Here, kitty

February 22, 2009

felix-the-catWe spent a couple of hours yesterday watching, of all things, Felix the Cat. I think the earliest cartoon was from 1924, which was about two years after the character first emerged from Pat Sullivan’s studios. Felix was enormously popular, and that isn’t surprising. Using simple two-dimensional black-and-white images, the artist created an impressive variety of situations for this proto-Garfield. These cartoons, incidentally, like many cartoons of that era, are laced with stereotypes of blacks, native Americans, Mexicans, and Asians. Most of the Felix cartoons shown in movie theaters were silent like their contemporaries Koko the Clown and Farmer Alfalfa, and when the studio belatedly tried to add sound, Felix’s career died by the end of the decade. The later TV, movie and comic strip version by Joe Oriolo and his son and namesake is a different product altogether that doesn’t have some of the grim undertones of the original.  The Felix of the Pat Sullivan studio was often portrayed as friendless and hungry and, accordingly, as scheming and amoral, if not immoral. In one sequence, for instance, the cat plucks the white hair and whiskers from the head of an old southern black man to add to a bale of cotton he hopes to trade for a meal. That was considered hilarious in the 1920s, though probably not to the folks in the rear balcony.

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