One Hundred and One-Trick Pony
By Admiral Fartmore
(book chosen by Hot Bot)
Editor’s Note: I’ve been patiently sitting on this book for ages, just waiting for my chance to assign it to ‘drawing man’. And I’m so glad I did. Of course, I’m not a cat person, so I also enjoyed this book’s practical suggestions for the felines in my backyard.
There are a lot of famous cats in the world; Felix the cat, Garfield the cat, Grumpy cat, Bob the Street Cat, Hello Kitty, Cat Stevens, etc. And whether they busy gracing your newspaper with the dullest humor alive, numbing your mind during a late-night layover in Taipei, or abandoning a successful music career to convert to Islam, cats have proven time and time again their ability to make a massive impact on pop culture. But although these cats are all famous for very different things, there’s one thing they all have in common: they are all alive.
Which brings us to my recent assignment, ‘101 More Uses for a Dead Cat,’ by Simon Bond. The sequel to his original best-seller, ‘101 Uses for a Dead Cat,’ it is a collection of understated cartoons that depict dead cats being used as things like pencil sharpeners, headphones, trash cans, and so on. A few examples:
That’s pretty much it. There are 101 pages of these cartoons. Some of them are wittier than others, but overall it’s the same thing page-to-page. The humor here is more in the idea of the book than the actual content, so while you might find the premise funny or weird (dead cats!? what?!), the actual meat-and-potatoes is pretty dull. I could really be missing something here, but the “cats as random objects” shtick gets old for me after 3 pages. Both the tone and aesthetic of the book are vaguely reminiscent of Gary Larson’s Far Side series, except that Larson was able to pack more cat-related humour into a single frame than Bond could in over a hundred.
I really can’t overemphasize how little there is to this book, and I’ve gone through it front-to-back at least 4 times. Yet it was a huge seller, and even a bit controversial in the 80’s for its macabre theme. But it’s not really that macabre, not like, let’s say… actually turning your dead cat into a helicopter. And neither is it all that unsettling, like the brilliant Garfield Minus Garfield series, which takes Garfield comics, erases Garfield, leaves Jon Arbuckle, and thus tells the story of a lonely man’s descent into insanity. Moreover, 101 More Uses for a Dead Cat it isn’t even really funny after first glance. Instead, like a rooftop pool, this book is a fun idea without a whole lot of depth. There’s no point in reading the entire book, because it’s all there in the first comic.
But then again, maybe you aren’t supposed to read it. Maybe this is one of those books that’s meant to stay closed – a literary ornament, like the Marilyn Monroe photo essay on your coffee table or the copy of Ulysses collecting dust on your shelf. Sure, it’s a conversation starter, but outside of the shallow dance of trying to make guests think you’re interesting, everyone knows you don’t really give a shit about it.
But at the same time, despite the boredom, I am glad Bond went for a full one hundred and one uses for a dead cat rather than cutting things short. He had a vision, however odd, and he completed it. That resonates with me in a time when our media includes so many short, incoherent lists such as “17 Reasons You Should be Eating Kale,” “12 Ways Teddy Roosevelt was a Badass,” “9 Reasons Garfield is a Terrible Comic if You Really Just Stop and Think About it,” and so on. I get it, of course: the list format makes for incredibly easy writing – and writing is, after all, probably the world’s laziest sport – but these list(less?) articles that every aunt on Facebook so loves to post feel weird and incomplete. They read as if the author clicked “save & publish,” as soon as their ideas stopped easily flowing, and so we get articles are as shallow and awkward as my 13-year-old niece.
To compare, can you imagine if Purdy, proud mother of the 101 Dalmatians (and underrated candidate for the US $10 bill), had just given up and quit mid-way through labour? If she just packed it in when things got tough at pup number 12? What kind of story would that have made? Would children worldwide have flocked to the theatres to see a film called “Just 12 Fucking Dogs?” Would my mother have spent hour after painstaking hour sewing me a Halloween costume so I could dress up as one of the “12 Fucking Dogs?” Absolutely not.
To try and bring this all together – and yeah, I know it’s incoherent, but give me a break, this book didn’t have a single word in it – 101 Uses for a Dead Cat is not really any good beyond the novelty of it, but at least it has some novelty. And at least it’s a finished product. Is that even a compliment? I don’t know. I still didn’t like it at all. But as an homage, I’m ending this review with an entire 101 Uses For Shitty Books!