Scratch9: Cat Tails #1 Publisher: Hermes Press
Story: Rob M. Worley
Pencils: Joshua Buchanan, Shannon Eric Denton, Justin Castaneda, Mike Roll, Caanan Grall
Inks: Joshua Buchanan, Shannon Eric Denton, Justin Castaneda, Mike Roll, Caanan Grall
Colors: Joshua Buchanan, Shannon Eric Denton, Justin Castaneda, Mike Roll, Caanan Grall
Letters: Rob M. Worley
Let’s get one thing out right off the bat. I don’t like cats. Not only am I allergic to cats, but I’ve just never really understood that need of cats to suddenly think, “I should be in the living room RIGHT NOW!” and then go darting off. Plus, more than half the time, you never really know where they are until they jump on top of your head. All that said…I really liked this book. A lot. Part of that comes from being a dad and reading this to my young four-year-old daughter. But, being a good dad, I read the book myself before reading to her, to make sure it was appropriate, and I liked it then, too.
From the start, what drew me into Scratch9 was the sense of humor. This book is a collection of four short stories, each one based on one of nine different “aspects” of Scratch throughout history. Before each story, there is a one-page introduction told from the standpoint of a TV studio filming a documentary about the stories. The first one opens up with a little tiny squirrel, dressed like Alistair Cooke from “Masterpiece Theatre,” sitting in a huge oversized chair and introducing the story. This first page cracked me up and put me in a better frame of mind to start reading a story about a cat. What a surprise as I got into the first story and met Scratch, in the aspect of D’argent, a “fortunate feline of 18th Century France.” This was totally not what I was expecting. Worley’s writing really grabbed me and drew me in. In only a handful of pages, I really started to care about D’argent, his friend Tejan, and his human friend, the lonely Carabas. It’s a real talent to be able to develop strong characterizations like this in only four pages, especially when you’re working against someone as disinterested in cats as I am.
The other three stories each involve a different aspect of Scratch, including a sabre-tooth cat, an ancient Egyptian cat, and a future aspect called IX (which I’ve heard Worley say he pronounces as “icks” even though you could also call him “nine,” as per the Roman numerals). Again, the writing for all of these is really strong – although each aspect of Scratch has a different name, appearance, and personality, Scratch’s overall character comes through so you start to get a sense of how he’s going to act.
As much as I like the writing, and especially the humor-laden story introduction pages, I’d be remiss not to mention the art. After turning the page from the first intro page, which is drawn in an appropriate cartoon-like style by Joshua Buchanan, I was shocked, in a good way, to see some really lovely almost paint-like layouts by Shannon Denton. The work here is just beautiful and fits the theme of the 18th century story. Other stories have completely different art styles by various artists, and while I’m not a fan of having more than one artist per issue, in this case it works because this is a collection of short stories, and the art needs to match the time period in which the story takes place. Of particular note, for me, was Mike Roll’s work for the prehistory sabre-tooth cat story, which has an almost children’s book art style to it and reminded me a bit of some of the books of my youth, like Margaret Bloy Graham’s work from Harry the Dirty Dog, and I mean that as the strongest complement possible to Roll.
As a dad, I’m having a blast reading this to my daughter. The story about D’argent in 18th century France just screams for over-exaggerated accents, and there’s also some really fun riddles and interactive activities in the future-aspect IX story. Then to top it off, at the back of the issue there is a short “How to Draw Scratch” feature by Jason T. Kruse, profiles of all of the artists as well as Worley (including about his own cats which are the inspiration for Scratch), early character sketches for the series, and a really fun page on “How A Comic Book Gets Made” which was very educational and fun for my daughter.
Overall, this is just a great book which should appeal not only to parents reading to their kids, but also to cat lovers, and quite frankly also to art fans who will be treated to a variety of different styles, all of which completely match the time period of the individual stories.