Authors: Margaret Atwood
Artist: Johnnie Christmas
Release Date: September 6, 2016
Publisher: Dark Horse
Genre(s): Action, Science Fiction, Superhero
Review Spoilers: Low
Although it might be hard for any lover of literature to imagine someone like Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale, The Blind Assassin, Oryx and Crake) writing comic books, it may not seem so out of place given the context. “I was born in 1939, and was thus of a reading age when the war ended and color comics made a booming comeback.” The acclaimed novelist has dabbled in many mediums outside of the written word and has even drawn some of her own comics. Indeed, in Angel Catbird, Cate Leone’s night club outfit was designed by Atwood.
A life-long cat lover, Angel Catbird is more than just a graphic novel, it’s got a conservation side to it. Partnered with Nature Canada, who supply factoids and statistics to the readers every couple pages, there is a combined #SafeCatSafeBird outreach campaign to teach readers about how to protect our beloved pet cats and wild birds of the environment. It’s very ‘Atwood’ to include the conservation side of this story, but it does little draw from the enjoyment I had from reading Catbird.
With a long history of drawing and enjoying comics, Strig Feleedus, the protagonist, was an idea that sprang from Atwood’s past. “I’ve had it for years, but I needed someone who could actually draw these figures,” she told me, during our interview this summer at San Diego Comic Con with Johnnie Christmas in company as well. “I met Hope Nicholson, and she got me in touch with Dark Horse Comics and Johnnie.”
In regards to the weirdness of seeing her name on a graphic novel cover, Atwood shrugs it off. “I don’t find it strange, it’s always been a medium which could be used for multiple purposes,” she explained, referencing war propaganda comics and the 40’s and 50’s in which everyone read the funny papers and there was no television. “Visual communication is extremely direct, it’s in a way, like music.”
The vibrant and powerful artwork in Catbird is illustrated by Johnnie Christmas and colored by Tamra Bonvillain. “I tried to imbue the script with my point of view, all of it has been to serve the script,” Christmas explained, having started on the project with Atwood in December of last year. “I hope people learn something, there’s a lot of information there under all of the entertainment.”
There is, indeed, a lot of information to be found on the technicolor pages of the first volume of three volumes, a coda to each section of pun-filled narrative gives you insight into the real world facts of cats and birds.
Angel Catbird reads like a graphic novel that is outside of time, functioning like a pulp novel with extreme action and over exaggerated characters. The story relies a lot on the characters’ own personal thoughts, and although it makes for an interesting and certainly unique kind of novel, it also feels slightly dated. It does not follow the current graphic novel vogues and bears none of the grittiness that seems to be in almost every comic published in the last year. There’s a ton of fun once the story starts to hit its stride and we meet characters like Cat Leone and Count Catula. Cate is Strig’s love interest and works in marketing at the same company that Strig works at, Muroid Inc. They have a date at a club called The Catastrophe and meet other half-cats named Trash, Alley, and Cataclysm.
Even as a lover of puns, sometimes Catbird can be a little too heavy handed when trying to play out a more dedicated storyline. Thankfully it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and while the concept of a man who is part-owl, part-cat, and part-human is ridiculous, the supporting characters and villains seem to meet that level of ridiculousness with ease. Volume 2 takes the gang to Castle Catula, which will undoubtedly be another pun-filled adventure with more from the part-cat, part-bat, part-vampire Count Catula.
Volume 2 comes out in February 2017.