What do you do with a book like Angel Catbird Volume 1? You read it. However, the real question is should you have read it? In other words, a book is meant to be read, but did it have to be this book?
I had heard of Margaret Atwood (she wrote a little book called The Handmaid’s Tale) but had not realized that she had partaken of the world of illustrations and graphic novels. I admit I only realized she was the author after I started to look beyond the cover (never mind her name is on top of the three names presented. I tend to blur out everything but the image when I look at covers. I like to try and have a pure look at the artwork). That cover was intriguing me. Its combination of odd and kinda cool, caught my eye. The minimal colors blended everything together, but then the creature and the title came into focus and I started to wonder, “And exactly what is an Angel Catbird?”
I am a little bit sorry I found out. I will never be able to not see Strig Feleedus and his transformation into/out of Angel Catbird: part man, part owl, part cat, all muscles. And while he is all covered up down there, there is no question of physical gender.
Everything about Atwood’s text screams typical comic book story: The boss is the bad guy (how do you know? He looks like a rat-fink-boss. And oh yeah, he is part rat). He wants a formula that will turn rats into an army that will take over the world. And Strig and some of his coworkers are out to stop him. One is a half-human/half-cat and the other is a half-human/half-raven. Along the way we have sex appeal, cat puns, other cats that are half-cat/half-human (which is different from the half-human/half-cat), Strig’s encounters with his man vs. animal instincts and Count Catula, a man-bat-cat-vampire being.
Everything about Johnnie Christmas’s illustrations scream typical comic book artwork. We have the dark colors creating rich images and the dark vs. light aspects to set the mood the author wants. The actual images with their muscled-males, the bikini-clad women in the band Pussies in Boots, balding villains, secret formulas oozing out of broken beakers, rivals for the main (so far only) females’ affections with their smarmy scarves and/or wife-beater tanks and come-hither looks, people/animals getting into not so accidental hit-and-runs and/or blown-up where bodies are no question dead. They move the story along as much as text. While there are the not-so-subtle sex aspects (not just clothing, some characters come out and talk about another character and her sexual appetite) and though people/animals are killed, the gore level is actually mild. There is a lot more tell than show.
Which is a good thing as the publisher says this is aimed at ages 8 to 12. Now, I am sure they have seen a lot worse in other graphic novels, comics, cartoons and movies, but I really would not want to give it to anyone under 12 and would even say 13 in some cases. The sexuality and the villain talking about what he will do to the woman to get the guy to talk concepts seem to be a bit more mature than most 8-to-12-year-olds I know/have known. And I do think that feminists, you might not want to read this. After all Pussies in Boots? But at the same time, the main female is the leader of the cats/humans who are trying to stop the rat army. She just uses what she has, to get what she wants.
The introduction by Atwood is interesting. The process she took getting Angel Catbird most might not think possible of someone with her literary credentials. Yet, this made me like her. She takes comics/graphic novels as serious as her novels. She is clever and funny and serious all at once. The end has a gallery of alternative art and a sketchbook section. These always fascinate me. I like seeing how things could have been, where things started from and how much they did or did not change. These two parts of the book are the best parts. I was afraid I would suffer from FOMO if I did not read it, now I wish I hadn’t However, these two pieces means it might have been a good idea to relieve my FOMO fears after all.