December 31, 2015
(++++) GETTING CATTY
Clean Up on Aisle Stupid: A “Get Fuzzy” Collection. By Darby Conley. Andrews McMeel. $14.99.
Pete the Cat: Robo-Pete. By James Dean. HarperFestival. $4.99.
Pete the Cat’s Big Doodle & Draw Book. By James Dean. HarperFestival. $12.99.
There have been many notable cartoon cats over the decades, from Krazy and Felix to the cats of Gorey and Kliban, from Skippy and Cicero’s Cat to the cat in Polly and Her Pals, from Tom of Tom and Jerry to Warner Brothers’ Sylvester, from Disney’s Figaro in Pinocchio and the two Siamese in Lady and the Tramp to the underground comics’ Fat Freddy’s Cat and Pat of Nard and Pat – to today’s Garfield and Mooch of Mutts. And then there is Bucky, single-fanged master of mayhem and eternal failure in his many and varied self-aggrandizing plots in Get Fuzzy. Bucky is so modern that he is almost post-modern: a self-proclaimed political conservative in an ultra-liberal household, where his foils are Satchel Pooch (who, despite being rather dim, outwits Bucky constantly, or at least outlasts Bucky’s schemes) and alleged pet owner Rob Wilco (the strip’s weakest, most feckless and arguably most unintelligent character, who at most provides a modicum of stability amid the various antics). Get Fuzzy has become, over the years, a more and more verbal strip – Bucky’s elaborate, always bizarre plans need more and more verbiage, and Satchel’s mangling of language through misunderstandings that somehow make perfect sense also requires lots of word balloons. Thus, when Bucky’s delusions of grandeur lead him to say that today he is “a humble, misunderstood genius,” but that tomorrow “my name will be synonymous with power,” Satchel cannot figure out why Bucky wants his middle name to be “with” and suggests “synonymous Austin Power” would be better. Get Fuzzy is like that – you have to follow the verbal byplay and ins and outs of pop-culture references to make sense of the strip. Again: when Bucky, in his typical arrogance and self-importance, misstates a proverb as “the weak enemy of my strong enemy, I will pretend to befriend,” Satchel can only comment, “That verb isn’t so ‘pro.’” These bits of byplay occur, in Clean Up on Aisle Stupid, in the context of stories that go on longer and are better tied together than in previous Get Fuzzy collections. There is one series of strips that starts when Bucky meets “the keeper of the keeper of the secret” of “the bowl of eternal salmon treats,” which it turns out that Satchel already knows about – and it isn’t eternal, just really big, thanks to Costco. There is one sequence in which Satchel becomes a writer for the “Daily Crate Liner” newspaper, which is published “annually. Unless we forget. Then it’s semi-annual. But we slept through last year’s date, and the year before that, Moby’s printer was out of ink. So we print it every four years.” There are still occasional individual strips that tie to what may be called the ethos of Get Fuzzy without being part of a continuing story, such as one in which Rob and Satchel happen upon Bucky doing something incomprehensible that involves baseball caps, a large pot, a vacuum cleaner, stuffed animals and various knickknacks and other objects: Bucky says “this isn’t what it looks like” and Rob, in one of his few useful lines in the book, says, “Dude, it isn’t what anything looks like.” Get Fuzzy takes some getting used to – hey, it’s about a dog, cat and human sharing living space, after all, not to mention the other cats and other dogs and occasional ferrets that populate the environs. But this particular dog and cat really are beyond the pale, or outside the norm, or something of that ilk. Just consider Bucky asking Satchel what superpower Satchel would pick if he could have one, and Satchel responding that he would take America and that Bucky shouldn’t be tricked into taking Mongolia. The whole superpower sequence only gets more convoluted after that – even when Bucky is able to get Satchel to understand what he means by “superpower,” as in “special power of a superhero.” Thanks partly to the increasing intricacy of the wordplay and partly to there being less of Rob in this collection than in prior ones, Clean Up on Aisle Stupid is among Conley’s best.
Young readers need a cat much easier to follow, understand and enjoy than Bucky, and that is where James Dean’s Pete the Cat comes in. Two new (+++) books about Pete will be enjoyable for existing fans of the big-eyed, sleepy-looking cat with a fondness for music and the ability to have all sorts of mild adventures. The plot of Pete the Cat: Robo-Pete is typically simple, with Pete wanting to play baseball but finding that all his cat friends are busy doing other things. So Pete invents a robot that will do whatever Pete wants, and that works out just fine for a while – until trouble arises when the robot does things too well (using a homing device to win at hide-and-seek, a jet pack to speed away on a skateboard, and so on). Eventually Pete decides that he would rather do things, any things, with his friends, than with the robot, which ends up helping everyone out and then joining in playtime, so of course all ends happily. There is a page of stickers, more than 30 in all, bound into the book, so Pete’s fans have something to play with here as well as something to read. Like other Pete the Cat books, this one is mildly adventurous and mildly amusing, fun for those who enjoy Pete as a character and find that the easy-to-learn lessons, like the one here about friendship, are not too cloying.
Instead of stickers, Pete the Cat’s Big Doodle & Draw Book offers 128 black-and-white pages to color – and a number of simple puzzles to solve. Dean carefully tells Pete’s fans what to do: on a book Pete is reading, draw a cover; make a picture on an easel; connect the dots to make various pictures; decorate a flag for Pete to plant on the Moon, then draw your own flag; find various things that do not belong (such as shoes, a flower and a clock in a refrigerator); match identical pictures before coloring them; solve easy mazes; and so on. Since everything here is Pete-themed, the book will be fun for kids who just can’t get enough of this particular cartoon feline. And even though the puzzles are quite simple, Dean is good enough to include the solutions at the end of the book – to avoid frustrating kids in the 4-8 age range, who are the targets for Pete’s adventures. For them, the book is a good combination of puzzles, pictures to color and white space in which to let their imagination roam a bit while following Dean’s instructions – for instance, he offers a picture of Pete at the beach to color, and on the next page provides a big blank space in which kids can draw their own sand castle to replace the one that Pete built and a wave knocked down. Neither Pete the Cat’s Big Doodle & Draw Book nor Pete the Cat: Robo-Pete will likely entice kids who are not already fans of Pete to begin reading the books about him. But for those who have seen Pete elsewhere and are looking for more of the same – with some participatory elements in the form of stickers, drawings and puzzles – these books will offer a plenty of Pete-focused fun.