Oni Press is known for publishing quirky titles telling stories that fall outside of the norm: At their best, they manage the tenuous balance between comedy and drama, wackiness and pathos, most notably accomplished in the Scott Pilgrim series. Other times, that balance is tilted too far in one direction or the other, leaving the reading experience lopsided and dissatisfying. While not an outright failure, the latest Oni original graphic novel “I Was The Cat” is more the latter than the former. WRITTEN BY: Paul Tobin
ART BY: Benjamin Dewey
PUBLISHER: Oni Press
RELEASE: August 6, 2014
Review By: Ooknabah
I Was The Cat follows the duo of American reporter/biographer Allison Breaking and her best friend Londoner Reggie as they are pulled into the world of Burma, a mysterious figure who hires Allison to come across the pond and write the story of his life. As the title might indicate, it is soon revealed that Burma is not a human but rather a talking cat, a cat who has lived 8 previous lives woven between turning points throughout human history. As he tells his story, we see how his life has influenced the world, all to the ends of his ultimate goal: Ruling the world! As we see Burmas sordid past through his narrated flashbacks, we are also privy to the intrigues of the present day where his current activities are surrounded in a world of spies and assassinations, eventually revealing his true intentions with this, his ninth and final life.
The primary issue with this story is its inconsistent tone: A veteran of the Marvel Adventures line, writer Paul Tobin manages to keep the dialogue moving along as a light banter, but never manages to find much in the way of comedy; the characters bicker amongst each other, jokes feeling forced and hackneyed, failing to charm or delight. The majority of the story is told through flashbacks, there is very little in the way of dramatic tension. Other than the clever conceit that multiple famous cats were in fact one and the same, these long stretches do little to advance the story and become predictable by the end: Burma gains influence, loses it and dies, and moves onwards to the next life.
Meanwhile, the present day story attempts to up the ante as nameless agents battle each other to prevent… something. And therein lies the problem, as a lack of any real investment in these conflicts prevents them from having any real weight or sense of danger. Similarly, the fates of Allison and Reggie seem largely irrelevant: other than their relationship to each other, we know nothing about their connection to the world at large and have very little reason to care about what happens to them. Like Burmas stories, they seem stuck in a holding pattern, listening to the cat tell his tales, bantering amongst each other, rinse and repeat.
Benjamin Dewey’s art may be contributing to this: While the entire book is well rendered, (aside from a questionable take on Audrey Hepburn) there is a lack of grit that might otherwise add to the ambiance of menace that one assumes is intended to surround the stories present day mysteries. Dewey’s cartoonish style brings to mind Eric Powell’s “The Goon”, but with substantially less life and dynamism. As a result while the art is perfectly functional, it lacks a life that could help elevate the attempts a fun, or a darkness that could lend some gravitas to the action.
There are some interesting moments in “I Was The Cat” and the premise holds promise, but the execution fails to capitalize and leaves one with a feeling, largely, of indifference. That may tie into some of the story’s plot points, but I imagine it is not the effect the creators were going for.
Ooknabah AKA Brent Hirose is a writer, actor and gigantic nerd from Vancouver B.C. You can listen to his podcast about that at HugeNerds.Podomatic.Com or check out his many other projects at BrentHirose.com