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Books Review: Anna Haifisch’s Von Spatz tracks Walt Disney’s recovery from depression with wry humour

Von Spatz

By Anna Haifisch

Drawn & Quarterly, 68 pages, $19.95

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What it’s about

Suffering from mental exhaustion, a fictional Walt Disney – rendered as a querulous bird, got up in the garb of a Midwestern farmer – checks into the Von Spatz Rehab Center, a mildly hippie-ish Magic Mountain for anxious artists. In modest, wryly humourous vignettes, German cartoonist Anna Haifisch tracks Disney’s convalescence, reflecting on the self-doubts that assail the artistic temperament.

What you see here

In sun-fried, David Hockney hues, Haifisch stages a scene that captures how Walt’s depression detaches him from his cartoonishly overjoyed work. As the artist stares blankly from a window overlooking Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A., the parade quite literally passes him by.

Read if you like

This is not necessarily a book for devotees of Disney’s squeaky-clean, anodyne Americana. The neuroses and mellow distortions on display more closely resemble New Yorker artist Saul Steinberg’s brainy abstractions, or the macabre silliness of picture-book author Tomi Ungerer – two other patients at the Von Spatz clinic.

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