Such is the life of a jobbing freelance critic that I sometimes don’t get around to things in a timely manner, so my sincere apologies to cartoonist Kriota Willberg for not reviewing her late-2019 (and, it should be added, self-published) mini Stubb & Leski’s Catsmas during the holiday season, which would have made a lot more sense than doing so in February. In my (admittedly tepid) defense, one only has so many hours in a day and the stack of books I “owe” a review to is fairly large, but still — I feel bad for not being more “Johnny on the spot” with this one.
The good news, however, is that this is such an utterly unforced and charming little book in its own singular way that it reads well at any time of the year, and you should avail yourself of the opportunity to just that as soon as humanly — or maybe that should be feline-ly — possible. I may have dawdled with getting this written, but you shouldn’t do the same when it comes to getting it in your hands.
Drawn in an eye-pleasing, populist style that owes more than a bit to classic comic strip cartooning and complemented by a smartly-chosen color palette that injects just the right amount of extra “oomph” to each single-panel page, there’s some deceptively simple genius on offer in this tale of two cats who venture out (by bus, if you can believe it — and you will) into the big, bad world of holiday shopping to score their human “masters” some nice “Catsmas” gifts, only to pounce upon (pun only slightly intended) the first chance to fulfill their predatory natures that comes along, thereby immediately and even gleefully undercutting the “funny animal” premise that one silently assumes to be the nature of the proceedings here when one first lays eyes on the comic. Subversive? Maybe. Accurate? Definitely.
Which I’ll be the first to admit probably sounds mighty strange when talking about a story featuring two cats going to Bloomingdale’s, but there you have it : this bears all the stylistic hallmarks of a kids’ comic, but before passing it along to your own offspring (should you have any), you might want to familiarize yourself with its contents first — which is hardly the chore I confess that wording may conjure up in the mind, as this is a smart, funny, and thoroughly enjoyable little yarn. It’s just not the kind of smart, funny, thoroughly enjoyable little yarn you’re probably banking on it being.
In my own estimation that makes it something of a pleasantly unpleasant surprise (read it and you’ll know what I mean), but at the same time it means it could conceivably alienate anyone who can’t adjust their expectations on the fly. That’s never been a “constituency” I’ve been tremendously drawn towards placating around these parts, of course, and I’m pleased to report that Willberg herself seems to feel the same way, and the end result is something unexpected wrapped in a package that looks like it could — perhaps even should — contain something else entirely.
It would seem that none of us — whether we ambulate on two legs or four — can do much about our inner natures, but as long as Willberg’s own tends toward “iron fist in a velvet glove” (apologies to Dan Clowes, but hey, it’s not like he invented the phrase)-style storytelling, I hope she decides to follow it rather than fight it : so far, the results seem pretty damn impressive indeed.
Stubb & Leski’s Catsmas is available for $6.00 from Birdcage Bottom Books at https://birdcagebottombooks.com/collections/comic-books/products/stubb-leskis-catsmas
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