I think we’ve gotten to the point where we’re all pretty comfortable (or at least familiar) with the idea of the webcomic that is later turned into a book. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is the most famous example of this, but it happens all the time. A webcomic becomes popular, and inevitably there’s a print edition. Far rarer is the webvideo that makes the successful leap from short film to paper. Over the years the Simon’s Cat web series has garnered millions of fans. So obviously, a book was going to be the next step. Considering how well Tofield animates cat behavior, you could be forgiven for not really believing that his images would translate to static comics. As it happens, not all his images do work, but the bulk of them stand on their own very well and the result is a comic collection that improves on those old Garfield strips of yore.
In hundreds of small comics, a neckless cat of indeterminate age or breed does the things cats do. Destroys. Yearns. Yearns to destroy. The images are simple pen-and-inks. No color. That’s about the long and short of it, really.
The reason the book version of Simon’s Cat works is twofold. First, Tofield doesn’t caption his images. There’s a webseries out there (now also a book) called Garfield Minus Garfield which highlights how unfunny that particular cartoon cat is by removing him from comic strips, leaving only his owner. It’s a definite improvement. Simon’s Cat, in contrast, uses visual gags entirely and it works so much better. It’s like watching a sitcom without an annoying laugh track. You don’t need words for certain kinds of visual storytelling.
That’s one. The second reason this book works is that it’s kid friendly. It hasn’t been specifically marketed to children, but kids will get a definite kick out of Tofield’s small stories. And as you read through it you begin to recognize reoccurring characters. The garden gnome that the cat befriends. The hedgehogs (betraying Mr. Tofield’s homeland) in the garden or the birds and mice bent on torturing the poor kitty. It all builds to a kind of conclusion.
A lot of the time the gags are just one panel standing on their own. Other times they go for several "scenes". Strangely, you can never know when a gag will be one or another. There’s no rhyme or reason to how they’re broken up. Sometimes a gag will begin on a right-hand page and then you’ll have to turn the page to get the rest. Other times you feel like there should be more to the joke, but instead you’re just left hanging. It would have been nice if there was more consistency to the layout. Still, I appreciated that the panels (which are never enclosed in boxes) shift from full-page spreads to eclectic sections of one page or another. Your eyes are constantly moving and roving all over these pages. It means that you don’t get stuck in the same static way of reading each page.
As for his art itself, you are never in doubt that this is a book created by a cat owner. It’s not so much the animal’s body itself that tells you this. Tofield’s cats tend to have stocky little builds, resembling koalas or small panda bears rather than sleek handsome felines. But in terms of movement he is dead on. He’s particularly good at drawing a cat mere moments before the pounce. Those slicked back ears. The way the pupils grow large. You can practically see its little rump wiggling as it gets ready for a lethal leap upon some unsuspecting leaf or piece of fluff.
As cat books go, this one’s pretty much superior to the usual fare. In terms of comics for kids, it reads like a collection of comic strips rather than a straight out graphic novel. There’s stuff I would have changed about it, but if you happen to know a kid or adult that thinks cats are the bees’ knees AND they have a thing for comics, this is plain good stuff. And maybe it’s the first of its kind. Maybe in the future it’s all gonna be webvideos turned into collected comics. Dunno. One thing’s for certain. The cream usually rises to the top. And Simon’s Cat, whatever else you might call it, is the best of its kind I’ve seen.
On shelves now.
Source: Copy sent from publisher
Interview: .net magazine
- A selection of cartoons were featured at The Guardian.
- Peruse the book here:
What kind of cruel critter would I be not to present the videos as well? Enjoy.