Black cats are notoriously hard to photograph — they tend to show up in pictures as dark blobs with demonic glowing eyes, which, when combined with the whole “unlucky” superstition, has led to a black cat majority in shelters around the world. And they’re even harder to draw, which makes a new book, All Black Cats Are Not Alike, by writer-illustrator duo Amy Goldwasser and Peter Arkle, a true feat in the age-old tradition of cat art. It’s an “anti-cutesy” ode to the real lives of 50 “little aliens,” as Goldwasser characterizes the felines.
After crowdfunding the project, Arkle drew hyperdetailed portraits from submitted photos of backers’ black cats; they endow these animals with human-seeming souls. One key to his success was picking out the subtle hints of color in their fur. “It’s like when you buy black or white clothing — blacks and whites are not all the same,” Arkle told Hyperallergic. “I had to ask, is this a reddish black cat or greenish black? And exaggerate any colors I could find. In most cases, I was drawing from a low quality JPEG with a fuzzy black blob halfway out of the frame, often very small. I had to enlarge the photos a lot, massively bring up the contrast and details to make something out of that black blob.”
Goldwasser wrote the accompanying quirky bios, which turn the creatures into three-dimensional characters. “We like to say the book is as much about people as it is about cats,” Goldwasser said. “Humans are very proud of the eccentricities of their cats — they become this vessel for people to talk about weirdnesses in a way they usually can’t about people.”
Herewith, an excerpt from All Black Cats Are Not Alike.
* * *
The Count is hardcore.
An attacker of vegetables and pencils, The Count bites everything. He was one of three incoming ABCs (with Alfie and Harold) adopted by Julie and Dan in Washington, DC. He hates rules. His song is “Search and Destroy” by Iggy Pop and the Stooges. He is a survivor. He has one kidney, one very large kidney. He has broken his hip joint, sliced open his paw, eaten a bicycle tire valve cap and been given an overdose of sedative that put him in a 24-hour coma — defying surgeries, stitches, anesthesiologists and neurologists to keep bouncing back to his charmingly destructive self.
Church is a goth.
Church avoids eye contact, hunts lizards and goes into a rigid trance while listening to doom metal on an old record player in a little seaside suburb of St. Petersburg, Florida — in a dark, end-of-the-street corner house that is decorated year-round in Halloween gore. He was named after the cat in Pet Sematary. He has six toes on each of his front paws and tries to claim ancestry back to the days of Hemingway, when polydactyl cats ruled Key West.
Koa wears black socks.
Valencia, California-based Koa, who hides when he hears the doorbell, likes stealing treats from the other cats (Kahana, Kamea, Kalani), watching Clippers games with his dad and the squirrels outside with whoever. He was adopted as a tiny kitten who was so attached to the Persian purebred (Kahana) his people had originally intended to rescue that separation was not an option. Now four, he’s very fat, but his head didn’t grow to match. He is at war with All Black Socks — but only black socks. Wear any other color and he doesn’t care. Wear black and he will bite toes until there’s a hole.
Penelope Kitten is on duty.
Penelope Kitten lives in Los Angeles. Of course she does. She is technically no longer a kitten but does not advertise this. And anyway, she’s the still the youngest, the spoiled little sister to cats Marcy, Hamlet and Scooter. Penelope Kitten loves Hamlet. She does not care for Marcy. She does not meow. She plays police officer, a by-the-book kind of cop who takes a lot of lunch breaks. She patrols the perimeter and hallways of the house and lets Cynthia Mance and Freddy J. Nager know in her squeaky voice if anything is amiss. When the offender is a cat, she will not hesitate to whap him or her on the head.
Hugh is putting together a TED Talk.
A fan of feathers and food, Hugh — son of a gigantic and mysterious ABC stray — lives in Indianapolis with two people and one cat brother. He can be neurotic about licking plastic and has a lot to say.
Vincent was upwardly mobile.
Originally caught up in a feral cat sweep — trapped, neutered, van Gogh ear-tipped and released — Vincent quickly decided he was done with that life. He briefly crashed in the little apartment Cindy and Gary had set up for him in a storage shed but soon tried to sneak into their home in Sonoma wine country. The streets were not for him. In fact, he did not even like the floor. To avoid it he would traverse from kitchen table to woodstove to desk to bookcase to end up on the couch. When he did walk on the floor, he had a strange gait, kind of a Popeye strut. He died in May of heart disease, a fighter to the end.
Puzzles is emotional.
A kooky, supremely affectionate 6-year-old Cornish Rex permakitten — whose pink skin shows through just enough to make the odd observer or say, book illustrator, question her ABC status — Puzzles was named for her puzzling looks. Those who call her a rat are not invited back to the Los Angeles home of Dan Koeppel and Kalee Thompson, who consider their two young sons Otto and Laszlo baby brothers of the cat. Puzz is long-legged, acrobatic (she flips, she twists, she fetches), very hot (literally radiating warmth, serving as a water bottle for her achy people) and eats incredible amounts, demonstrating an astonishing metabolism for a five-pounder.
All Black Cats Are Not Alike is available for purchase from Chronicle Books for $16.
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I enjoyed the character studies of these little demons. Well done.
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