Have you ever looked at a cat and wondered what it was thinking? What would it say if it could talk? Would you really want to know? There are a lot of cartoon and pictures of cats captioned with their “thoughts” of taking over the world. The movie Cats and Dogs had cats as the ones plotting to take over the world. What if they really were?
Review: I Was the Cat
Written by Paul Tobin; Illustrated by Benjamin Dewey
Oni Press, Inc., August 2014. ISBN: 978-1620101391
144 pgs., $24.99 USD
Allison Breaking is a journalist who runs her own news blog, Breaking News. To pay the bills, she ghostwrites other people’s biographies. She receives a very generous offer from the mysterious Burma and flies out to the UK, but Burma turns out to be a client like none she has had before: He is a cat that can talk and can recall his previous lives. Now on his ninth life, he wants his story told for all the world to hear. And why not? For the majority of his lives, he been trying to take it over.
I Was the Cat takes the humorous and popular notion that cats are plotting to take over the world and gives it some serious consideration. Burma, the titular cat, is a long-haired orange tabby. Starting with his first life in Ancient Egypt, he has used his ability to talk to try to manipulate humans. Over the centuries, and his eight lives, he has used different methods—religion, politics, the media, and war—to fulfill his ambitions, but each time he has failed. Usually the failure was due to human failings, but Burma is honest with both Allison and himself as he admits his own failings as well.
As Burma is telling Allison his story, it is juxtaposed with something else that is going on, something that Burma seems to be involved in. He speaks of agents working for him and enemies that may be trying to stop him after all of his past machinations, but something more seems to be going on in the background. It appears as innocuous at first, but it slowly builds and leaves you wondering if a leopard can really change its spots.
I liked I Was the Cat. I enjoyed Burma’s tales of his past lives and his reasoning for many of his actions. I really liked his explanation for why he created a pantheon of gods in Ancient Egypt instead of making himself the only one. He inserted himself well into history with both well-known figures such as Napoleon and Queen Elizabeth I and lesser known figures such as Jonathan Wild, one of the men Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis Moriarty was based on. His modern-day escapades were fun too, as James Bond/Austin Powers references were thrown in. He also had a big crush on Audrey Hepburn. It was a nice romantic touch to all the battle and intrigue.
I’ve been gushing all over the cat, but his human foils were well written as well. Allison Breaking is a smart, gutsy, go-getter who isn’t afraid to go after a story. She struggles some after first meeting Burma, but she doesn’t let something as odd as a talking cat keep her from a fascinating story. Her friend in England, Reggie, is a bit more paranoid, a bit more reckless, but always has Allison’s best interests at heart. The scene where she tries to figure out if Burma’s ability to speak is an elaborate hoax is very amusing. She warms up to Burma fairly quickly, so the revelation at the end hits her a little harder than Allison.
While I did enjoy the book overall, I did have a few problems with it. Oni Press sets the age rating at Youth, but if the reader is an animal lover, be forewarned there are several instances shown of cats dying, not just the end of Burma’s lives, but also in present day. The ending felt a little abrupt on the first read through. It felt like it was just the end of a chapter, and not the end of the story. After I read it a second time, knowing it was the end, the note of finality rang a little more clearly.
I Was the Cat is a fanciful (or prophetic warning) of cats and world domination. The history is informative and entertaining, and Dewey’s art is delightful. All of his renditions of Burma in his different lives and breeds were beautifully done. The diversity of the humans both on the street and in the leads gave the story as much a ring of realism as does the art itself. I Was the Cat would make a great addition to any tween-to-teen library or graphic novel collection. Cat lovers made of sterner stuff will enjoy it as well.