Sunday, January 2, 2011
Book Review: Felix The Cat: The Great Comic Book Tails by Otto Messmer, Craig Yoe, Don Oriolo
Like many of those in my age group, I adored Felix The Cat. Whether it was the afternoon cartoons on TV, or in comic books - he was such a great character to us. I was never much of a comic book collector however, and was not familiar with his exploits during the Golden Age of Comic Books (1938 - 1954).
Felix The Cat: The Great Comic Book Tails has remedied that situation. The 14 classic stories collected here date from 1946 to 1954. Full of stunning artwork, surreal situations, and fascinating historical insights, this is a marvelous book.
The opening chapters briefly detail the origins of the character, which will probably be disputed indefinitely. It appears that the basic black cat was refined numerous times, beginning with the silent, black and white animated short “The Adventures Of Felix” (1919). His first big wave of popularity occurred during the following decade.
The book opens with a huge, two-page photo spread from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1927. It is being led by a giant Felix balloon. Felix The Cat was the first cartoon character to appear in the parade. The final photo is also from 1927. It is of Charles Lindbergh in his plane, with a Felix logo on the fuselage. Lindbergh took a Felix doll along with him for good luck on his famous solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean that year.
There are a few panels and covers from the early days, which are nice to see. But the heart and soul of the book is in the full color reprints of the Dell and Toby Press “tails.” They are beautiful. Funny, fantastical situations arise from page to page, with our hero coming out not only unharmed, but usually ahead of the game.
One of my favorites is “Seeds And Proceeds” (1949). In this 16-pager, Felix gets some seeds, which turn out to be magical. The resulting plants grow to gargantuan size, helping Felix and his friends out of all kinds of circumstances. His canine pal needs a house, so Felix gives him a pumpkin seed. Soon the dog has a giant pumpkin, big enough to live in. Then it starts to rain, so Felix plants mushrooms. They instantly pop up to be bigger than the cat himself, who then sells them as umbrellas. The final frame finds Felix counting all the money he made.
Another plant-related story is “Felix In Vegetaria” (1950). His magic carpet takes him to a land of giant vegetables, but right from the start he feels uncomfortable. Sure enough, oversized tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and others come after him. Towards the end, a giant potato is leading a shackled Felix along, with an oversized tomato behind saying “Lynch him!“ Things are looking mighty grim, until a swarm of giant bugs suddenly appear. The veggies drop Felix and run for their lives. Felix saves them by whistling for his magic carpet. The carpet brings a sprayer full of DDT!
The situations Felix The Cat gets into are often described as surreal. There is no better example of this than “Felix Pulls Through” (1950). I am not even going to try to detail this one; too much fun stuff happens. Suffice to say, it is insanely creative, and makes even a jaded old soul like myself smile. A couple of other honorable mentions go to “Felix In Candyland” (1950), and “Felix In Roboteria” (1953)
I wanted to mention a few favorites, but every single one of these stories are excellent - in every way. It is little wonder that comic book collectors pay big bucks for the originals; they really are wonderful. Thankfully, Felix The Cat: The Great Comic Book Tails makes some of this magic available at an affordable price to the rest of us.
Article first published as Book Review: Felix The Cat: The Great Comic Book Tails by Otto Messmer, Craig Yoe, Don Oriolo on Blogcritics.