The Cats That Stared,
I picked up a pile of small press comics at the first Edinburgh Comics Art Festival (there’s a report and some pics on the fest here), but various things got in the way of reviewing some of my haul (our annual guest Best Of series, Christmas, the look forward to 2017 titles, wrestling multi-dimensional invaders for the freedom of the world, the usual things that eat up free hours). So now belatedly going back through that swag sack and starting to catch up on some of them. I couldn’t resist Claire Hubbard’s stall – one of her charming kitty prints made an ideal Chrimbo present for a friend, the comics, naturally, I kept for myself! But having been drawn over to her table by the kitty print my eyes then fell on The Cats That Stared. And again I couldn’t resist. Sucker for fun comics, sucker for cats, so yep, of course this was one of the first I bought that day.
“The cats arrive all at once one afternoon in spring, trotting side by side, one after the other, through the suburbs down towards the town centre.…”
Well you certainly can’t accuse Claire of not warning you on the cover about what to expect inside! This is indeed full of cats and yes, they stare! Many, many staring cats, who all descend on the town and start cropping up in all sorts of unexpected places – people opening fridges, desk drawers, there’s a cat in there, staring. They don’t purr or play or pounce like regular cats, but neither do they seem to do any harm, although some people are creeped out by the constant staring. Attempts to remove or capture them though, end about as well as you might imagine (especially if you have ever tried to wrestle your furry friend into the carrying box to visit the vet, cats are astonishing escape artists when they want to be).
Wisely Claire doesn’t poke too far into the mystery of these strange legions of ocularly-determined felines – sometimes the best policy is to create a wee mystery (especially a charming, furry mystery) but not explain too much and so ruin the magic. Although brief there are some lovely moments in here, especially with one woman who befriends one of these strange cats, leading to something rather lovely later on. But mostly this is just about the ways cats like to befuddle their humans, act in odd ways (I’m convinced the oddness is often deliberately staged just to confuse humans) and yet still be objects of love and wonder for many of us. It’s a lovely, charming wee read, especially for those of us used to the contradictions of being slashed by razor claws one moment and having warm purrs cuddled up against us the next, while Claire’s art just had me smiling all the way through.
Claire Hubbard and friends
While I was at Claire’s stand I also treated myself to this wee anthology curated by Claire, featuring a whole bunch of comickers such as David B Cooper, Steven Ingram, Neil Slorance, Stephen Goodall, Sophie Rowan and more. The theme, as you might infer from the title, is video games – specifically the good aspects they can have in our lives. Given video games are now the number one target for the “this is destroying our youth!” spoilsports (who before modern gaming made the same claim of watching videos at home, rock and rap music albums and comics, usually with no real study evidence to back up the “corruption of youth” claims, it’s nice to see gamers who are also comickers creating strips that outline the positive effects games and gaming have had in their lives.
(Steven Ingram’s Still Video Game)
As with any anthology you’ve got a varied approach in both style and approach. Some, like David B Cooper’s “How Doom causes father-son bonding” is a single page of four panels, but he uses those four panels nicely and had me smiling (also had me remembering playing more than a few game with friends or family where the shouting of advice “turn left here!!!” to the player was all part of the social aspect of it. I’m not going to go through each comicker’s strip one by one, but I must mention a few that particularly tickled me just right.
Steven Ingram’s “Still Video Game” had me chuckling right from the title – for those not familiar with it, it’s a reference to a hugely popular Scottish sitcom, Still Game, about a pair of old retired lads and what they get up to, and Steven uses that here to give us some gaming eldsters, happily posing as the classic cartoon pensioners (right down to scarf and flat cap) but really all game nuts (and why not?). Gem Ingram’s “So What Did You Do Last Night?” explored the social bonding and the feeding of the imagination gaming provides.
(The Legend of Bampot Island by Stephen Goodall)
Claire hubbard’s own “My Link to the Past” looked nostalgically at her earliest games and consoles, and how finding working older versions of them years later was a perfect escape during stressful times, such as during exams, Neil Slorance talks about how some aspects of the games he played as a kid mirrored parts of his own life as he grew up, and also lead him to befriending other gamers who would become chums for life, and Stephen Goodall explores that quest for the part of the game you can never, ever get to until… Suddenly you do and …. And then, what? He also gets top marks for fine use of the grand Scottish term “bampot”.