14 facts on cartoon cats

Here are 14 facts about cartoon cats across the world and across history. The 20th century saw a plethora of cartoon cats being created for animated films which have been highly popular and which still are and can be seen on social media.

Felix the Cat
Felix the Cat. Image in the public domain.
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Garfield (fair use).
  1. During the 20th century a host of cartoon cats entertained us. I have a comprehensive page on cat cartoons which you can read by clicking the following link. Cartoon cats.
  2. Perhaps the first animated film star – a cartoon cat – was Felix the Cat penned by Otto Messmer. He appeared as Master Tom in a short film titled ‘Feline Follies’ aired by Paramount Studies on November 9th, 1919. Felix’s theme song was ‘Felix Kept on Walking’. Felix the Cat was a resilient survivor in a hostile world; the classic cat with nine lives.
  3. Krazy Cat is an American newspaper comic strip by cartoonist George Harriman. It ran from 1913 to 1944. The story was set in a dreamlike portrayal of the creator’s vacation home in Arizona. They are a mixture of offbeat surrealism, innocent playfulness with a tinge of poetry using idiosyncratic language! He paved the way for Felix the Cat.
  4. Krazy Cat was also turned into an animated film and both Felix and Krazy paved the way for many popular screen favourites such as Tom and Jerry, Top Cat, and Sylvester and Tweetie Pie.
  5. Mickey Mouse aired in Disney’s Steamboat Willie in 1928, nine years after Felix.
  6. Although the Ancient Egyptians had no concept of cartoons (they were invented in 1908) they liked a bit of satire despite worshipping the god Bastet and revering the cat (and slaughtering it in the hundreds of thousands!). A satirical papyrus circa 1150 BC was written by Theban scribes. It shows a procession of cats acting as household servants. They attend to a female rat or mouse and her offspring.
  7. Putin, Russia’s current tzar models himself on Peter the Great (1672-1725) who made himself so unpopular during his reign that ‘on his death he was lampooned as a large cat, The Cat of Kazan, inelegantly lying on its back with legs and tail in the air being buried by mice’ according to Dr Bruce Fogle in his book Encyclopaedia of the Cat. The cartoon was created by an unknown Russian cartoonist. The old aristocracy of Russia apparently detested Peter the Great and the church hierarchy too because he outlawed the wearing of beards. Although facial hair in the form of a moustache was allowed because the tsar wore one himself. It was considerably exaggerated in the cartoon.
  8. In Egyptian art the cat played a prominent role. The tombs of the New Kingdom Pharaohs (1514-1196 BC) were decorated by painters, sculptors and stonemasons. They created the first “cartoon cats” which were satirical drawings on reed paper i.e. papyrus, and smooth white limestone called ostracon. A treasure trove of these “documents” were unearthed in the Valley of the Kings at Deir el-Medina. These documents have been spread throughout the world’s museums. They hint at the cynicism and irreverence of people at the time. Some ostraca are cartoon sketches of cats but others are critical commentaries on the aristocratic ancient Egyptian life. Ostracon: a piece of pottery, usually broken off from a vase or other earthenware vessel.
  9. Woodblock prints by Japanese artists captured the nature of cats. The cats were finely observed as portrayed in the illustrations. Modern Japanese cartoonists employ the “fierceness and frailty of cats” (Dr. Bruce Fogle) to symbolise human nature.
  10. Ando Hiroshige was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist; a Grand Master of that tradition. In one of his works, he captured the shared attribute of being fastidiously clean and hygienic both in cats and humans in an anthropomorphised drawing of a cat. He created humanised cats which conveyed human emotions and actions while retaining their feline character. There are Western influences in Japanese cartoons including cat cartoons with, for example, the escapades of the cat-shaped robot Doreamon and the celestial cats Luna and Artemis in the comic book Sailormoon.
  11. Doreamon was created in 1970 by Japanese cartoonists Fujiko F Fujio (1936-1996). The cartoon character is anatomic-power robot in the shape of an earless blue cat. He is a visitor from the future who helps children who are weak at sports or studies. He is popular and followed worldwide.
  12. Louis Wain (1860-1939) was the second president of the British National Cat Club. He is a celebrated cartoonist in which he humanised cats portraying them fully clothed looking like humans. Their characters are distinctly human and they enjoy many human activities and pastimes including smoking cigars, drinking tea and playing cards. Later in life he suffered from schizophrenia and his fun creations evolved into psychedelic patterns. A film was made about the man starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
  13. Théophile Alexandre Steinlen (November 10, 1859 – December 13, 1923), was a Swiss-born French Art Nouveau painter and printmaker. He was very aware of cats and I presume loved cats. Many of his creations featured felines including sculptures. His home was known locally as “Cat’s Corner”. It contained a large colony of former stray cats. They were the inspiration for his posters, advertising services and products which ranged from veterinary clinics to tea, milk and cafés. His work influenced Pablo Picasso.
  14. Perhaps the most successful cartoon cat has been the cantankerous, self-centred, lazy and slovenly Garfield by Jim Davis (1945-). As is common place with cat cartoons, people recognise themselves in the character of Garfield and love him for it.
George Gately the creator of Heathcliff the cartoon cat
George Gately the creator of Heathcliff the cartoon cat. Illustration by PoC from image deemed to be in the public domain.
Tom and Jerry
Tom and Jerry. Screenshot (fair use).

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