There have been plenty of cartoon cats who have come gone over the years, and to be honest none of them have ever really appealed to me. Maybe it’s because I own and like cats, I find most of the caricatures lacking. For instead of trusting in the natural appeal of the animal, most of them have been given human attributes which might make them cute for some, but just makes them unappealing to me.
So when someone first sent me a link to Simon Tofield’s Simon’s Cat it took me a while to even bother checking it out. But Tofield takes the opposite tack, with his cat barely beening anthropomorphized at all.
The live action cartoons are simple, black and white, sketch-like drawings. Nothing high-tech about them.
In fact there’s not even any dialogue, or at least any in human language. Simon’s Cat — he doesn’t appear to have any other name — communicates in a series of sounds and noises that will be familiar to any cat owner. These run from the inquisitive chirps he makes when faced with a puzzle, all the way through to the contented purr of the well-fed animal. Somehow, with just this basic vocabulary, and an understanding of cat body language, Tofield has managed to instil his creation with the just the right combination of elements that its behaviour strikes chords of recognition with his viewers.
I’m sure every cat owner watching has at one time or another said a variation on, “That’s just like my cat”.
How though would the cat make the transition to the printed page? What works with an audio track and animation won’t necessarily in the less kinetic media. But as those who have read Simon’s Cat: In His Very Own Book and Simon’s Cat: Beyond The Fence will know he’s just as, if not more, appealing in print as he is on the screen. Up until now the books like the cartoons have been in black and white.
For Simon’s Cat and his environment are in colour for the first time.
I had worried that he might not be able to stand up to the transition. Part of the cartoon’s charm has been its simplicity. In some instances the cat appears alone on the page, no settings aside from him and the object of his attention. Whether it be a piece of tape attached to his paw and his struggles to remove it, his turning of an empty box into an adventure or his continual and relentless attempts at filling his food bowl, it had always been the cat at the centre of our attention. Colour could ruin that, as colour might well demand a more fleshed-out world, forcing Tolfield to draw what had been left to our imaginations and reduce the cat to nothing more than just another object in a world full of clutter.
Thankfully this isn’t the case. As in the previous books, in those instances where Tolfield fills in the world around the cat, he always does so in close up. Even when he’s out in the wilds the focus is tight to the immediate surroundings, keeping our attention solely on the centre of this world’s universe – the cat.
As the title of this book suggests, all of the cartoons revolve around its lead’s endless pursuit of food. Or rather obsession with being fed. In the original animated cartoons, no matter what mayhem the cat might have caused, the action would invariably end with him sitting, pointing to his open mouth making pleading noises which even the stupidest of humans couldn’t fail to recognize as a demand to be fed.
We are witness to Simon’s Cat resorting to an impressive array of attempted deceptions and ploys in his attempts to squeeze some extra food from a harsh world. From disguising himself as a bird house, with his mouth as the entrance, in the hopes a bird will fly in, to sitting under a cow and pulling on its tail in the hopes this will activate the udders under which he’s urgently waiting with gaping mouth. Then there are his efforts to have other animals feed him, even going so far as begging a heron for its fish or pretending to be a fox kit in order to get a share of the kill a mother brings home for its brood.
His disguises are always ridiculously easy to see through and part of the fun are the expressions of incredulity on the other animal’s faces upon catching sight of the interloper. It’s as if they can’t believe anyone can be that stupid as to fall for a cat’s tricks.
While the animal kingdom might not fall for his ploys, the same can’t be said for humans. While there are plenty of scenes of the cat rummaging in cupboards ripping open boxes, or stealing food from his human’s plate, there are enough showing the cat falling victim to his own excesses we don’t begin to hate him. For every slapstick image of the human tripping over the purring cat, spilling his coffee when his leg is used as a scratching post, the cat also gets his comeuppance.
We’ve all seen a cat do its happy dance with its front paws, usually when it beds down in a comfortable place – like your stomach or other sensitive body parts. Well in this case the cat goes into his happy dance around his full food bowl only to take it a step too far and catch the edge of his dish and end up wearing his meal.
In transferring the series from animated cartoon to book, Tofield elects to go with a more free-form style. We either are treated to a moment in time caught on the page and left to figure out what’s going on – cat sitting on floor, man throwing coffee cup at ceiling with expression of pained surprise on face and lower leg of pyjamas showing definite signs of claw marks tells its own story – or given a series of images that our eye follows around the page like stop action animation