There are as many risks in attempting a cat-based comics column as there are cat comics themselves. Surprisingly ubiquitous, these little furry ninjas turn up everywhere, some with great PR fanfare (the recent comics arrival of *sigh* Grumpy Cat), some becoming cult hits (Saga’s Lying Cat), some you realise have been with you your whole life (Garfield), some turn up in gritty noir tales (Blacksad), some live around the corner from you (Cats of Brunswick I Have Touched) and some you discover formed a cornerstone of indie comics publishing that you embarrassingly had no idea the importance of (King Cat Comics).
If you want some serious feline comics action, however, Japan is where it’s at. Like the anguished mating cries of Osakan street cats wailing up into the night from almost every alley, you don’t have to look too hard to find one. In fact, you may just stumble across one, as I did when I discovered Nekopanchi, or “Cat Punch.” If you’re unsure just how a cat punches (surely it’s more of a swipe, right?), just shut up and enjoy this gratuitously inserted three minute video of cats “punching” things.
Nekopanchi is enough to make a reader bemoan the state of Western comics. This is a monthly, I say again *monthly,* anthology comic regularly weighing in at over 400 pages of cat comics – with full colour glossy inserts, stickers and photo spreads of the monthly feature cat also included – for the measly price of around $5.50 AU. I love it so much I bought two issues.
If anything proves the versatility and range of this medium, it’s Nekopanchi with its roster of cute cats, ugly cats, young cats, old cats, bad cats, good cats, hungry cats, cats in feudal Japan, cats in magical realms, mean cats, kind cats, bipedal cats, cheeky cats, cats drawn as little more than a black shape and cats drawn with near perfect realism. “Okaiharuko” is one of the best things here that I’ve attempted to read. It’s late at night and our feline protagonist, with all the gravity of a heist film, is determined to break into the fridge. Covering himself in bags and children’s pyjama bottoms to cover his tracks, he sneaks into the kitchen – through an air vent no less – breaks into the fridge and pulls forth a massive fish. Suffering a crisis of conscience, he initially decides he just can’t go through with it but the temptation proves too great and he wars with both his conscience and his owner in true cheeky cat style.
If you can’t get to Japan or have no patience and/or time to learn the language, however, no sweat, I've got you covered. One of the more beloved cat manga is Kanata Konami’s Chi’s Sweet Home, about a cute little cat who gets lost, then adopted by a family who are not allowed to have pets. I must confess that I’ve never read it, but as it’s in English from Vertical I’ve really no excuse and will get onto that in the New Year. Yes, I’m being totally serious.
Anyway, here are some cat comics I actually have read. Oh, and if you hate cats? That’s fine…I guess… the October ’78 issue of Heavy Metal is included below as something of a palate cleanser.
COMIC OF THE WEEK : JUNJI ITO’S CAT DIARY: YON & MU
By Junji Ito
Published By Kodansha Comics
“From The Creator of Uzumaki!” reads the cover of Junji Ito’s Cat Diary. That made me laugh a bit.
Uzumaki, for the uninitiated is Manga-ka Junji Ito’s bizarre and grotesque 600 page horror manga about a cursed coastal town haunted by a spiral pattern that affects everything from weather to architecture to flesh. It’s a J-Horror classic and a stunningly odd piece of comics, typical of Ito’s output. Ito was last mentioned in this column in July with the release of Fragments of Horror, his latest collection of short stories, mostly focussing of the Lovecraftian insanity inherent in capturing a glimpse of the supernatural beyond. He’s also responsible of Gyo, a tale of mechanised sea-life attacking Tokyo en masse, and Tomie, about a supernatural girl who’s sort of the embodiment of lust, able to make men fall in love with her and commit all manner of violence and horrible deeds (sometimes against her very own person). Weird, heady, gross stuff all. It is a strange thing then, at first, to see this legend of the macabre, horrific and offbeat trying his hand at diarised cat comics. That is until you actually read the thing and see just how well Ito’s creeping suspense and affinity for the macabre lends itself to comedy. In fact, and I can’t believe I’m actually writing this, behind Uzumaki, Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu is easily my favourite of his works that I’ve read.
