In writer Paul Tobin and illustrator Benjamin Dewey’s I Was the Cat, Allison Breaking is a news reporter at heart, but a memoirist to pay the bills. So she’s both pleased and suspicious when someone in London, a Mr. Burma, offers to fly her overseas and pay three times her asking rate to write his memoir.
The whole surprise-surprise premise is that Burma is a cat, and a big fluffy orange tabby at that. Thanks to the fact that he has nine live, Burma been alive since the 1300s BCE. I’m generally a real sucker for this kind of premise, and I absolutely loved Richard Schenkman’s The Man from Earth, but a lot of I Was the Cat really fell flat. No Seuss intended.
The characters were one-dimensional, without any real motivation or personality. Reggie, Allison’s friend, is loud and British. Allison herself is just a pair of ears that are put in front of Burma to explain why he’s giving us his life story.
We’re told on numerous occasions by every lead character that she’s motivated by the truth, by the ideologies and values of journalism, but it’s never shown to the audience. Which is really disappointing for a character who’s a black woman, self-employed and whose closest relationship seems to be with another woman.
Burma isn’t intensely interesting either; For a talking cat, he’s so droll. Every one of his stories is about him trying to take over the world, because apparently he has nothing better to do with himself during his thousands years of life.
Why was he trying to take over the world over and over again? He’s pretty vague about it. And he always happens to be in weird but famous and foundational moments in history, like Ancient Egypt, the life of Napoleon Bonaparte and World War One. Not to mention that he was the making of the man who was the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Moriarty.
Reggie and Allison never get over the fact that Burma is a cat, and when they’re not being shocked by the talking animal, they’re always stroking him and holding him like he’s an actual cat–which would be great, natural and realistic if the medium wasn’t sequential art.
But the audience doesn’t have any insight into these characters or their most personal thoughts, so their slack-jawed, one-track mind comes across as annoying more than anything.
Then, near the end of the novel, it’s revealed that Burma, who’s been trying to take over the world for thousands of years, is continuing the trend and still trying. What’s hilarious, of course, is the fact that he’s acquired eighteen percent of the world’s entire food production and is using “additives” to encourage a couch potato lifestyle.
This is a little overdone, but perfectly timed for general elections and Measure 92. Burma is more focused on processed food, like cotton candy and hotdogs, rather than fruits and vegetables, though.
The art was nice and, though a little traditional for comics, the sheer inviting fluffiness of Burma kept my cat firmly in my lap where we could snuggle while I was reading. The women were expressive, and negative emotions didn’t force them into some plastic mode of attractiveness, which is noticed and appreciated.
At the end of it all, it was an okay story that could have involved a little more internal struggle and emotional involvement. Though Burma was also essentially a Bond villain in the Cold War, which is another direction the book could have taken. Something can be said of a cheesy story that revels in its own fun simplicity.