Cat and Girl: Dorothy Gambrell

Typing the title for this post, I realized that the author’s name is nowhere on the outside of the book. Or inside, except for the copyright notice in tiny letters on the inside of the back cover. I’m not sure if that’s some kind of self-effacing gesture or if there is some larger meaning at work that my tiny brain is just not able to see. My guess is that whatever the reason, it’s not because she forgot to stick it on there. Because, you know, there is some hard thinking at work in this book. Dorothy Gambrell is a hard-thinking artist.

I’ve read Cat and Girl  on the intertubes for years and you can too! It is all up there for free, which is pretty awesome and makes your day when you are maybe not so happy and need a little cheering up, but in a thoughtful way. But I am of the sort that likes to give financial support to artists who are making things that I think are worthwhile, and I like to hold books in my hands (I am very old school that way), so when Gambrell collected a bunch of the strips in a book, I bought it. And I read it and enjoyed it and then I put it back on my shelf and basically forgot it was there until the other day. So I read it again, because when you have forgotten it is even there is the perfect time to re-read a book. 

The thing I love about Cat and Girl is the way it mixes ideas about class, gender, philosophy and all-around contemplative action with a cat that drinks paint and zombie Joseph Beuys. Gambrell always manages to strike the perfect balance between humour and social commentary. Like in “Cat versus the Ether”, Cat waxes nostalgic, old-man style, for the days when “thoughts had substance”, “when books were on paper” and Girl is quick to retort, “When hospitals had no penicillin” and Cat responds, “If I can’t die of syphilis I’m not interested.” Or in “Fraternal Organization”, Girl ponders the nature of identity and ends up telling her many selves, “You read too many comics.” A comic that tackles big ideas like this could very easily slip into preachiness and lectures, but Gambrell’s sharp wit keeps things moving along so that you’re entertained but also given a kernel of some idea to think about.

But I’m making it sound like Cat and Girl is a philosophy textbook in the guise of a comic book, which is so completely not the case. These characters put on their silly pants often enough. Like in “Take Warning”, Cat decides that there is only one rule: that there are no rules. But then he stumbles upon the graffiti, “Pantera RULES” and he amends his previous statement, “There are two rules.” And of course, there is always the international army comprised solely of bees. They wear tiny hats! And Gambrell’s sharp lines and simple style complement both silly and more commentary-type strips, keeping things from getting too busy.

There are a few strips in the book that my Canadian-ness and general lack of pop culture knowledge keeps me from really getting. Although since the first time I read this book, I started listening to NPR podcasts, so I actually know what Fresh Air is now and am more amused by the idea of Terry Gross being a gorilla in a tiny hat. And sadly, my art education is not as good as it could be, so a punchline referencing Chris Burden is lost on me. Or rather it would be if not for the intertubes! Thank goodness for this time-saving reference for people too lazy to go to the library and do actual research!

A comic strip that gets you looking stuff up? As a total nerd, I approve!


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