dig up and reprint obscure but worthy comics. Every one has had its own champion (Chris Ware and Joe Matt with Walt & Skeezix, for example), and SKITZY was pushed by Dave Kiersh. The book's pleasures are modest and unassuming, yet the spontaneity of cartoonist Don Freeman's line and the life he gives to his figures makes reading the book a series of simple joys. The story is told with no dialogue and a bare minimum of narration, as we follow Floyd Skitzafroid on a typical day at work. He literally splits in half--one half going to his Greenwich Village art studio, the other half toiling at a tedious office job. His artist self is constantly, deliriously happy, while his worker self is constantly glum and preoccupied.

Freeman is best known for his Corduroy series of children's books, books with his sketchy line and a sharpness to them unusual for kid lit. Freeman combined the eye of an inveterate doodler (especially from life) with the lively wit and spontaneity of a James Thurber. What makes this book special is not necessarily the story (which has a couple of funny twists but is mostly fairly predictable), but rather the details. Freeman's character design and use of gesture and body language are all impeccably lively and kinetic. While it may seem slightly quaint to us now, the way he brought the bohemian Greenwich Village neighborhood to life bordered on the exotic. One could almost see, taste and smell everything "Skitzy" experienced on the street. Conversely, one could almost experience the subway claustrophobia his alter ego felt as well.

While there is only one image to a page in this book, the transition between each page certainly feels more like a panel-to-panel transition. The book's liveliest sequence is when Skitzy is in his studio loft, doing a painting of a nude model. There's a three page sequence where the model is in the foreground with her back turned to us, with Skitzy partially obscured. The next page shows her done with her pose, but Skitzy is frantically leaning into his painting. Meanwhile, the model relaxes in the foreground, this time in profile. The third page brings both of them into the foreground together. Skitzy is relaxed and triumphant, showing off his to work to his mode. Her back is to the reader, her hands up in amazement and her hips at an angle as we see her form through her diaphanous robe. We sense that the model has a crush on the artist, but his only interest here is an artistic one--almost like a little boy and his devoted hobby.

SKITZY doesn't merit multiple readings, but it certainly does invite multiple viewings. Each page is a masterfully composed unit worthy studying, the meeting point of spontaneity and years of practice. The fact that Freeman felt strongly enough about his story to self-publish it over 50 years ago is a testament to what this era meant to him as an artist, and it shows him at the height of his powers. As fans of the form, we are lucky that publishers like D&Q are around to keep these works of self-expression in print, especially those that encapsulate a bygone era. Comics and cartooning has not always valued its own history, but that's changed in the 21st century as audiences have opened up for works like this. This is a book any comics historian or artist looking for inspiration (both in terms of lifestyle and spontaneity) would find valuable.
 
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Featured artist

Don Freeman

           Featured product

Skitzy: The Story of Floyd W. Skitafroid




  SKITZY reviewed by Newsarama

Updated February 27, 2009


Skitzy
Written & Illustrated by Don Freeman
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Don Freeman was known for his illustrated childrenís books, most notably Corduroy, throughout the mid-Twentieth Century. The new hardcover edition of his self-published book Skitzy, however much it resembles a childrenís book, isnít quite one.

What Skitzy is is a meditation on dreams and success, specifically on the balancing act required of grown-ups to pursue their dreams while meeting the responsibilities of their adult lives. In a largely silent book, our hero, a shy husband and office worker, splits himself in two for a day, sending one of himself to the office to toil through paperwork, unsympathetic bosses and rush hour cacophony. His other self skips off to an art studio, paints a portrait and sells the canvas. Thereís a great twist that ties the two selves together in the end, defeating both of them, yet inspiring a dream that may bring together the heroís dreams and his pragmatic duties.

All of which means that Skitzy isnít quite a childrenís book. Freemanís sketchy art and fun designs will certainly appeal to kids, so itís a book that children can enjoy, but itís a book for grown-ups who still have dreams but whose lives limit the time and energy that they have to devote to their secret lives. As such, itís a tremendously engaging, beautifully depicted saga.

Each page is a single image, and as I mentioned, itís nearly silent, so the book reads extremely fast. The loose line art is frantic and lively, dancing merrily and humorously across the pages, capturing the exaggerated reactions of our hero and those who cross his path. The character designs are simply and clear, instantly communicating the essential core of each person.

