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.
Another 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’sCat, 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.
Last year on May the Fourth, we shared a bit about felines in the Star Wars universe. In particular, the many species of tooka, a small animal with cat-like appearance and behavior that was featured in both the Rebels and Clone Wars animated series. Tookas also make an appearance in the new Forces of Destiny animated shorts. In one episode, Jyn Erso saves and befriends a tooka that has adopted by a girl as a pet.
We at CatSynth love these short videos in the Forces of Destiny series. Most of the attention has gone to their featuring of the women in the franchise, but they also cleverly weave together characters from different stories over the timeline. We will have more to say about this series in a future article. But for now, May the Fourth Be With You! (Oy vey!)
Our Volt Divers Cat-tastic edition show in Portland this past month raised funds for House of Dreams, a no-kill cat shelter that specializes in older cats and those with medical conditions that may make them more challenging to adopt out. I had the chance to visit the shelter and made this video from the experience.
House of Dreams is, quite literally, a house at a non-disclosed location in Northeast Portland. Most of the space is dedicated to the cats, who have can move about freely in their respective rooms. We saw cats doing what cats do: play, interact, eat, and nap. And they certainly get a lot of love and attention from the all-volunteer staff.
The is a separate section of the house for cats who have tested positive for feline leukemia (FeLV). FeLV-positive cats to have special medical needs, and should be with other FeLV-positive cats, but they can still lead happy and full lives. Indeed, a couple of the most playful cats I met while I was there were in the FeLV section.
This is Snowball, probably the biggest ham among the cats.
These “CatSynth pics” of the cats at House of Dreams were taken by our friend and Volt-Divers host Jeph Nor, a synthesizer virtuoso in his own right and human companion of Runkl.
This is Sassy, who definitely had an attitude to match her name. (She appears at the end of our video giving us a “look” 😸). Below is sweet Spice.
Flicka was one of my “tour guides” who followed me around.
All the cats seemed pampered and well-loved by the staff. They had lots of personal attention (if they wanted it). Plus, the entire space was immaculate and full of furniture and toys to both stimulate and comfort the cats. As a small shelter focusing on cats with special needs, they have fewer overall adoptions – each one is a celebration, though often a farewell to a friend that the volunteers have grown to love. But they do have a good track record of adopting out, and often keep in touch with their “alumni” and human caregivers.
We at CatSynth were happy to visit and support them, both through our video and through the Volt Divers show. If you want to find out more about House of Dreams, including information on donations, please visit their website.
Sam Sam has her usual spots, but sometimes she sits down in unexpected places. For example, yesterday she entered “kitty loaf” mode in front of an overflow shelf just outside the studio that continued several old E-MU modules.
The E-MU Orbit, Carnival and Classic Keys are all variants of the first generation Proteus. The Orbit, in particular, was iconic in its time, but all rather obsolete now. I do still use my Proteus 2000 module (a Vintage Pro with Mo’Phatt and Beat Garden expansion ROMS) quite often – you never know when you might need a few lines of Mellotron flute or strings or a classic highly-filter-swept drum loop. There are other ways to get these musical elements, but the P2K remains quick and accessible. The Morpheus also still has a place of honor in the studio.
Both of these later-generation E-MU instruments had more to offer, especially the z-plane filters that the Morpheus took to the extreme. These days, I do find myself experimenting with the Morpheus Eurorack module from Rossum Electro-Music more than the old E-MU box, which is just the z-plane filter with CV-controlled parameters. Even after using it extensively in recent shows, I still have a lot to learn and practice with it.
When we’re not up in the studio, Sam Sam enjoys spending time on the living room rug and perfecting her patented “scratch-and-roll” move.
I have too many photos of her in this pose now, it’s just hard to resist. Of course, what she wants is not a photo, but pets and then brushing. I am more than happy to oblige.
Today’s Mensa Cats cartoon by J.B. touches a dilemma many of us face as artists. Can we make a living from our art? Sadly, in the late-stage capitalism envisioned by Milton Friedman, it is particularly challenging by Morton Feldman. We at CatSynth have day jobs.
