For all the happenings around the household, we can always rely on the good boys of Breaking Cat News to keep us in the know, but for a behind-the-scenes scoop for the kid-lit world, we went to the hand behind the headlines herself: cartoonist Georgia Dunn!
AMP: Georgia, you recently made your debut appearance at ALA, where Lupin Leaps In ~leapt~ into the hearts of librarians who came from all over the country. What did you think of the conference? Has your hand recovered from signing so many books?
GD: It was an amazing experience! I had a blast, it was great to meet so many BCN fans and to help introduce BCN to new readers, too! I learned that I need to maybe ice my hand after a longer signing. I finished a Sunday strip the next day and was definitely feeling it that night a little in my left pinky and ring fingers. It was an exciting problem to have, I hope I get to have it again!
AMP: BCN resonates with kids and cat fans alike, but it’s also made a splash in the art world because of your beautiful watercolor illustrations. Talk to us a bit about your drawing style. How has it evolved over the years? And when did it become clear that you wanted to pursue this as a career?
GD: My favorite way to draw is pen and ink, followed by watercolor washes. The ink came into my drawings early on. I loved to draw, but I’m left-handed and hopelessly smudged my work all the time. In 9th grade I sat down to a desk in my English class and someone had left behind an extra fine Pilot pen. Something clicked, now I could draw over my pencil marks, save all my work, and erase the pencil and the smudges. When I was 19 my father, who is also an artist (he’s a photographer) insisted I take up watercolors. I had been using colored pencils occasionally up to this point, and he thought watercolors would suit my style and subject matter better. At the time I was working in his gallery, and he assigned a few afternoons of “sit there and mess around with this box of watercolors,” It changed everything, and shortly after I switched from regular pens to Microns because they’re waterproof. And shortly after THAT I switched from my journalism major to an art major. I had known I wanted to be an illustrator or cartoonist since I was 12, but around that time I decided to pursue it legitimately and go all in. (…Although, life is funny, and that freshman year of journalism has been helpful in writing Breaking Cat News, believe it or not.)
AMP: It’s easy to see how Lupin, Elvis, and Puck could be an endless source of feline inspiration, but what interests you about news reporting? Do you have plans to tackle other forms of kitty journalism? If any of your cats take up blogging, please let us know.
GD: Ahh! My last answer kind of unexpectedly rolls into this one pretty well! My father was the local newspaper photographer when I was growing up, I spent a lot of my childhood in our local newspaper office while the reporters hurried to get their stories to the presses or out on assignments with my Dad. For a long time I wanted to be a reporter, and spent a year in college on a journalism scholarship. I found it wasn’t for me; I felt I was too biased and struggled with staying objective on issues. I believe that’s crucial in reporting. I did not see myself as having the right temperament, and I cared enough about journalism to bow out. Even though BCN is a sweet, silly comic about cats, I think it works because each of the feline reporters share that view and are deeply dedicated to journalism. While the comic might be funny, they take themselves and the news very seriously (well, maybe not Lupin. He might be the secret cartoonist after hours).
AMP: The BCN crew has gone through many changes in the comic that reflect changes in your own life, but after the sad passing of real-life Sir Figaro (who appears as a supporting character in BCN) this past April, you made a statement reassuring readers that he would live on in the comic. Talk to us a little bit about how you decide which real-life events make it into BCN and which you decide to keep separate.
GD: This is a great question, thank you. It’s hard… I had to make a decision early on how “real to life” I wanted this to be. Part of me can see the beauty in writing the comic for 25 years, and at the end of those 25 years, Beatrix is the new Baba Mouse figure to a host of new characters. That would be kind of lovely… In real life, Beatrix herself passed away very young. We adopted her as a kitten, and she died from FIP when she was just four months old. It was devastating. In time we found comfort that she had a family in her short life, we felt grateful she had us to care for her and make decisions for her care, that she didn’t die alone or unadopted in a shelter.
