February 24, 2022


Breaking Cat News 5: Behind the Scenes with Burt—A “Breaking Cat News” Adventure. By Georgia Dunn. Andrews McMeel. $11.99.

     Watching the Breaking Cat News team read newspapers while commenting, “This boy and tiger report is excellent” and “I never miss the cows, bugs, and aliens report” – referring to Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side, respectively – is a pleasure reserved for adult readers of Georgia Dunn’s fifth collection, even though the book is nominally intended for preteens. After all, the classic comics by Bill Watterson and Gary Larson have been gone since the mid-1990s, although admittedly they continue to turn up here and there, notably online. The point of the scene in Dunn’s book, however, is the antithesis of online access: Behind the Scenes with Burt is in part about the newspaper debut of former Web-only comic strip Breaking Cat News in 2017, so having the cat crew read about (and thus show solidarity with) other newspaper dwellers is a matter of tribute and fellowship.

     This is just part of what is going on in Behind the Scenes with Burt. Earlier Breaking Cat News books were more-or-less sequential; this one mostly skips around all over the place. And it turns out not to matter: this volume is just as much fun as the others. The opening pages are in many ways the funniest of all: there is a “station break,” in this case meaning “a break for station upgrades,” during which the three central BCN narrators – Lupin, Puck and Elvis – spend much time and many pages watching a feline soap opera called “Our IX Lives,” in which Dunn lovingly skewers all sorts of soap-opera tropes while telling a bizarre story that really does seem to be the sort of thing cats would produce if cats produced soap operas (which are really, as everyone knows, produced by lavatory products). Seriously – well, not that seriously – Dunn’s take on soap opera within the context of Breaking Cat News is delightfully amusing, and will be enjoyed even by readers who do not understand all the ways in which this is a parody as well as a clever-in-its-own-right creation. There is the wealthy patriarch who is rescued from danger in a hospital but objects loudly because he is being “catnapped by the poor.” There is the thrilling ambulance chase – one chasing a second one – through Laundry Canyon, including collapsing piles of clothing. There is “Captain Nimble’s psychic twin sister,” and the captain himself, who reappears from a long ocean voyage at a crucial time, when the good cats are being threatened with water spray by the bad cats: he is resistant because to him, water is “but the kiss of Poseidon.” And that includes water in “no-no bottles” like the ones wielded as weapons by the evildoers. There are references to an untimely helicopter crash and to a situation in which one cat became a priest because another married his sweetheart. This sort of plotting and dialogue is absurdly common (not to mention simply absurd) in actual soap operas, and the twists and turns that Dunn uses to turn such entertainment into programming for felines are genuinely clever.

     Also here are redrawn strips (modified from their original Web form to be used in newspapers) that were collected in earlier Breaking Cat News books, plus various strips that relate to events in those earlier books but did not actually appear there. Burt, the cat who is upgrading the studio, says, “You guys had a lot of video that never made it to the air,” and Elvis explains, “We used to just leave the cameras running, since we didn’t have anyone to work them.” This allows inclusion in Behind the Scenes with Burt of some scenes that will sort of look familiar to fans of Breaking Cat News but that did not appear quite this way before. And there are also some notable “so that’s what happened” moments, the most significant of which involve extended battles with a June bug and with a threatening vacuum cleaner; a visit to the vet that results in uncooperative Elvis wearing a muzzle; and a scene in which the Man (who, with the Woman, “owns” the cats, to the extent that anyone ever owns a cat) cuts off and gives away his long ponytail as a donation, leading to the cats’ understandable fear for the safety of their tails. The “bi-monthly 2 a.m. ‘Running of the Cats’” is another highlight of the book, and something with which people who share their space with felines will immediately identify.

     Breaking Cat News remains a delightfully offbeat and often very charming take on the lives of thoroughly unrealistic but somehow almost possible cats that just happen to wear news-reporter and news-anchor clothing, carry microphones, and report on news that matters to cats in ways that almost make perfect sense – as when Puck sees a parrot at the vet and announces that “this bird flew through a rainbow,” and Elvis ends up dressed for Halloween as the cutest little taco anyone has ever seen.

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