By Nikki Jamieson
Over the holidays, I picked up a copy of Angel Catbird, and was subsequently given several strange looks as I wandered around the bookstore with it.
Granted, the name, along with the figure of a humanoid cat with wings on the hardcover, would be enough to give anyone pause, but it was also one of the names on the cover which caused some people to do a double take; Margaret Atwood.
Yes, I’m talking about that Margaret Atwood. The Canadian writer who, among her many contribution to the Canadian literacy scene, was a recipient of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and Prince of Asturias Award for Literature, a two-time Governor General award winner and a 2001 entrant into Canada’s Walk of Fame. That Margaret Atwood.
So why did this book warrant such odd looks, especially if the author was so well known? Simple, this wasn’t one of her regular novels, short stories or poems; Angel Catbird is a graphic novel. In other words, a comic book.
As some of you may recall, I have written on comic characters in columns before, mainly pleading for their movie to not be a bust and so forth. I enjoy reading these books, and eagerly look forward to reading more.
So when I found out that Atwood was teaming up with artist Johnnie Christmas to produce a graphic novel, something she had wanted to do for quite some time, I was thrilled. Growing up, I don’t know many people who didn’t read at least one of her books, so this was exciting.
Although it had been released last fall, I wasn’t able to obtain a copy until just recently. Having heard high reviews abut it, when I was home I sat down with a cup of tea, ripped off the protective plastic covering and cracked it open.
Let me first say that I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and I look forward to its sequel coming out next month.
But when I read the introduction, I was a little confused. It started off by Atwood explaining how she got into reading comics in the 1940s, had grown up reading them — even going as far as to name some favourite comics — and explaining that she wasn’t just dipping her toes into the genre, she had already been there, spending half of the six-page introduction talking about her experiences with comics.
It’s totally well written, there is no mistake about that. But — and maybe I’m reading into it a little too much — there is something off about an accomplished author like Atwood having to feel like she has to justify wanting to write a graphic novel.
Like with any genre, there will, of course be haters. I know of two main camps of haters within the comic book/graphic novel genre, those who think it beneath them and those who despise newcomers.
For those who think it is beneath them, for whatever reason, these books on not considered on par or as intellectual as novels without the glossy pages or colourful pictures. There is almost an attitude of disdain towards them; like they are at the bottom of the literary barrel, or should not even be in the barrel at all. These are the people who think it is just so adorable you are into Wayward or Spiderman, but think you should be reading a real book.
For those who despise newcomers, these are the people that make you feel unwelcomed. After all, they are the ones who read the original series, who stake out the local comic book shops, can quote from issue 136, know the right covers and can name every artist who had ever drawn a frame in Daredevil. They have put time and energy into this, and you, the fresh faced fool who can’t tell if that issue of The Vault has the standard or variant cover B, are simply a poser, and do not belong.
Of course, these are extreme examples and there are others who try to turn you off from graphic novels, but they do exist, and they can make it hard for someone to get really into it. On the whole, the graphic novel and comic book community is very welcoming, but as with most things, haters have loud voices. There might even be a few getting offended that I’m using both of the terms graphic novel and comic book in this column, and not one or the other.
Graphic novels may have seen a resurgence in popularity since the start of the new millennium, thanks in part to big and little screen adaptations and popularity of so-called nerd culture, but for many it can still be an intimidating field to enter.
Angel Catbird, with its scientist who shape-shifts into a humanoid cat with wings after himself, his pet cat and an owl get hit by a car — driven by his rat-like boss who plots rat world domination — and doused by a blue chemical concoction he was working on that splices DNA, and is introduced to a secret humanoid cat society where they are attacked by a rat army, it fits right in here, by that there is no mistake.
I hope Atwood plans on writing another comic book after she is done with Angel Catbird.