SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – Have you ever noticed that while most household dog varieties are much larger than their feline counterparts, just the opposite is true of those two species in the wild what with lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, panthers, and jaguars vastly superior in size and strength to wolves, coyotes, dingoes, and jackals. As pets, dogs are mainly thought of as brave and faithful companions for sport, work, or security while tabbies for the most part are just cuddly though independent balls of fur, occasionally used to catch mice. Not only do both of these lovable animal types dominate our homes but have been the subjects of countless cartoons in newspapers, movies, and TV.
While canines in the comics such as Marmaduke and Fred Basset have their own strips and Snoopy plays a prominent role in the Peanuts cartoon, for some reason cats predominate and have done so as long as I can remember. Perhaps the most popular ones today are Heathcliff and Garfield, two very similar looking felines, the latter of which has human-like thoughts and appetites that far exceed those of its owner. It makes one wonder who really is the master though anyone who ever had a pet surely knows.
Garfield not only has a human foil to pester and boss around but also partners with a dog named Odie who is anything but the stereotypical valiant guardian of the home, being a dimwitted boob who Garfield unmercifully torments.
Many years ago there was a cartoon show on TV called Top Cat, about a bunch of streetwise felines who lived in city alleys rather than in comfortable homes, actually being furry versions of the East Side or Dead End kids of the movies in the early 1940s who were led by a tough wise guy named Muggs McGinnis and his witless stooge named Glimpy. Of late, TV has resurrected some cartoon cats of my youth, Felix the Cat and the cat and mouse duo of Tom and Jerry, with Jerry being a cute and cunning rodent who always outwits Tom his perennial pursuer. Much like Wiley Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoon, poor Tom not only never catches his prey but ends up much worse for his efforts.
Felix, and the Tom and Jerry cartoons have been around for at least 70 years, as has another hapless cat named Sylvester who invariably tries to catch a canary named Tweety Bird but without success. What I like most about these three cats is that while they have been anthropomorphized, no humans are ever shown (well almost never… Sylvester sometimes gets punished by his old lady custodian).
Unlike the other two just mentioned, Felix is never involved in any antagonist-protagonist scenarios, just getting into adventures as they come along which is rather distinctive, but my all-time favorite was a feline named Krazy Kat who was distinguished from the rest by having two unique qualities. First of all Krazy was a female, to my knowledge the only cartoon animal of that gender. Secondly, although paired with a mouse named Ignatz, Krazy relentlessly harassed the rodent not out of hatred or hunger but rather for affection. Ignatz, the reluctant swain, either ran away or more usually threw a brick at Krazy’s head, only fanning the flames of her passion. Besides their unorthodox love affair, the goings on was always played out in front of a stylized depiction of Monument Valley, sandstone monoliths located in Utah that had enchanted the cartoonist, George Herriman, when he saw it in his youth.
Whatever the reason for the cartoonists’ fascination with cats, it’s interesting that while many are portrayed as wise-ass or devious stalkers of innocent creatures, the tiger, the largest and most ferocious feline of all has been depicted in two different comic strips as a docile creature; Winnie the Pooh’s pal Tigger and Calvin’s playmate Hobbs. I wonder why.