Tag Archives: Cats

Review: PENNY: A GRAPHIC MEMOIR

PENNY!

Penny: A Graphic Memoir. by Karl Stevens. Chronicle Books. 2021, 152pp. $19.95

As a cartoonist myself, and a longtime observer of the comics scene, I am utterly delighted to read this new book by Karl Stevens. It strikes all the right notes. And it will definitely do the same for you as a fan or newcomer to his work. Some of us in comics may indulge in hand-wringing over where graphic novels stand today as compared with the great boom in alt-comics nearly twenty years ago. But I say that things are evolving nicely in many ways. This book is a perfectly fine example of that. In fact, the audience for a good indie-spiked words ‘n’ pictures book is always going to be around and ready for the next worthwhile book. I think, in regards to Karl, he’s one of these very special talents who has found, over time, just the right set of factors to get to where he is now as an artist. This particular collection spans a good chunk of time as it was one of the last great comic strips to enjoy being published within the grand ole alt-weekly format (The Village Voice, The Boston Phoenix) that simply doesn’t exist anymore. This book is, in a sense, a testament to some glory days for comics. It’s certainly not lost on me that it is dedicated to the memory of Tom Spurgeon, one of the great advocates for the comics medium. Here you will find a sort of cat version of Little Nemo: an in depth exploration of the philosophical observations of a former alley cat-turned-house pet. Penny is one part enigma; one part uncanny entity; and one part one of us!

Born into a world she did not create.

I am going to push a little further on the notion of there being any of us cartoonists, or aspiring cartoonists, who might feel entitled to having their graphic novel project eventually picked up by a publisher. It’s best not to worry about such hypotheticals and just keep on truckin’. It dedication to the art of creating good comics that will have to rule the day. I look at all these pages of our hero, Penny, pondering existence, and it’s breathtaking, joyful, and inspiring. It’s a very beautiful feeling to be able to see your work all together, creating a whole. You don’t get there by bitchin’ and moanin’ that you’re entitled to anything because you’re not. And, sure, I suppose even folks who have never drawn any comics at all might fancy they’ll someday create a graphic novel. Well, it takes a special skill and a special drive to create something truly compelling and of lasting value. That’s why this book is special.

What dwells inside a cat’s head?

You start down a road of creating comics about a philosophical cat and you must get into this zone. I think, at some point, you lock onto the next page of bristol board, get to penciling, and, as if in a fever dream, you end up knocking out another completed page. And then, as another deadline looms, you do it again. And then again. Maybe, only after a while, you’re a little startled to find your main character has, by all counts, come to life. Arguably, still a work of fiction, without a need for sleep or being fed, but still alive: full of quirks, impulses, and contradictions. How does one, upon reflection, explain how Penny can be so relaxed and friendly towards a mouse one day only to revel in a good and bloody mouse kill the next? How does Penny justify being so jaded about cat toys one day only to be utterly mesmerized by cat toys the next? And, perhaps most chilling of all, how does Penny know how much her cat food costs? Yes, you start down a road and you find yourself sometimes with far more questions than answers!

Forced into an uneasy bargain tolerating humans.

Karl’s intricate drawing style is a perfect breeding ground for his droll humor. Most of us cartoonists are attracted to the droll like a cat to catnip. Within those lean deadpan lines and low-key watercolor washes lurks a cartoonist with a hearty appetite for the macabre and the obscure. It is the sort of humor that co-workers at some day job never understand or, more likely, only pretend not to understand. I am drawn to it and take the bait. I wonder about Penny. How can such a troubled soul be so easily baffled by mere shadows and yet comprehend the deepest levels of existential angst? With a flourish, as if flicking a mouse from one paw to another, Penny grieves over while also mocks all human activity and ostentation. Ah, mere mortals. Is the universe playing out within the skull of a house pet? That–and even more. This isn’t just a bunch of pithy wry jokes. This cat gets shit done. Penny even escapes her tender trap for a while. And who knows exactly what transpires when she finally responds to that portal and does enter another dimension.

Hold the phone, here’s the real Penny!