Beautifully drawn in a childrenís book style, with engaging characters and broad humor, Skitzy is a wonderful book, a book for dreamers bound by the gravity of real life. Don Freeman may no longer be with us, unfortunately, but thanks to publishers like Drawn & Quarterly, his influence is still able to affect our lives.

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Featured artist

Don Freeman

           Featured product

Skitzy: The Story of Floyd W. Skitafroid




SKITZY reviewed by Book By Its Cover

Updated February 27, 2009


SKITZY
Don Freeman
12.9.08
BOOK BY ITS COVER

Do you remember Don Freeman from your youth? I really loved Corduroy with his missing button. So when this came in the mail from Drawn & Quarterly, I was super excited. I wasnít aware that Don did work like this- ďpre-modern-era graphic novelsĒ. Don originally self-published this book himself. Itís about a man, Floyd W. Skitzafroid, who splits in half, literally, and becomes two men. One of them goes to work in an office and the other is an artist. The artist paints a picture of a naked lady with grapes and sells it to a gallery. The office man has a terrible day surrounded by paperwork and a screaming boss. The two men meet back up at the end of the day to become one again and go home to his wife. The man is shocked to find out his wife has purchased his painting at 8 times the price. (She doesnít know he made it. He canít tell her obviously because it was a naked lady painting.) He is very upset and goes to bed angry but then wakes up with a brilliant idea to combine his two selves and start an art gallery himself. The end. A happy end. This book is told through all drawings, no words. The illustrations are really really loose, almost like quick ink sketches. The back of the book has an nice short afterward from Dave Kiersh about Donís life. This year is apparently the centennial of Donís birth. Get a copy of this small hardcover here.
 
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Featured artist

Don Freeman

           Featured product

Skitzy: The Story of Floyd W. Skitafroid




  SKITZY reviewed by The Daily Cross Hatch

Updated February 27, 2009


Skitzy by Don Freeman
Brian Heater
10dec08
DAILY CROSS HATCH

For comics fans, thereís little revelation to be had in the story a cartoonistís dual life. Many of the creators of our best-loved childrenís books have made their share of adult-themed work, whether as an attempt at a secondary career, or merely to feed the creative process through means that canít always be satiated in all age works. Don Freeman, it seems, fits into the former category.

The artist, best known today as the author of Corduroy, the adventures of an overall-wearing teddy bear, also spent time focusing on far more adult subjects, like New York City street life. Skitzy, reissued by Drawn & Quarterly as a ďpre-modern-era graphic novel,Ē falls somewhere between the two, as a decidedly adult affair with only a touch of moral ambiguity.

As much as the bookís title can seemingly be applied to the authorís dual existences as both an adult and childrenís author, the schizophrenic drive refers to another aspect that the author no doubt shares with his protogonistóthe internal war between the desire to create art and the need to make a living. So strong are these two facets in Mr. Skitzafroid, in fact, that they literally split the character in two, the left and right sides of his brain pursuing divergent paths, one the manifestation of a seemingly repressed bohemian artist, and the other a continuation of the working man day-to-day pencil pushing existence.


Freeman tells the story in largely wordless pages, devoid of all dialog, but occasionally falling back on the use of expositional title cards. Freeman employs no panels, and his pen work takes on a far sketchier feel than that which is represented in books like Corduroy. His freely drawn inky lines bring to mind the work of fellow part-time childrenís book author Jules Feiffer. Especially impressive in terms of this line work in the ability to convey familiar city settings with a few key strokes of a fountain pen.

While Freeman no doubt had an older audience in mind while penning Skitzy, the author still saw fit to wrap up the book neatly with something resembling a moral. The artist, it seems is convinced that the dual nature of the artist need not be in conflict, that, with a little creative thinking, the desires to create art and make a living can, in fact, be complimentary.

The short and silent book is consumed easily in a single sitting, which will, no doubt, make the $20 cover price a bit hard to swallow for some. The purpose of the reissue, it seems, is aimed less at casual comics fans than it is at those interested in the work as an historical document, and as such, will no doubt hold a good deal of interest to those curious about both Freemanís career outside of kidís book and the early history of the graphic novel.

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Featured artist

Don Freeman

           Featured product

Skitzy: The Story of Floyd W. Skitafroid





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