Catland Empire – welcome to the surreal, pop art world of Keith Jones
by Keith Jones
Drawn & Quarterly
Mr Universe, Mr Time, Mr Space, Sir Cosmos (the baddie), a Universe of 13 flat round cookie shaped dimensions, Universal Life Forces getting instruction in Humanity (Grade 36) before heading off to Earth for the practical aspects of their course as humans, fun loving cats and dour serious dogs – these are just some of the things going on in Keith Jones’ new book from Drawn & Quarterly – Catland Empire.
Throw in a plot by human Victor Burg (another Universal Life Force reincarnate) to wipe out mankind and a mission for the cats to teach those dull, homicide obsessed humans how to have a little fun and you can see Catland Empire is very much a strange, psychedelic science fiction romp, described in the press relases as “a twist of a Phillip K. Dick novel with a Saturday morning cartoon“.
(The map of the known Universe, as understood by Keith Jones. I particularly love the spoton laid back map of Catland. From Catland Empire by Keith Jones, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
Mr Universe has uncovered a plot by his arch enemy Sir Cosmos to destroy the Earth. His solution – blow it up first. But before that happens he needs to get the humans, the cats and the dogs into the Great Plain at the bottom of the universe. His one problem is that human beings have become “empty husks stripped of all memory when it comes to things like how to have fun and play games” thanks to the manipulations of Victor Burg.
The answer to both problems, via genetically altered catnip and drug laced hot-dogs, is to get the cats of Catland involved. But will they be able to get their act together long enough to help the humans and organise the mass move? Or will they get distracted by the catnip yet again?
(Have you ever tried to get a cat to do anything it didn’t want to do?)
(Mr Universe turns to unlikely saviours of Earth – those masters of fun and games, the cats of Catland. From Catland Empire by Keith Jones, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
Catland Empire has a delicious sense of surreality and fun, with the cartoon artwork of bold, eye popping colours a perfect fit for the bizarre concepts that Jones is throwing at us. The whole look of the book and the surreal, ridiculous storylines means it’s a book firmly grounded in fun, where it’s essential to give yourself over to the silliness to get the most out of it.
And overall, Catland Empire does pretty much everything right, creating something different, strange, yet fun and lightweight.
(But cats are cats, no mater how important the task at hand, all too quick to take a quick hit of catnip and grab a tasty hot dog. From Catland Empire by Keith Jones, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
But there’s one big problem. Sadly the dialogue is just too stilted and over explanatory for the free-wheeling and wildly inventive art and story. It tries to do too much, slows the pace of the story, gets in the way of the fun. Now it might be deliberate on Jones’ part, and there are moments when I get the impression that the over-dialoguing is all part of the comedy, or at least that’s what Jones is aiming for. But if that is the case I’m afraid it just doesn’t really work.
It’s a shame, since Catland Empire, as a pure idea and an artistic work is lovely; a freewheeling ride of high concepts and ridiculousness. But it’s still fatally flawed, and after a while the dialogue just gets too much, overwhelming any enjoyment of the art and the idea. Pity.