After several years, we at CatSynth are resuming our tradition of sharing wild cats on earth day. Those who follow our Facebook page are regularly treated to photos and videos of wild cats. We share a few favorites, along with some of our own.
A personal favorite of ours is the fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus). It is unique in that is adapted for swimming and hunting in the water. The sleek fur, streamlined shape, and folded ears attest to this adaptation.
The fishing cat has discontinuous populations in rainforests of South Asia and Southeast Asia. It is listed as Vulnerable, primarily due to habitat destruction. The Greensboro Science Center in Greensboro, North Carolina, recently posted this video featuring a mother fishing cat teaching her kitten their aquatic heritage.
Another lesser-known cat is the oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus). It is among the smallest of wild cats, similar in appearance to but significantly smaller than the well-known ocelot.
The oncilla lives throughout Brazil as well as the highland tropical forests of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. There is even a recorded separate population in Panama. It is listed as Vulnerable in IUCN classification, mainly due (once again) to habit loss.
Both of these cats and many others have a similar spotted look that works well in their forested environments. Our old pal the Pallas cat (Otocolobus manul), also known as the manul, is quite a different beast altogether. It has a squat shape, fluffy fur and a gray color that are suited to its cold rocky environment in Central Asia. Here is a manual I encountered at the Prospect Park Zoo in New York some years ago.
While not endangered, servals have been frequently been captured and bred as exotic pets. They do, however, remain wild predators and their domestic captivity usually goes badly for human and feline alike. As our host from Safari West said, “they do not make good pets, but they will eat good pets.” Below is a “cat” that actually is not a cat at all, but a separate genus, the genet. If they had not told me, I might have guessed it was a fishing cat.
Sadly, Safari West was affected by last year’s devastating Tubbs fire in Sonoma County. Several structures burned, and the co-founders lost their own home. Fortunately, most of the property was spared and the animals all made it through the conflagration safely, and Safari West reopened for tours and programs in late November. You can read more about their experience (and find out how to support them) here.
We conclude with our friends at ISEC Canada, an organization dedicated entirely to the conservation of small wild cats. They have many projects underway, including a study of the black-footed cat, another lesser-known small wild cat from southern Africa. It’s esimated range covers parts of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.
The black-footed cat is adorable, and its face closely resembles many housecats. But once again, this is a wild animal and does not belong in a domestic setting. We applaud the work of ISEC Canada and other organizations who study and help to preserve them in their wild habitats.
A week ago, I found myself back in Portland for the first time in four years. Officially, I was there to headline the Volt Divers Cat-tasticEdition show, but geat many other experiences large and small framed the main event. There were synths, cats, food, drink, and rain. Lots of cold rain. And wind. This is not unusual, but it did limit outdoor activities such as industrial and architectural photography. Instead, we enjoyed some of Portlanders’ favorite indoor activities, starting with brunch.
Portland may be an even “brunchier” place than San Francisco, Oakland, or Brooklyn, judging by the lines I observed at popular spots, including Jam on Hawthorne, not far from my home base in Southeast. Fortunately, as a solo patron who doesn’t mind squeezing into a tight spot at the bar, I didn’t have long to wait to get served. I quite enjoyed the spicy bloody-mary variant with Jam’s proprietary “aardvark sauce”, as well as the rancheros.
The sharper cheese sprinkled on top gave the dish an almost Italian quality, but it retained the hearty beans, spicy sauce, and simple eggs that made it perfect for a cold morning. The view out to Hawthorne Boulevard displayed some of the local flavors, including that Charlie-Brown-inspired van in the first photo.
Then it was back to our temporary “CatSynth HQ” to relax for a bit. Buddha, one of my hosts, made sure I felt at home. He was rather friendly, and even demanding of attention. I was happy to oblige.
