Cat Cartoonists on #NationalCartoonistsDay

 

The fifth of May marks a great many things. It is the birthday of Karl Marx – indeed, today marks his bicentennial! It is also a day when many Americans inexplicably get drunk and culturally insensitive in celebration of the Mexican defeat of the French Empire in the town of Puebla. And finally, it is National Cartoonists Day.  And in honor of this occasion, we celebrate many noted cat cartoonists.

We begin with B Kilban.  An artist originally from Connecticut, he got his start as a cartoonist here in San Francisco, drawing for Playboy.  It was at Playboy where his distinctive cat cartoons were discovered by editor Michelle Urry.  This led to his most well-known book, Cat.  You have probably seen his cats both in formal cartoons and adorning many products.  Kilban passed away in 1990, but his legacy lives on through his books and syndication of his images.  You can find out more at his official website www.eatmousies.com.

 

 

Of course, an article on cat cartoonists must include Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield.  Davis grew up on a farm in Indiana with his parents, brother, and 25 cats.  While the main human character in Davis’ cartoons, Jon Arbuckle is also a cartoonist who grew up on a farm, the spoiled and overweight Garfield seems nothing like a farm cat.  Indeed, his disdain for the concept of catching mice is a frequent topic of the strips.  Many an orange male cat has been named “Garfield” in the character’s honor.

 

 

One of the best-known works of Japanese manga artist Makoto Kobayashi also features an orange cat. What’s Michael? chronicles the adventures of a shorthair tabby named Michael and his many feline friends.  It was originally released in serial form in Japan’s Weekly Morning manga magazine, but it now available in the U.S. as well via Dark Horse Comics.  The stories are a mix of the mundane and surreal, with Michael sometimes appearing differently than the orange shorthair title cat, and sometimes even dying in certain episodes.

 

New Yorker cartoonist George Booth is best known his complex doodle-like cartoons featuring befuddled humans and their pets.  They are a mainstay of the magazine and synonymous with the “New Yorker style” of cartooning.  While the animal most frequently featured in his work is a fat dog with big ears, there are often cats as well.

 

 

And then there is Fritz the Cat, created by the legendary R. Crumb.  Fritz originally appeared in Crumb’s homemade comic book “Cat Life”.  Originally based on the family cat, Fritz became anthropomorphic in later iterations, evolving into the hedonistic con-artist character that was a mainstay of underground comix in the 1960s.  Fritz’s adventures in a New York-like mega-city populated entirely by anthropomorphic animals often devolved into chaos with unusual sexual escapades.   In the 1970s, Fritz the Cat was made into an animated feature film by Ralph Bakshi.

 

 

 

 

Fat Freddy's CatAnother underground comix artist Gilbert Shelton created a well-known feline character.  Known simply as “Fat Freddy’s Cat”, he initially appeared in Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers strip about a trio of stoner characters in the 1960s before getting his own strip.  A standalone series, The Adventures of Fat Freddy’s Cat was published in the 1970s and expanded in a 1980s release.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joann Sfar is a French comics artist.  Influenced by the European comics artists of the 20th century including the great Moebius (Jean Giraud), he has a distinctive style that is at once more realistic and fanciful.  One of his most well-known series is The Rabbi’s Cat, first released as a comic book in 2005 and later adapted into a film in 2011, which he directed.  The main feline character is a cat who has the ability to speak and lives with a rabbi and his daughter in the Jewish community of 1920s Algeria.  Sfar’s Jewish heritage runs through many of his works, but no more directly than in The Rabbi’s Cat.  In addition to the books, we at CatSynth recommend seeing the film (which is gorgeous) in the original French.

 

 

 

 

Another classic of feline cartoons is Krazy Kat, by George Herriman.  It had a long run as a comic strip in American newspapers from 1913 to 1944 when Herriman died.  The strip was based around the ostensibly simple cat-and-mouse trip, with the cat named Krazy being taunted and tormented by a mouse Ignatz who is often shown throwing bricks at Krazy’s head.  Krazy speaks in a very stylized mixture of English and other languages and is of indeterminate gender – though inexplicably smitten with Ignatz.

And finally, we would be remiss if we did not include our very own J.B., author the Mensa Cats series that appears right here on CatSynth.

You can see many more episodes of the Mensa Cats on these pages via this link.  We also encourage interested reads to find out more about all the artists discussed in this article and to read their comics.

Mensa Cat Monday: Butoh

bhutto butoh

Butoh Boutros Ghali

Today’s Mensa Cat strips explore the world of butoh dance.  By J.B.

APAture 2017 Book Arts Showcase

Today we look back at last weekend’s APAture Book Arts Showcase, hosted by Kearny Street Workshop. You can see a bit of the event, and three of the artists, in our companion video on CatSynth TV.

