Few have mastered the art of creating literary masterpieces like Margaret Atwood. The award-winning author, best known as a novelist and poet, recently dove into the world of graphic novels with her first ever comic book, Angel Catbird. With an impressive resume of notable works and a social media following well into the millions, it’s not surprising that Atwood’s graphic novel debuted at #1 on the New York Times Graphic Books list. Keep reading to learn more!
With over forty different published works – ranging from fiction to poetry – you’re certainly no stranger to writing. However, Angel Catbird is your very first graphic novel. What made you decide to take that step?
MA: I’d been mulling over this idea for years, as a way of addressing the big decline in bird numbers, but then the stars aligned. I met a person – Hope Nicholson, of Secret Loves of Geek Girls – who could pull together the sort of team that was needed: illustrator and co-creator Johnny Christmas, who brought in colorist Tamra Bonvillain; and Dark Horse, the publisher, and my editor Daniel Chabon. Comics are a group effort – at least this one was going to be, since I can’t draw well enough to do everything myself.
Even though this is your first graphic novel, you’re not actually new to the world of comics. How did you get your start in comic-writing?
MA: Everyone read comics in the late 1940s, when I was a child, and kids traded comics and drew them. So I suppose my involvement dates back that far. But I also did various visual things over the years – posters, book covers, illustrations – and those included running a strip in the mid 1970s. And an intermittent one in the 1990s called Book Tour Comix, which I’d send to my publishers at Christmas to make them feel guilty.
Though Angel Catbird explores traditional “superhero” topics like genetic mutation, the story is anything but predictable. What elements of the narrative differ from the classic superhero stories that we’re all familiar with?
MA: Angel Catbird is a bit like a somewhat forgotten comic called Plastic Man. He told a lot of jokes, and was quite funny and surreal. And Angel Catbird is Joycean in its liking for puns. I’d say that it has a hidden agenda – it’s fighting bird decline – but that’s not new: a lot of the 40s classics did, too. Wonder Woman began as a Nazi fighter, and Captain America is hardly apolitical. Maybe Angel Catbird is the first superhero comic in which the superhero is torn between having kittens or fathering an egg. Batman and Superman never worried about their progeny.
In the story, a genetic engineer named Strig Feleedus becomes the victim of one of his own experiments, when he accidentally merges his DNA with that of a cat and an owl. What made you choose to combine cats and birds, in particular?
MA: It was no accident! It was an attempted murder! The cats and the birds are two sides of the conundrum facing North American cat owners: cats are one of the four big causes of bird decline. (The others are habitat loss, poisoning, and glass windows.) But any solution has to take their welfare into account, too. Treating cats as well as we treat dogs would be a win for the birds, as well.
When did you begin developing this character?
MA: Years ago. I even did little drawings of him. But they are lumpy little drawings. Angel Catbird, as drawn by me, would not have flown! But he is flying very well in the hands of Johnny Christmas.
Throughout the graphic novel, we’re treated to little cat safety facts. What inspired you to share these educational tidbits in the book?
MA: Well, that’s one of the book’s raisons d’etre. I needed a conservation/science-based organization to help me with the factoids, and to do the sort of community outreach that could translate fantasy and good intentions into reality. Nature Canada has been fulfilling those functions brilliantly! You can find more information at www.catsandbirds.ca @safecatsafebird
Speaking of cats, there’s an abundance of feline-related puns in this novel. Pretty clever! Can we expect this type of humor to continue throughout volumes 2 and 3, as well?
MA: Not only cat puns! I promise some groan-worthy mouse puns in Volume Three, as well… And, as we say, More!
The artwork in Angel Catbird is fantastic. What was it like working with Johnnie Christmas to bring your visions to life?
MA: Johnny Christmas is a dream come true. You say, “Make it so!” and he makes it so. He’s like an actor/set designer/costume designer/cinematographer all rolled up into one. Also he does really good hands and feet. Those divide the sheep from the goats when it comes to drawing.
In the past, your work has led to exciting things, like notable awards or TV adaptations. What are your hopes for the future of Angel Catbird?
MA: I have this slightly nutty idea that Angel Catbird and his pals will appear at schools, giving out some sort of trophy for good achievements in relation to cats and birds, but this idea is only beginning to take shape. (Think of the employment opportunities for out of work actors!) Or maybe people will dress up as Count Catula at Halloween and collect change for bat conservation. Something like that. (I am partial to Count Catula. So well-mannered, for a vampire cat-bat!)
Of course I would love Angel Catbird to be a film or series. But not just yet. First I need to get through Volume Three. How will it all come out? Time will tell.
Have you had a chance to read Angel Catbird? Share your feedback in the comments below!