One of the many benefits and beauties of the printed word is the comic strip section in many newspapers. Before we learn about the first cats in comics, let’s look at the history of telling stories in pictures and words.
Storytelling using a sequence of pictures has always existed. A great example of this is the Bayeux Tapestry that tells the story of the Battle of Hastings in England where William The Conquer defeated King Harold. Printed picture stories emerged as early as the 18th Century in England where they were used as political satires. Comic strips are we know them – pictures with words, mostly in balloons – began showing up in newspapers in North America in the 19th Century, and their popularity was part of the newspaper wars that began in 1887 between Pulitzer and Hearst newspapers.
Cats in comics began with the Krazy Cat comic strip that first appeared in 1913 in the Hearst newspaper, the New York Evening Journal. Created by George Herriman, who’d introduced the characters in an earlier work called The Family Upstairs. The setting was in Herriman’s vacation home in Coconino County, Arizona. The phrase “krazy kat” originated with this comic strip as how Ignatz Mouse described the cat character he despised. Krazy Cat was syndicated by King Features Syndicate. Publication of Krazy Kat ended in June, 1944.
Ignatz showed his ill will for Krazy Kat by throwing bricks at his head. Krazy Kat thought being hit in the head was a sign off affection. Offissa Bull Pupp tried in vain to get Ignatz to stop throwing bricks, but it was to no avail.
Felix the cat was another early comic strip cat character that began in newspapers in 1923 was Felix The Cat, also syndicated by King Features. Drawn by Otto J. Messmer, Felix and nephews, Inky and Winky, Felix continues in various media, including films and cartoons.
Felix was the first cartoon character whose popularity was so great as to draw movie audiences. While Felix’s origins are unclear, some say he’s based upon the Latin words felis (cat) and felix (lucky), while others say he’s based upon Messmer’s animation of Charlie Chaplin for the New York-based animation studio owned by Pat Sullivan. Felix has had many adventures in print and on film, such as a trip to Hollywood, being stranded on Mars and having surreal nightmares as a result of eating a tin can and a musty, old boot.
Here’s Felix in action:
There have been many more popular comic strip cats, including:
- Sylvester The Cat (1954 – 1962, in comic books)
- Heathcliff (1973 – present)
- Garfield (1978 – present)
- Catbert from the Dilbert comic strip (1989 – present)
Stephanie, this is a wonderful article! Thanks for sharing all the history. Cats have taken a back seat in a lot of ways, but when they show up they steal the show!