Is it a good idea to take Penny too seriously? It’s not like we haven’t done this to ourselves before. Sometimes, you just can’t help but want to overanalyze and who can really say if some things are just too precious not to give that added level of neurosis? The Marx Brothers. Krazy Kat. Why not Penny? So, yes, to Penny and yes, to Karl Stevens. Few cartoonists are in the same league as he is.

Can’t get enough of Karl Stevens? Then check out his work at The New Yorker. Find him on Instagram. And get your copy of Penny, published by Chronicle Books, and available as of May 4, 2021.

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Filed under Cats, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews

Review: ANGEL CATBIRD Volume 2

ANGEL CATBIRD Volume 2

ANGEL CATBIRD Volume 2

Dark Horse Comics consistently impresses me with its vision: quirky, offbeat, and distinctive. I’m thinking of ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT by James Stokoe, which starts in April. I’m also fondly recalling Chuck Palahniuk’s FIGHT CLUB 2. And I’m definitely thinking about Margaret Atwood’s latest work with Dark Horse, ANGEL CATBIRD VOLUME 2: TO CASTLE CATULA.

ANGEL CATBIRD Volume 2 is a follow-up to best-selling novelist Margaret Atwood’s debut graphic novel. For fans of the legendary writer, this latest adventure is welcome news. And for anyone who enjoys a riveting adventure, suitable for all ages, this book is for you. The story follows genetic engineer Strig Feleedus, also known as Angel Catbird, and his band of half-cats heading to Castle Catula to seek allies as the war between cats and rats escalates.

Page from ANGEL CATBIRD Volume 2

Page from ANGEL CATBIRD Volume 2

As pure comics goodness, here you have the storytelling power of Margaret Atwood (the Man Booker Award-winning author of The Blind Assassin, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Hag-Seed), complimented by artist Johnnie Christmas (Sheltered), and colorist Tamra Bonvillain (Doom Patrol). This is a fun and wild ride with plenty of food of thought. We need more of these kind of compelling and gentle comics. Thankfully, we can rely upon Dark Horse to deliver. And, in times like these, we can certainly use an inspiring story with a lively environmental theme.

Angel Catbird is being published by Dark Horse Books in tandem with Keep Cats Safe and Save Bird Lives, an initiative led by Nature Canada, the oldest conservation charity in Canada. Angel Catbird is the latest environmentally charged book by Atwood, who was recently given a lifetime award by the National Book Critic Circle and also named the recipient of the 2016 PEN Pinter Prize for her political and environmental activism. All three volumes of Angel Catbird are 6 x 9 full color hardcovers, priced at $14.99 each. Volume 2 features an introduction by acclaimed writer G. Willow Wilson and goes on sale on February 14, followed by Volume 3 on July 4, 2017. Angel Catbird Volume 1 has spent more than a dozen weeks on the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller list.

ANGEL CATBIRD Volume 2, with a forward by G. Willow Wilson, is available as of February 14th. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Margaret Atwood

Preview: THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS

The Secret Life of Pets

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been a tradition for the last 89 years and has been televised nationally on NBC since 1952. And, since 1999, NBC has followed parade coverage with the broadcast of The National Dog Show.

I’ve always found this to be a very comforting way to settle into the holiday season. It was during this program that I found out about the upcoming animated feature movie, THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS, a comedy about the lives our pets lead after we leave for work or school each day.

This one is a keeper. I think when you take the talent behind DESPICABLE ME and apply that to pets, you are definitely onto something. Based on the trailer and the all-around good buzz for this feature, I’m really looking forward to this when it comes out next summer. THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS is the fifth fully-animated feature-film collaboration between Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures. The official release date is July 8, 2016 (USA).

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Filed under animation, Illumination Entertainment, movies, Pets, Universal Pictures

Review: MANIFESTO ITEMS #5 by David Lasky

David-Lasky-Short-Run-2015

Even in what would seem to be the carefree world of alt-comics, there is a creeping feeling of “self-publish or perish” that can nag at many a cartoonist. This can be a good thing as it helps to motivate many who must rely upon their own self-imposed deadlines. Despite all the interest that is supposed to be heaped upon the DIY world and a myriad of other endeavors conveniently labeled as “hipster,” “quirky,” or the grand ole workhorse, “geek,” there’s really no money, let alone a livelihood, to be expected from all the scribbling in notebooks and sketchbooks. Maybe, for some, there’s at least a real feeling of accomplishment from one’s efforts, not just a pat on the back. And, for a relative few who keep honing their craft, and especially at the alt level, each year brings a little more recognition. Each year makes the big picture more clear. This is certainly the case with cartoonist David Lasky. Here’s a look at a special annual publication that he’s been putting together to coincide with the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival in Seattle.