We still struggled with tears when talking about her, but our vet put us in touch with the foster mom of a little black kitten missing a leg who needed a home. And eventually, I wrote a comic about cats and it needed a young intern. I thought if I knew any young, bright, energetic cats… And realized I knew the perfect one. I went back and forth on whether or not to bring Beatrix into the comic. I talked to the Man about it. We’d both loved her so much, and the world only had her four months. Really she had only met us and a few other people (and one surly Siamese, whose heart she melted). I recognized that in its own way, this could give the world another chance to know this little cat who had given us so much love and happiness. I didn’t share too much about her real life circumstances at the time, because I wanted people to fall in love with her the way we had—for who she was, and what she was about. Being friendly, curious, teasing Elvis, teaching him friendship, and climbing everything in sight. In the comic, Beatrix arrives in the middle of winter, and she is about four months old. In hindsight, I’ve realized that in real life she passed in late autumn. In fiction, I brought her back as soon as I could. This gave me a place to reunite Beatrix and Elvis, to introduce her to Puck, Lupin, my children and the world. I gave her a safe home with my dear friend Amy who had met her in real life, I gave her a protector in Amy’s dog Trevor.
Readers have grown to love Beatrix alongside us, and we don’t feel as lonely in our love for her. It feels like everyone gets to know her now. There are stories for her to be a part of and real people whose morning she can brighten in the funny pages with her can-do attitude and fearlessness. Her love and her spirit are endlessly her, in life and in print. It has become a great comfort.
GD (cont.): When Sir Figaro passed away, his Woman expressed that it was a comfort to see so many people loving him as they had and that he would live on in these stories. We (myself, the Man, Tommy’s Woman, Figaro and Tabitha’s Woman, Trevor’s Woman) love these real-life animal counterparts like family. When I’m deciding what to include in the comic and what to omit, I try to pick the quirks, personality traits, and moments that we want to live in forever. What I can best hope we’d all want recorded (and not just for us—but for readers and what they adore about the cats they love/loved too).
I’ve been asked similar questions in some talks I’ve given, and I’ve tried to give the expectation that in a couple of years time is going to go static in the comic. I’m introducing characters, building the world, and then we’re going to have seasons of stories with everyone together. Christmas will come and go, year after same year, like Peanuts or Calvin & Hobbes. They will all be safe and exploring their world, and we’ll be along for the ride. And the number one reason for this decision was Baba Mouse; if I let time go on, we would lose her pretty soon. I knew that and had to decide… The real Mouse died from cancer when I was seven. I did not want to go through it a second time. I couldn’t save her then, but I could celebrate her for a long time now.
[The characters] will all be safe and exploring their world, and we’ll be along for the ride.
There is an element of death and loss to some of my stories, as fans of the character Tillie will tell you. I try to amplify the love between the dead and the living who live on remembering them. That’s where my stories revolving around death go (that’s where we live. That bond to a lost loved one doesn’t sever). The love Tillie and Freddie had in life is shown in the comic decades later; in literal spirit and in the works Freddie dedicated her life to for Tillie’s sake. We never stop loving or grieving someone lost, I think. And just as Winnifred Quinn created her cat shelter to save Baba Mouse and other cats for the love of Tillie, I’ve created this cat comic about my present cats for the love of Mouse and Beatrix (and Roscoe, Daisy, Ivannah, and Edwinna, my childhood cats). It’s all intertwined and the real life influences the affection and laughs throughout the comic, while I try my best to weed away the painful bits and celebrate these funny, sweet fur-and-people folks I’m lucky to know.
(Sorry for such a long answer!)
AMP: Two of the special kitties in your life—Puck and Lupin—are from Purrfect Pals, a no-kill cat shelter that focuses on adoption and rehabilitation. You’ve been a strong advocate for shelter animals in the past. What would you tell young fans who want to get involved in their own communities?
GD: Any way you can! Many shelters now have wish lists on their websites–your local shelter’s website can be a great place to start! There is something you can do, sometimes you just need to brainstorm a little. If you can volunteer, amazing! Give your local shelter a call and ask what they need (or, if you’re very young, have a trusted adult call and ask!). I’ve known kids to ask friends to bring a can of cat food or a cat toy to their birthday parties, and then they (and a trusted adult! Can you tell I’m a Mom, lol) bring the donations to the shelter. You can ask your teacher if you can have a cat-food-drive and have classmates bring in cans. Lemonade stands, bake sales, car washes, selling crafts can all help raise funds for your local shelter! There’s always something you can do!
AMP: One last question: Can we bring Lupin, Puck, and Elvis to ALA next year?
GD: I actually think Lupin would love that, but I’d be afraid of the destruction he’d cause, haha!!
Thank you so much, Georgia! We had a blast at ALA and were so thrilled to see you connect with BCN fans old and new.