In the video, we see a reading by featured artist Innosanto Nagara of his recent book A Night at the Planetarium, which introduces readers to the culture and history of Indonesia, and one particularly intense night under Indonesian military rule (while “the general” is clearly Suharto, he is not mentioned by name). It is partly a memoir of the author at a young age and relates the story of a crackdown on his father’s dissident plays. Nagara is although the author of the award-winning and quite delightful A is for Activist (we love the black cat on the cover).

Innosanto Nagara books

“Book Arts” covers quite a lot of territory in terms of discipline and media. There are formal, published books like Nagara’s, but also other print media like self-published zines. Mixed Rice Zines is the ongoing project of Jess Wu-O, and features voices that are often underrepresented, such as queer voices in the Asian American and mixed-race communities. One edition Queer Azn Musicians particularly spoke to me as a queer musician of South Asian descent.

The zines are self-published, as were many of the other pieces featured in the show. Bridge Ho presented these zines featuring her photography along with words by Michelle Velasquez-Potts. The published pieces are works of art, showing semi-abstract imagery on various printed materials including vellum.

Overall, however, most of the work in the show centered around illustration. Minnie Phan presented a variety of printed illustrations, including on cards, booklets, and her comic book They Call Us Viet Kieu, written after Phan visited Vietnam in 2013. You can hear her talk a bit about the experience in our CatSynth TV episode.

Minnie Phan

Similarly, we saw a variety of illustrated printed material from Cheez Hayama including these cat cards – each one is hand drawn and slightly different – and California activity book featuring our state bird.

Cheez Hayama

More traditional “comic books” were on display as well, including the Time Fiddler by Ellis Kim. The series, told as detailed and well drawn graphic novels, follows a young woman on an adventure through time travel, space, and romance. And of course, there is a cat.

And with books and graphic novels, we come full circle with This Asian American Life by Katie Quan, featuring the everyday adventures of an Asian-American protagonist. Parts of autobiographical from Quan’s experiences, but also includes shared experiences from friends as well as entirely imagined scenes.

Katie Quan - This Asian American Life

It was a well-attended show with many artists presenting – and selling – their work. We regret not being able to visit or include everyone. Congratulations to KSW and everyone involved on a great event.

Mensa Cat Monday: Quantum Mechanics

Mensa Cat Quantum Mechanics

The Mensa Cats take on the Standard Model of physics. By J.B. of Vacuum Tree Head.

APAture 2015: Music and Comics

Kearny Street Workshop’s APAture 2015 festival continued this past weekend with more showcases in multiple fields. I was able to attends parts of two of them, and share these brief notes.

The Music Showcase took place last Friday at Bindlestiff Studio in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco (it’s our home neighborhood at CatSynth). There was a wide range of musical styles present.

The evening opened with reggie-infused sounds and rhythms from Iridium.

Iridium

Next up was ebolabuddha, an intense metal band that featured reading of books in addition to the playing of instruments (quite loudly).

ebolabuddha

The band featured some familiar faces, including Eli Pontecorvo on bass/vocals and Mark Pino on drums with Steve Jong on guitar and vocals.

ebolabuddha

Combination of the forceful and physically driving music with the book readings (in addition to guest performers, everyone was invited to come up and read) was quite fun.

The tone and energy changed abruptly with MC a.K.aye (aka Ahmed Kap Animo), whose words with both playful and at times featured strong messages that resonated with many in the audience.

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Next was The Vibrant Things featuring Amy Dabalos on vocals. Dabalos had a fantastic and inspiring voice that worked well the group’s mixture of jazz, R&B and cabaret sounds. I also always enjoy seeing other groups with Nord keyboards.

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One of the more unique showcases of APAture is the Comics and Illustration showcase, which took place on Saturday at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library.

Comics and Illustration showcase

At first glance, the event has a nerdy vibe and many familiar styles and tropes of popular Asian comics. But many of the artists also featured strong messages in their work. Artist Bo explores queer and transgender identities in his comics. Pixelated follows the experience of a biological female passing as a male and suddenly being assumed to have strong technical skills, poking fun at gender stereotypes around technology.

Featured artist Thi Bui presented meticulously drawn art including her graphic novel The Best We Could Do, an “immigration epic” about her family. She also made drawings of visitors to the event as a fundraiser for Kearny Street Workshop.

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[© Kearny Street Workshop/ Shuntaro Ogata]

I particularly enjoyed Cecilia Wong’s colorful illustrations, many of which featured cats. I of course had to purchase a copy of one. I look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.

Cecilia Wong

Wong also gave a presentation of color, with tips on both theory and practice. It gave me a few thoughts for color in future graphic designs to complement my usual black&white styles.

Also present at the event was the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a “non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the First Amendment rights of the comics art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians, and readers.” I was not familiar with them, but on reflection I’m not surprised that many comics artist may need such defense, especially when the challenge traditional norms and authority (something that we at CatSynth wholeheartedly support).