J-kun (Ito) buys a new house in a quiet town and moves in with his fiancée, A-ko. He appears to be living the suburban dream until A-ko announces that she’s bringing Yon, the family cat, to live with them. Yon is an odd creature even by the typically high standards of bizarre cat behaviour. He suckles at A-ko’s little finger as though it’s a teat, has a “cursed face” and black spots on his white back that look like the face from Munch’s “The Scream” (this is actually no invention on Ito’s part, backed up by photographic evidence supplied within the book). J-kun very quickly transforms into one of his own manga protagonists, sweaty, pale, manic, unable to handle to terror coming his way, and quickly begins to cat-proof his home like Ash Williams expecting Deadites to come a-knocking.
“Awful, shiny” sheets of plastic are tacked up on his new walls to prevent scratching and a massive cat tower – which he must assemble of course- is purchased. Ready for war with Yon, J-Kun goes positively boggle-eyed at the mere mention of the cat, and A-ko’s insistence that Yon will need a feline friend to help with the transition to his new home is greeted with terrified acquiescence.
A-ko is rendered as the ultimate cat-lady gone crazed – smiling insanely, she is constantly drawn without pupils, her wide, white-eyes under the spell of some supernatural cat fever. Surprisingly, however, she’s not the only one to catch it. Despite his initial resistance, J-kun finds himself falling very quickly for the feline charms of Mu, the kitten chosen to be Yon’s live-in cat pal. “I’m going to gobble you up!” he screams, snatching Mu from A-ko’s grasp, his face disjointed and elongated at the jaw, like Bissette and Totleben drawing a possessed, vomit-spewing Matthew Cable in Swamp Thing, as he starts rolling around, cat clutched to his chest, giggling like child. And when Yon arrives and just as quickly charms J-kun, the artist transforms from quivering paranoiac to gibbering buffoon, desperate to win the affections of the animals that he’s still wary of, animals that now rule his home and rearrange his life.
Ito’s horror techniques and gift for presenting the weird in the everyday fill the book, creating all the humour. From the facial expressions of the humans to the by turns adorable and demonic appearances of the two cats, Ito quite expertly turns horror into comedy – Yon clawing a door open and squeezing his way through like some monster, a formerly stray cat named Goro that’s represented as a ghostly streak, never to be fully seen, the blank emotionless face of Yon upon arrival, body horror in a squishy cat poop, the crazed gaze of A-ko, J-kun’s own wide-mouthed terror at the impending arrival of the “cursed cat” Yon – it all taps into the visual hallmarks of Ito’s career as the weird and the “other” arrives, literally, at his own doorstep. It’s almost a relief that someone with such ghastly things living in his head is able to turn it all around and poke fun at not only his body of work but at himself.
Supplemented with reader questions inserted into the chapter breaks (“Questions For J-Sensei!”) and photographs of the book’s two cat stars, Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu is the perfect entry point to Ito’s weird, weird worlds. No wonder the whole project was his editor’s idea…
WEBCOMIC OF THE WEEK : EAT, SLEEP, SNIFF
By Rus Hudda
A plethora of feline-based webcomics to pick from, but in the end only one real choice: Rus Hudda’s wonderful Eat, Sleep, Sniff, which features his real-life dealings with his cat, Tali in much sweeter fashion that Ito’s with Yon and Mu. From checking cancerous lumps, to sleeping and eating habits to the constant surprises one faces in sharing your life with furry playful predators, Eat, Sleep, Sniff is by turns funny, sad and heart-warming. Featuring all the goofy feline antics any cat-lover could ask for in an ongoing four-panel diary comic, Hudda’s genuine love and care for his cat shines through. Tali is treated as one of the family, an equal in many ways, making the chapters dealing with vet visits particularly all the sweeter.
