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Editorial Mandate: On Animals and Comics

Written by Christian on Thursday, April 25 2013 and posted in Features

Editorial Mandate: On Animals and Comics

Outhouse EiC Christian Hoffer muses about animals in comics in the wake of the loss of a pet.

It’s currently 6:38 AM in the morning and I’m sitting at my desk at work.  There’s some coffee brewing in the kitchenette but otherwise there’s an almost deathly calm that’s descended upon my little workspace.  Usually, I’d take the opportunity to work on some news articles or review a comic, but I’ve barely read any over the last three weeks.  Unfortunately, I’ve been dealing my cat’s serious illness, which finally ended after she passed away yesterday.

About six years ago, I was struggling with the latest bout of depression stemming from an all too familiar pattern of disappointments and fading opportunities.  I was recently single, had just been informed that there was little hope of getting into grad school (for a degree I didn’t really want anyways) and saw the Great Recession looming over the country, snatching up entry level jobs left and right.  On one particularly bad day, I was ranting about the frustrating nature of women and the terrible economy to my father when he rather snarkily suggested that I get a cat to help take my mind off things.  It was an excellent idea and later that day I ventured north in my 1986 Chevy S10 and brought home my father’s office cat, whom he had named Scaramouche, or Moochie for short.

I often hear the argument that animals in comics are one of the more ridiculous elements in comic books, and that characters such as Krypto, Dex-Starr or Rocket Raccoon should be done away with to help legitimize the medium.  In my humble opinion, comics are the best medium to illustrate the complex and emotional relationship between an animal and their owner.   Pets are more than just animals to a pet owner.  They have personality quirks, senses of humor and a spirit unique only to them.  Words and photos simply can’t capture that in the way that a comic can. 

To me and many who knew her, Moochie was considered more an equal than a pet. She was feisty, demure, clingy and unwaveringly loyal.   For five and a half years, Moochie would be at the door to greet me.  Whenever I sat down, she was there next to me, her back propped up against my leg.  Moochie was the sort of cat that didn’t need petting or ear scratches or bellyrubs.  She purred constantly, needing  only a hand on her back or the scratch of her chin.  Her purrs were often so loud, I could hear them in the next room. 

One of the most emotionally pure and consistent relationships in all of comics is the relationship between Superman and his dog, Krypto.   While the thought of a superpowered, capewearing dog is a bit silly, I’ve always felt that Superman’s interactions with Krypto humanizes him more than any other aspect of the character. While Superman’s relationship with Lois or his parents have varied throughout the years, his relationship with Krypto has been unwavering.  He’s a dog and Superman’s his human.  Who can’t relate to that? 

Moochie had personality in spades. She had a memory like an elephant and often carried out harsh revenge to those who crossed her.  When my college roommate physically kicked the cat out of the bathroom in order to spend 40 minutes doing…well, who knows what she was doing, Moochie waited outside and then followed her back to the bedroom, purring the entire time.  Thirty seconds later, my roommate ran out screaming, clutching her face in terror.  Moochie had jumped onto her lap and bitch slapped her for kicking her, leaving claw marks that extended from ear to chin.  The scars lingered for a month.

Grant Morrison is probably one of the better writers in comics when it comes to writing about animals. Come to think about it, it’s surprising how many of his books feature animals. There’s Animal Man, of course, and We3 too.  Seven Soldiers of Victory features Teekl, Horsefeathers, and Metal Mickey in various degrees of importance.  Damian Wayne builds a menagerie of animals in Batman Incorporated, leading to the saddest moo ever shown in a comic book.  Krypto appears in Action Comics. Joe the Barbarian has a pet rat.   Even Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew make an appearance in Final Crisis.  The man must really like his animals, but then again, who doesn’t?

Moochie also had a jealous streak, one that was most prevalent in the bedroom.  One time, after a former girlfriend had come over for the night, Moochie inserted herself in between us and systematically pushed the poor girl off the bed.  The next morning, I awoke to a purring Moochie and a fitfully sleeping girl on the floor, who explained that the seven pound cat simply refused to budge.  Our relationship didn’t last long after that. 

Nick Abadzis’ Laika was the first and only comic to make me cry. The graphic novel tells the story of the first animal to orbit the Earth, a Russian stray trained to deal with the cramped conditions of Sputnik 2.  Laika was the only dog to make it through a harsh training regimen used to prepare dogs for space travel.  She passed the training, not due to her stern constitution or resolve, but rather her loyalty to her trainers and her need to please them.   In the comic, the scientist who chose Laika regrets the mission that led to her death, saying that they didn’t learn enough to justify the loss of life.   

The best interactions Moochie had were with my wife, with whom she shared a tempestuous relationship.  When it became apparent that Darcie would be around to stay, Moochie became a pillow cat.  She’d sleep on my pillow and wrap her body around my head, all the while repeatedly whacking my wife in the face with her tail.  If Darcie took too long to come to bed, Moochie would take the opportunity to lay on her pillow and moaned piteously when my wife would finally move her.  My favorite story involving the two was when my wife clipped Moochie’s claws after the cat had a particularly productive day shredding the couch.  Moochie retaliated that night by waiting for my wife to lay down and then farting in her face.  I didn’t know cats could fart.  Another life lesson taught by Moochie. 

Does anyone else remember when Farley died?  Not Chris Farley, but the Patterson’s family dog in the newspaper comic strip For Better or For Worse.  As the comic took place in real time, writer Lynn Johnston realized that Farley would soon be reaching a point where he’d be too old to keep interacting normally with the family.  Instead of Farley fading to the background, Johnston instead had Farley go out in a blaze of glory, rescuing the Patterson’s youngest daughter from drowning, but dying of shock afterwards.  Johnston didn’t realize the impact of Farley’s death until she received over 2,500 letters from fans, many of whom begged her not to kill off the beloved dog.  Even Charles Schulz jokingly threatened to run over Snoopy with a truck if Johnston went through with killing Farley off. 

About six weeks ago, Moochie began to act a little off.  She began vomiting more than usual and began to lose a little weight.  Antibiotics and antinausea medication had little effect, and a follow up visit to the vet led to the discovery that there was fluid in her abdomen, suggesting cancer.  By last Sunday, Moochie had difficulty breathing.  We took her to the emergency room and learned that the fluid had spread to her chest cavity.  We tried one more treatment, which helped dull her pain and brought her purrs back to the apartment one last time.  By yesterday, her purrs, while still present were growing fainter by the hour.  We brought her to the vet where she passed away  surrounded by the two people who loved her best and the vet whose eyes she had tried to claw out during her first visit. 

To my wife and I, Moochie was more than a pet.  She was an equal and a companion and deserving of every ounce of love that was doled upon her over the years.  There are countless stories that I could keep telling about her, but I hear the coffee brewing in the background and I really should stop crying before someone walks in.  Do me a favor and give your animals a little extra pet today.  If you don’t have an animal, then go find one and give them some love instead. 



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About the Author - Christian

Christian is the exasperated Abbott to the Outhouse's Costello. When he's not yelling at the Newsroom for upsetting readers or complaining to his wife about why the Internet is stupid, he sits in his dingy business office trying to find new ways to make the site earn money. Christian is also the only person in history stupid enough to moderate two comic book forums at once.


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