It was the recent launch of the DC Ink line that irked me a little, Lauren Myracle reporting that her editor Bobbie Chase had scolded her for writing a Catwoman comics at 7 or 8 panels a page. I don’t know the details obviously, maybe Myracle plunged acres of dialogue into those panels, but I’ve always been a fan of more panels per page. British kids weekly comics used to cram as much as they could, current titles like Viz Comic that play off that aesthetic will have 19 or 20 panels a page as standard without breaking a sweat. One of my favourite comic books of all time, Longshot Comics by Shane Simmons, had hundreds of panels a page, the art reduced to pinpricks of characters.
Sugar, Life As A Cat, by Serge Baeken makes to such artistic compromises for his thirty-panels-a-page graphic novella, published by Soaring Penguin Press. It uses that form to create something very specific, a series of moments often fast cut together, that reflect the life experience of a cat, a number of cats. This is then juxtaposed with the life experience of their humans, which has the advantage of stretching from one cat to the next, adding perspective, but each cat’s experiences and viewpoints are told separately. There is an attempt to avoid a colonisation of the cat narrative and the thirty panels a page experience allows that story, that perspective to be told, both in the world around and in the cat dreams. Anthropomorphism is unavoidable, and in places embraced, but there is a real attempt to show another catty world beyond the cat sleeping in the sun and stretching on the rooftops. There is fear, there is danger, there is incomprehension, life and death and pain. And a length to it, a sense of time spent, lessons learnt and mice caught. And in a cat’s dreams a sense of the way the world should be. That it may owe to Sandman‘s A Dream Of Cats but may have come to that conclusion independently. There will be also comparisons to Dave McKean‘s Cages, naturally, but that book had other concerns and Sugar, Life As A Cat bears them no heed. That book also played with cats, perspectives and panels in a similar fashion, but Sugar goes deeper, longer, further across lives.
For those who love cats, as well as for those who are suspicious of them, Sugar, Life As A Cat grabs the comic book medium by the ruff of the neck and gives it a good, hardy shake.
Sugar, Life As A Cat was originally published in Dutch and won the Saint Michiels prize for best Dutch Language comic, and the French translation won the Pri de Jeunes at the Roubaix Festival. There’s no knowing where this may go now its in English.
Back to bed, maybe.
Sugar, Life As A Cat by Serge Baeken is published by Soaring Penguin Press and is available here.
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