This month marks one of the most anticipated comic writing debuts in recent memory as legendary author, Booker Prize and Arthur C. Clark Award winner Margaret Atwood presents her first graphic novel from Dark Horse: Angel Catbird. On a dark night, young genetic engineer Strig Feleedus is accidentally mutated by his own experiment and merges with the DNA of a cat and an owl. What follows is a humorous, action-driven, pulp-inspired superhero adventure – with a lot of cat puns.
Confession time! This is my first time reading anything by Margaret Atwood. There has been considerable buzz for several weeks over this title and despite it falling into my remit; it did initially slip under my radar. However, Atwood won me over pretty much immediately before I’d even started reading the actual comic with her amazing introduction. It’s an unfortunate thing that there’s still some people in the literary world who look down on comic books and think they have no place being ranked alongside regular prose. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to see someone so respected in the literary community openly geek out over their love of comic books of all kinds, from her childhood up to the present. It would be difficult for any comic fan not to find a kindred spirit in Atwood after reading her appreciation of all things superhero, classic humour comics like Pogo and modern classics such as Maus and Persepolis.
As for the comic itself, Atwood is off to a great start in the first chapter of her new series. Based off ideas she came up with in her childhood, Angel Catbird is a great riff on the classic part-human, part-animal archetype, only this time with a whole mythology to go along with it. Whilst Strig’s origin is commonplace of most heroes in the genre (victim of an experiment gone wrong), he quickly finds his new abilities put him in a far bigger picture as the extent of duel species creatures are revealed to him. Atwood is clearly a cat lover, which is demonstrated throughout the comic by her excellent grasp of cat behaviour (as well as extensive footnotes that are invaluable to any cat owner). Not only can Strig now understand what cats are saying, but he is finding himself falling into several of their habits, such as searching through garbage for food and a strong to desire to mate with his co-worker and fellow cat-person, Cate. But the most creative usage comes from his reaction to prey – more specifically bird prey. As he is now part-man, part-cat and part-owl, his different sides often come into conflict which each other. Most notably when he saves a bird from being eaten by a gang of cats and he contemplates whether to set it free or eat it himself. Beyond the cat features, Atwood creates a great opening chapter about a hero coming to grips with his new abilities and situation, whilst including plenty of great, intriguing characters including Cate Leon – leader of the part-cat, part-human group Catastrophe, Count Catula (whose name says it all really) and the sinister part-man part-rat Dr Muroid, who not only is the villain of the piece but is also Strig’s boss.
Art-wise, the team of artist Johnnie Christmas and colourist Tamra Bonvillain do a stellar job. To be honest, when I first heard the name Angel Catbird, the first thing I thought of was ManBearPig from South Park and I was expecting an angel-cat-owl combo to be a genetic monstrosity. Therefore, it was quite the surprise to see just how elegant Angel Catbird’s design was and indeed all the other human-cat combos. Bonus points also to how even in human form, something of the other species lingers in their character/design – it’s hard to decide whether Dr Muroid’s human or rat form is more rat-like). There’s also some great bonus features including not only character designs from Christmas, but also some from Atwood herself. Particularly great are some tribute pieces from some of the top artists working in comics – Matt Kindt and Tyler Crook’s pieces are particularly awesome.
This is a very strong debut for Atwood into the comic world and she has chosen some great collaborators to work alongside her. Any Atwood fans would be remiss to not pick this up even if you are not into comic books, and comic fans who aren’t familiar with her work should take this opportunity to see one of the world’s top writers dive confidently into something new.
Angel Catbird Volume 1 is published 8 September by Dark Horse
Read some preview pages from Dark Horse
Check out Atwood’s own artwork in The Secret Loves of Geek Girls