Margaret Atwood, that Booker-winning Canadian writer of some repute, has recently turned her hand to writing a graphic novel, a comic book, if you will. With Johnnie Christmas as illustrator and Tamra Bonvillain as colourist, she has produced Angel Catbird, a story and a style inspired by – as Atwood writes in the book’s prose introduction – the classic comic books she read as a child and teenager, way back in the 40s and 50s. (That’s right, Margaret Atwood has started writing comic books in her late 70s. Even if you don’t like comic books and think they’re for depressed, underachieving adult babies who’ve never grown up, have substance abuse issues, no assets and pets instead of children [big wave from here], you have to acknowledge that doing anything new in ones late 70s is cool. Atwood is cool. Atwood is great. Atwood is a lauded writer and has no reason to do this other than because she wants to. She wants to do this. This is fun.)
Angel Catbird isn’t very complex or very complicated, or anywhere near revolutionary in its ideas (i.e. the opposite of many of Atwood’s previous works), but that doesn’t matter here; because (at least not in Volume One!) Angel Catbird isn’t trying to be anything other than entertaining, anything other than fun and anything other than frothy.
I’ve spent the last couple of months reading lots of non-fiction, and I’m fucking tired of it. Angel Catbird is about as far from some of the dry texts that I’ve been reading as anything could be. It’s about a man who works for a sinister corporation who finalises their secret important chemical before spilling it on himself, his newly dead cat and a wild owl, which turns him into a human-sized being with a cat’s tail, whiskers and head (bar face), an owl’s wings and feet, and a human’s torso, pelvis, arms and face. He becomes Angel Catbird, and discovers that the world he knew is full of people able to turn into half person-half animal at will, as well as animals that can go the other way. His boss is a sinister person-rat, his love interest is a person-cat, he makes a friend who is a cat-bat-human and another who is a hawk-cat-human, or something similar (it isn’t specified).
We go with the protagonist to the hidden secret nightclub of the cat-humans and meet a plethora of characters who inhabit this world, as Atwood and her artists establish a clear distance between her goodies and the ratty baddies. The text is – oddly – punctuated by statistics from Cats and Birds, a Canadian conservation charity, which tries to push the idea of keeping cats inside homes, not just to protect wild birds, but also to protect cats themselves. This is a bit jarring, but explained by Atwood in her – rather charming – introduction. Angel Catbird himself is fraught by his dual cat and bird instincts – should he chase birds or should he help them?
It’s fun, but the characters are mostly men, which is something I feel disappointed by given Atwood’s credentials, but imagine will change as the series develops and is, perhaps, merely a concession being made to the genre.
Angel Catbird is funny, full of jokes a la Bojack Horseman about part human-part animal instincts fighting within an individual, and it’s also relatively exciting, with the cats on the run from the evil rats by the end of the book.
Sadly, it’s not really complex enough for me to say much more than this; it’s a fun, frothy, read that takes about 30/40 minutes to get through. I don’t think it’s trying to change the world, but it shouldn’t be judged harshly because of that. An easy read. And sometimes that’s what all of us need.