“Gene Deitch’s death is hard to digest. My mornings were incomplete without the daily dose of Tom & Jerry cartoons. And so are that of my kids. It was, and still remains, an intelligent combination of smart animation and age-neutral humour. Hard to find in cartoons these days,” says Ruksar Purohit, whose entrepreneurial life still finds comfort in the late illustrator-animator Gene Deitch’s creations.
Deitch, whose film Munro (1960) won the Academy Award for the Best Animated Short Film, died Thursday (April 16) in his apartment in Prague (Czech Republic), according to his Czech publisher; the reason of death unknown. Earlier this year, Asterix creator Albert Uderzo passed away, and fans are still mourning. Deitch’s death makes it a double whammy for those grieving the loss of their childhood, especially during trying times such as these caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
A master craftsman of animation during his time, Deitch is also known for the spinach-gulping, squint-eyed sailor Popeye, the famous Czech cartoon series Here’s Nudnik, and Krazy Kat, to name just a few. And the laughable absurdity of the ‘mortem non dominantur’ (death doesn’t dominate) that Deitch incorporated in Tom & Jerry series, for instance, was a masterstroke in giving the signature toon-only aspect to his works. Some things are truly hard to kill. Now 75 years old, Tom the cat and Jerry the house mouse are still going at each other with a stick, an axe, a bomb, a saw, a weight dropped on the head, and 10,000 other forms of dispatch, none of which has a fatal result, and all that with cel-based animation.
“I grew up watching Tom & Jerry. It has the best animation and the best background score backing it. It is timeless and I don’t think anyone can recreate the magic. I can still watch it and it makes me laugh more than any other animation I have seen,” shares Prasad Bhat, a well-known caricaturist.
The only ‘free American’ to have lived in the riot-ridden Czechoslovakia of the 1960s, Deitch’s works are unique in their way of forging out an identity — be it a spinach-eating sailor or a cat that never actually eats the rat. But it was that dash of inhuman absurdity that made a mark, and eventually earned him the Winsor McCay Award in 2004 for his lifelong contribution to animation.
“More than the awards he got, it’s the fact how his art has inspired generations to draw that matters. I still cannot draw a cat that doesn’t resemble Tom. Deitch’s art was a very big influence in my creative space. It’s unfortunate that he is no more with us,” says Selvi Krishna, an illustrator in a media firm. For illustrators like Krishna, Deitch’s lines are the starting point. And while many animators like Chuck Jones, succeeded in bringing out similar content, it is safe to say that no one has bettered him. In a world where Deitch’s creations have outlived the illustrator himself, his work will stay valid both in relevance and excellence.