Thursday, April 13, 2017

Angel Catbird

Not too long ago I proclaimed myself inadequate to review a novel by Margaret Atwood. I haven't changed my mind, but I just read her Angel Catbird as part of a series of reading graphic novels and since I doubt whether people would consider it serious "literature", decided to devote this blog post to it.

Angel Catbird


Most of the Margaret Atwood hype at the moment concerns the airing of a 10-part series of The Handmaid's Tale on TV that Hulu has produced and that will be seen in Canada on Crave TV and Bravo, starting April 30, four days after the US showing on Hulu. This marvellous and thought-provoking novel has been a film, a dramatic radio show, an audiobook, a stage show, even an opera. All beloved by many, including me. 

I suspect most of Margaret Atwood's multitudinous fans, serious literature-lovers all, will look at or page through Angel Catbird, a graphic novel (comic book) and just say, "Pffft....what on earth is she thinking!" They will dismiss it as a waste of their time. Does that mean that Atwood wasted her valuable time in coming out with it? I don't think so.

We need to remember that Ms. Atwood is a creative person. She seems to have one of those minds that loves to grab an idea out of thin air, examine it closely and put it to use. In the case of Angel Catbird, inspired by the comics that many of us devoured growing up, she reconciles her conflicting interests in birds and cats, species often at odds with one another.

In Angel Catbird Ms. Atwood tackles this conundrum of cats and birds by having a human, a young man, actually morph into a triple entity, part-human/part-owl/part-cat. He becomes a sort of superhero when the part-cat community needs to save itself from an evil part-human/part-rat. 

Ok, the story is a fantasy. To generalize, isn't fiction mostly fantasy? One review I read said there's little in the way of character development. Oh for heaven's sake, get off your high horse and just enjoy a bit of fun. I read this in a short space of time and laughed several times over some of the witty remarks. Punsters will definitely get a giggle. A reader can definitely sense the fun Margaret Atwood had in creating Angel Catbird and the quirky characters that inhabit it.

Johnnie Christmas' drawings were wonderful, fully descriptive of the characters and alive with action. The coloration, by Tamra Bonvillain, was equally wonderful, adding a layer of realism to the content. The pages reminded me of the great quality of the Amulet series of graphic books by Kazu Kibuishi that our 10-year old grandson enjoys so much. Have a look at this random page from Angel Catbird.


In the introduction Atwood explains her reasons for writing Angel Catbird, mentioning that she has never met her co-conspirators in person, so the book is even more remarkable for that reason alone. See the Cat-Bird Math, Part 1 at the bottom of the page? That is one of many little blurbs throughout the book with tips for cat/bird safety, environmental tidbits and general information. The book is kid-friendly, although I can't see anywhere that it's considered "juvenile fiction". In my opinion, good juvie fiction is adult-friendly and vice versa, so I think this book may well be a birthday present for a cat-appreciating granddaughter soon to turn 10. 

At the back of the book, for readers interested in the process, there are sketches by Johnnie Christmas, explaining how he came up with the characters and there are two pages where Tamra Bonvillain describes how she colours the drawings. Pretty interesting even for non-artistic types like me. 

I thought the book was terrific! I've been blown away once again by the creative mind of Margaret Atwood. Sometimes as we grow older (though not suggesting that she's getting older) we fall into doing what comes easily, taking shortcuts and some of us tend not to enjoy embracing new ideas. Not Atwood. She defies the stats. 

There is already a Catbird, Volume 2 with Volume 3 also in the queueAngel Catbird is gaining fans.