After some quality cat time, it was back out to Hawthorne, this time headed over the bridge to downtown. Downtown Portland is somewhere between the downtown sections of Oakland and Brooklyn in terms of cityscape and vibe, though on a smaller scale than the latter. It has a regular grid cut by the I-405 freeway and Burnside Street, and a mix of contemporary, mid-century and older buildings. It was at the base of one of the older buildings that I found a small hair salon that was able to fit me in for a last-minute blowout – the weather was not kind to my hair, and I needed to look purrfect for the show that evening.
The next stop took me eastward from downtown to the ragged edges of the city along SE 82nd Avenue (State Route 213). I was here to pick up a borrowed Nord for the show. A mixture of auto-shops, low-rise apartments, and shopping centers made this area feel more like Los Angeles (except for the weather) or the far eastern sections of Queens. But it was still fascinating in its way, and there was an interesting row of shops, bars, and eateries along Stark Street – I wish I had a chance to stop at The Country Cat, but time did not permit this.
With hair done and keyboard secured, it was time to prepare for the show, which back in the industrial section of Southeast along the river at The Lovecraft Bar.
Inside the bar, it was dark. Really dark. It took me a few minutes before my eyes adjusted and I could see everyone else busily setting up their mostly modular rigs. It was all business after that as I set up for the show, but I did have some moments to check out the Lovecraft and horror-themed decor.
I will be covering the show itself in detail in a subsequent article. But we already have a video published on CatSynth TV, which you can view below.
The next morning I found myself in the Hollywood neighborhood. It was actually the first time on this particular trip that I found myself north of Burnside in the northeast sector of the city. Sandy Boulevard was lined with a diverse collection of low-rise businesses. I crossed I-84/US 30 into the adjacent Grant Park district, which reminded me again of residential neighborhoods with larger lots at the edges of New York City into Westchester and Long Island. I had some personal appointments that morning but then remained in Northeast to visit House of Dreams cat shelter at their secure undisclosed location.
House of Dreams is a no-kill shelter specializes in cats that have difficulty finding homes and has space dedicated for FelV-positive cats (i.e., those with feline leukemia). Our show the night before raised funds for their shelter and work, and I of course wanted to come visit the kitties. We will dedicate an upcoming article and video entirely to House of Dreams, but for now here is a cute picture of Flicka, one of the many sweet cats I met there.
We then hopped onto I-84 back west towards the river, passing the convention center and on to Mississippi Street, a trendy area of boutiques, pubs, and restaurants. This is also the home of Control Voltage, a premier shop for synthesizers of all sorts. It was relatively easy to find with the sidewalk signage.
Among the many keyboard and modular displays was this rack featuring modules from FolkTek, one of several local makers in the Portland area. They do have a gorgeous design.
I chatted with the staff and shot some video for an upcoming CatSynth TV, but also walked away with one of the FolkTek modules, a quad envelope follower that I know will come in handy for some upcoming music projects.
I wandered a few blocks south on Mississippi to StormBreaker Brewing, which I had remembered from a previous trip. In addition to their beer offerings, they had several suggested beer-and-whiskey pairings, which I of course had to try.
One of the daily specials, a cream-of-asparagus soup, was perfect for that cold and rainy afternoon.
Although this trip took me to quite a few corners of the city, I still felt there was much undone, especially meeting more of the local synth community, and spending some time outdoors. So I do expect to be back much sooner than last time.
See more of Portland, Oregon and many other fascinating places in our Highway☆ app, available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
Sam Sam makes her cartoon debut in Boink Boink Basement!, our latest offering from artist J.B.
We think she fits right on with the myriad other fascinating elements in this surreal drawing. And snoopervising is one of the things she does best in creative settings, as can be seen in this previous post.
Marlon Brando is a controversial figure in contemporary circles, but we did some great movies a long time ago (followed by some not-so-great ones, then a couple more classics, and then some really awful ones). But his work has intertwined with many things at CatSynth over the past couple of years. Consider this cartoon by J.B. (Jason Berry), part of our extended Mensa Cat series.
We leave the joke as an exercise to the reader. 😸
There is also the tune “Marlon Brando” initially composed by Jason Berry for Vacuum Tree Head, which I redid for my own band CDP. Here is a live performance of us playing it at the Make Out Room in San Francisco.