COUNTDOWN TO MOZ METAL: HEAVY METAL OCTOBER 1978
Your cat intermission for the week comes in the form of the excellent October 1978 issue of Heavy Metal, which showcase the debut of Metal Hurlant editor(and Conquering Armies scripter) Jean Claude Dionnet and Enki (The Niktopol Trilogy) Bilal’s “Exterminator 17.” A supposedly deactivated android – the now obsolete seventeenth version of the Exterminator android – return home, purpose unknown, just in time for his ageing maker’s death. Bilal’s gorgeous black and white pages feature Steve Dillon-esque faces (something I’ve never noticed before in his work, he must have been a clear influence on young Dillon) with Moebius hatching and both open backgrounds of pure white and intricate tech-filled backdrops. I’m also reminded of Frank Miller’s Ronin in both costuming, machinery and fine almost organic circuitry, which should be unsurprising as Ronin was as influenced by pioneering Euro SF bandes dessinee as it was by Lone Wolf & Cub. Anyway, this is lovely stuff, immediately re-invigorating the magazine in only a dozen or so pages.
Gray Morrow’s “Orion”, as much as I love it, looks positively archaic in comparison to Bilal’s evergreen SF artistry, but Nicole Claveloux’s “Off-Season” with its similarly black and white pages, finely-inked panels is an appropriate follow-on, even with her characters leaning far more into the realm of cartoonishness.
The insane detail of Druillet’s Kirby-on-some-nightmare-stimulant pages ramps up in the latest chapter of “Gail” and it makes me wish that John Workman’s organic, proto Simonson-Thor lettering could have been retained for the current Titan reprints of the Lone Sloane adventures. The Titan editions are beautiful books and I’m happy to have them but, man, that lettering font is pretty generic. As he did with his later work with Simonson, Workman manages to boost the cosmic angst of captions like “I will tear asunder that which woke me and wants to prey on our hearts” as the demons who sought to manipulate Lone Sloane begin to have some second thoughts about their plan. Druillet of course brings panoramic epicness to his colour pages – only four of which comprise this chapter – a superbly-placed jolt after the multi-panelled pages of Claveloux.
There’s even more Druillet this issue too (yay!) with the two page “Blob.” Something of a cosmic Icarus story, “Blob” features a traveller seeking “eternity” who urges his poor space steed “higher and faster” until it explodes and tumbles, a burning mess, back to the surface.
A concession to Halloween, an extract from the novelisation of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead follows, a curiosity to be sure, but not much outside of that. More “Heilman” is a good thing, as is more “Airtight Garage” and “…Arabian Nights.” Angus McKie’s “So Beautiful and So Dangerous” debuts, rather pretentiously and erroneously purporting to be “the first existential Science-Fiction comic story” (Sorry, Angus, not even close). Showcasing humanity’s hubris in believing itself to be the universe’s only technologically advanced species, McKie loads his colourful pages with all manner of aliens and spacecraft as Earth is visited by extra-terrestrials who are very quickly commercialised and evangelised . An intriguing, if highfalutin start, the gravitas of which is immediately and hilariously followed by an advertisement for a book on how to pick up girls that guarantees you’ll “pick up more girls in a month than most men do in a lifetime” and another, featuring a topless girl, titled “How To Make Love To A Single Girl.”
That right there is the clearest example of the dichotomy of the HM aesthetic I can recall: from cerebral cosmic SF artistry to tits with the flip of a page.
Right. Back to the cats.
COMICS VIDEO OF THE WEEK : マイケル#1
I’m calling it now, Makoto Kobayashi’s What’s Michael is the greatest cat comic of all time. Focussed on a ginger cat named Michael and his misadventures, the series spawned a very successful anime and Michael managed to cross over into the popular consciousness. He was such a force that he even appeared in an advertisement for an NEC CD player that cost almost 60,000 yen to own (that’s well over $600). Kobayashi’s rubbery-faced humans, frequently gaping at Michael, are perfectly cartooned and Michael’s misadventures, from arriving on porn sets, to playing sports, to battling colds, split into either bizarre fantasy or poke fun at the comparatively humdrum existence of us humans.
Both types of Michael adventures can be found in this episode of his anime, which starts off with animals playing baseball then moves into the “real” with Michael descending a building, floor by floor, balcony by balcony. It’s the latter I really recommend, starting around 3:44 in, as no Japanese knowledge is required and the episode shows off Kobayashi’s comedic gifts. Sadly out of print these days, the Dark Horse editions of What’s Michael? are commanding a pretty hefty price. Hopefully, the publisher brings the series back in omnibus format as it’s seriously good stuff, skillfully cartooned, brilliantly paced.