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I Was the Cat [Review]


iwasthecatognWritten by: Paul Tobin
Illustrated and Colored by: Benjamin Dewey
Lettererd by: Jared Jones
Edited by: Jill Beaton and Robin Herrera
Designed by: Jason Storey
Published by: Oni Press
Format: Hardcover (6" x 9")
First Edition: August 2014
Cover Price: $24.95

These days, almost exclusively, my reading is ongoing super-hero stuff…primarily Valiant, Ninja Turtles, and starting the summer, Marvel‘s Secret Wars (2015) stuff. Even the occasional collected volume is generally something whose content was originally serialized, such as trying one of Image‘s vol. 1s or some other $9.99 first volume. I only have so much budget and don’t often care to take a chance on unknowns when I’m perfectly happy with and have a huge backlog of other stuff I’m already reading/trying to keep up on.

So last summer when I saw ads for this book, I Was the Cat grabbed my attention. Full-page ad; full back-cover ad, actually, and I’m a cat-person. So the prominent cat on the cover and the title gave me cause to look and consider. The book turning out to be a hardback was a bit of a surprise and the price seemed a bit steep "on paper." Then I saw the book and its presentation was attractive, it was pleasantly thick, and looked to be well worth its price. But I was buying other stuff, and tacking an additional $25 onto the purchase was not something I was prepared for, so I passed on it.

But where often passing on "the immediacy" of something, letting it slide past that initial "gotta get it" moment, and time moving ever forward tends to show me I’m not nearly as interested in something as I might have thought, or that any perceived interest was merely hype and I "forget" about a book…this one stayed on my mind. The title, and the image, and sheer curiosity.

Thus when I came across the book again…I picked it up, deciding anything else I might find to buy could wait–I was not passing on this again. Though I had some slight worry about it living up to my months’ worth of expectation, I’m glad to say I needn’t have worried.

In simplest terms, I Was the Cat is about a talking cat–Burma–who is nearing the end of his ninth life. As such, he hires Allison Breaking–a blogger–to write his memoir, so that he doesn’t simply pass away unnoticed. In execution, we meet said blogger and her friend and gain insight into where she’s coming from and her reaction to learn that her employer isn’t some eccentric rich guy but actually a real-life talking cat. Amidst Burma’s telling tales of his past lives through history we begin to see that there may be something else going on. Burma isn’t just a cat that can talk…he’s been part of significant historical events, sharing time with many famous, influential individuals…and he’d had his sights set on ruling the world. Unlike most cats that people say must want to do so, Burma was able to do something to attain the goal…and it turns out that on more than one occasion the world had actually been in his grasp. But those times behind him, it remains simply to chronicle those times and pass his knowledge to the world at large after all this time. There’s a subtle dynamic sprinkled throughout with a bit of mystery, and I found myself piecing things together along with Allison, and quite enjoying the experience in general.

As said, I am a cat person, which is largely what drew me to this. And Burma is an interesting character; the whole premise of the book is interesting. We get some of the typical cat-stuff here; but more than just some novelty of "a talking cat" we get a fully-realized character in the cat; someone who has learned and grown from his experiences, had dreams, pursued long-term goals, has a life…and just "happens to be" a cat. That the character has been such a part of history comes from the notion of a cat having nine lives. This plays out as a sort of reincarnation–Burma has had a number of different appearances…it’s his soul that’s remained consistent. Despite the many human attributes, he remains a cat–in appearance, mannerisms, poses, and interactions. It’s an authenticity that I really appreciated and made this believable in its own way, without requiring extra suspension of disbelief.

Typically I expect comic book cats to be cartooney, but Dewey maintains a realistic visual style, and Burma and other cats never come off as being anything but ordinary cats. And as much as the story is engaging, the whole thing is sold by this realism and avoidance of visual tropes for cats in comics. Transitioning through multiple lives means multiple deaths…and while not gratuitous, the simple notion of seeing a cat that’s dead or injured cuts to my heart, and there were several panels that pained me, feeling for Burma in a way that human/superhero deaths in comics do not. While cat lovers may find the scant handful of such panels disturbing, they should not be enough to put one off from reading this…I myself kept peace with the narrative thread that it’s Burma in the present talking about his own past, and that though his bodies experienced deaths, we weren’t seeing his finality.

To be reserved in my phrasing: I was suitably impressed with this entire book. The story, the art, and the physical package as a whole. I Was the Cat is well worth its cover price, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys cats…or conversely, anyone who is highly suspicious that their cat or a cat they know might have more going on than merely existing in a life of luxury, their every need catered to by their humans. I wish I had bought and read this immediately when it came out, but having read it nearly a year later, instead of being one of my favorite reads of 2014, it gets that candidacy for 2015.

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