I come to you today with mixed feelings. First, I am excited to be reviewing a new cat-themed graphic novel called Angel Catbird, written by Margaret Atwood, illustrated by Johnnie Christmas, and with colors by Tamra Bonvillain. I can’t wait to tell you about the story and the art. But…
Well, let’s leave the “but” for the moment and get straight to the good stuff.
Angel Catbird is the story of Strig Feleedus, who is just your ordinary genius until—through a combination of tragedy, spilled top-secret serum, and genetic weirdness that could only happen in the comics—he becomes part human, part cat, and part owl. Suddenly he realizes there is a whole secret world of “half-cats.” Yes, the half-cats are a combination of human and cat; some of them can appear as full humans, and others as full cats. They hang out at a place called Catastrophe.
This would all be well and good, if not for the rats. They’re controlled—and I do mean “controlled”— by one Professor Muriod, who also happens to be Strig’s boss. Muroid has an evil plot to use his rat minions to take over the world. Part of this plan involves destroying all cats and half-cats. Unknown to Strig and his new friends, Muroid also plans to capture our hero’s love interest and torture her until Strig reveals the secret to the serum that will transform the world’s rats into half-rats (and you thought your boss was a rat!). Obviously he must be stopped, and this is what Strig and company resolve to do. In true comic fashion, the end of the book leaves us hanging, waiting for the next episode.
Okay, if you’re not into comic books, Angel Catbird is probably not going to be your thing. But if you are into comics, if you love the combination of words and bold art to tell a story, then give this one a try. We found the story line and art compelling. We wish we could run out today and buy the next book, because we really can’t wait to find out what happens.
Perhaps you haven’t thought about this yet, but Strig’s new existence as part cat and part owl leaves him with a dilemma: Are birds friends or food? And this brings me to the “but.”
In the introduction to Angel Catbird, Margaret Atwood reveals that she has read comics avidly since her childhood, and she’s even drawn a few in the past. She’s been a cat person for most of her life, but she’s also involved in bird conservation. Angel Catbird was born out of the tension between the cat and bird worlds, and the book carries a strong conservation message. The gist of this message is that pet cats should not be free-roaming, for both their own safety and for the safety of any birds in the neighborhood.
We honestly cannot argue with that. In her life of having cats, old SoLT has had two indoor-outdoor cats killed by cars, and another returned home one day with a rear leg so badly mangled that it had to be amputated. Today her cats are indoor-only, and that’s the way it’s going to stay.
Old SoLT is also a bird watcher. She loves birds. But the cat lover / bird lover combination (which is more common than you might think) puts her in an uncomfortable position, sort of like Strig’s “Should I save this little bird, or should I eat it?” dilemma. And it makes parts of Angel Catbird…well, let’s say awkward.
See, there are some numbers out there, repeated in this book, that are said to be conservative estimates of how many birds are killed by cats each year. In the United States, the estimate is in the billions. We’re not here to argue about whether these numbers are accurate. We’re not here to argue over the recommendation to keep cats indoors or let them out only in controlled circumstances such as catios and leash walking. The thing that gets under our skin is the unfortunate fact that some people read those numbers as license to kill free-roaming cats as pests. Some want to round these cats up and euthanize them; some are perfectly happy to put arrows through the cats’ heads. Even cats in well-managed colonies that aren’t near any kind of sensitive bird habitat could be targets, and we have a problem with that.
I want to be absolutely clear and say that Angel Catbird does not advocate harming cats in any way. The message Atwood gives is one of keeping pet cats indoors for their own health and safety. That’s a message we happen to agree with.
We enjoyed Strig’s story so much, and we want to read more of it, but can we wholeheartedly recommend Angel Catbird to our cat-loving readership? This is where we get stuck, because there are aspects of this book that many cat people just won’t be comfortable with.
So, we recommend Angel Catbird for its story and its art. But if you are a cat person, and especially if you disagree with the indoor-cat philosophy, be prepared to be challenged.
A note on the "Paws Up" system: Miss C gives either one or two paws up. One paw is for a good read; two paws is for a great read. She never gives three or four paws because that would require her to lie on her back...and Miss C does not do that!
The link below is an Amazon Associates link. If you purchase the book through this link, old SoLT and I could get some coin for our kibble account. Thank you!