David Lasky Cat Comics

David Lasky and I are of the same vintage. I consider him a good friend and a fellow cartoonist that I’ve always admired. We’re both in Seattle and share a certain sensibility. So, of all the people who take a moment to read what I have to say, he’s one of my readers who I will hope to especially resonate with. Let me put it this way: I appreciate what he’s doing on a deep level. I believe there’s this chasing after the brass ring that was drummed into folks from our Generation X. People like us will make good on the dreams we’ve envisioned since we were little kids, as corny as that sounds. I know that makes sense to David, and probably, I would hope, to everyone reading this.

David-Lasky-The-Intruder

What we find in “Manifesto Items #5” is special indeed. David Lasky highlights his creation of comics from the past year. It’s a fascinating window into the creative process. Like I say, there’s that “publish or perish” mantra that can dog cartoonists. If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? That’s the challenge that many creators must contend with. They can certainly opt to work alone until a project is complete and many are just fine with that. But some want to keep stoking the fires in between significant work and so they need to hunt down viable options such as anthologies, local publications, and comics jams. In the case of Lasky, it is this short form work, with its room for experimentation, that he loves the most and that he can raise to the level of significant work. We get a nice sampling of all of that, notably a sci-fi satire that appeared in The Intruder.

David Lasky Poetry Comics

Perhaps most revealing are a couple of things that feel very natural. One is a father and son comics memoir. David is visiting his dad. And his dad gives him some advice: Rid yourself of clutter! He then proceeds to unload a bunch of books and DVDs on his son who gladly accepts each and every one. I think that speaks to a particular Gen X mad love for all media.

The other is a prose essay recollection of David visiting the Hirshhorn Museum as a little boy to see a Saul Steinberg retrospective. David was fascinated by Steinberg on many levels not the least of which was his noncommercial approach to cartooning! Here you had Steinberg creating cartoon characters without a comic strip or any scent of franchise. Ah, that’s fodder for Gen X rebellion! And to make the point, David emulated Steinberg’s penchant for drawing cartoons directly onto the envelopes he sent off in the mail. How unconventional back then and even today.

Be sure to visit David Lasky right here. Find David at Etsy right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, David Lasky, mini-comics, Short Run, Short Run Comix & Arts Festival

Review: CATS IN SERVICE by Megan Kelso

Cats-in-Service-Megan-Kelso

Cats have never been, nor ever will be, domestic servants. It just goes against their very nature. However, in Megan Kelso’s new minicomic, “Cats in Service,” she makes a strong case for it. Of course, it’s not simple. There are complications.

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Filed under Comic Arts Festivals, Comics, Jet City Comic Show, Megan Kelso, Minicomics, Short Run, Short Run Small Press Fest

Lost Cat: Fremont’s Grey is Missing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Easter turned out to be a very nice day. I’ve just walked around my Seattle neighborhood of Fremont to surmise the current situation, take the pulse of the zeitgeist, and just get some fresh air. There’s a flyer I’ve seen a number of times and I thought I’d share it with you. Apparently, there’s this neighborhood cat, Grey, who loves to take strolls and just wander about. But he keeps getting picked up by well-intentioned people who turn him in to the local shelter! I had friends who were constantly compelled to pick up neighborhood pets they were certain they were lost only to find out that these pets were simply doing their own thing, not lost at all. Anyhow, as the above flyer makes clear, Grey, and his owner, have been dealing with this for quite some time and so a flyer went up pleading with people to just leave well enough alone. Here his Grey’s message in its entirety:

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Filed under Cats, Essays, Portlandia, Seattle

RANDOM DRAWING # 1

Here is a new feature for you. We begin with a simple observation: a cat about to devour a bird. Enjoy.

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Filed under Art, Cats, Comics, Drawing, Henry Chamberlain, Humor