Thursday, February 08, 2007
Obscurity of the Day: The Louis Wain Sunday Cat Strip
I don't know that I really am knowledgeable enough about British cat artist Louis Wain to do the man justice, but let me hit the few high points I know. Wain first made a name for himself in the 1880s for his cat drawings and paintings, a subject he chose out of grief for his late wife. His wife succumbed to cancer, and he had entertained her in her sickbed by playing with their pet cat.
Wain's career as a cat artist bloomed. His works were extremely popular in England, and eventually the cat-mania even spread to the US. Unfortunately, Wain's entire family seemed to be somewhat prone to mental illness, and by 1916 the always somewhat unbalanced Louis was getting bad enough that he was confined to a mental hospital. Wain was in and out of hospitals for the rest of his life, putting his commercial career to an end, though it never stopped him from painting cats. Wain's later works, though still putatively cat drawings, are bizarre representations of the sort that delighted psychologists, if not the public.
For a much better bio of Wain see his Wikipedia entry here. Also, check out his later cat drawings here - wild stuff!
Wain apparently spent some time in America and while here made some deals with syndicates to distribute his cat drawings as comic pages. Wain's work appeared sporadically from 1897 to the mid-teens in Hearst sections (except for a brief appearance in the World Color Printing Sunday section in 1910). I'm assuming that the material printed in US newspapers was adapted from earlier British appearances, but that is purely a guess. Is there a Wain enthusiast out there who could answer that question? And, for that matter, can a Wain fan tell me if "Miss Cam", supposedly the writer of some series, was a real person or just an affectation of Wain?
Seldom did these series have consistent names, so it can be a bit perplexing to figure out when one series ends and another begins. The sample shown here is from Wain's next to last series in the American Sunday papers, and it ran from December 7 1913 to July 26 1914. This particular series started out using a set of distinct series names, specifically Adventures of Billy Kitten, Adventures of Toby Maltese, Adventures of Tom Scratch, Tom Catt (pictured), and The Velvetpaw Family. When this run began each of the series titles ran for a certain number of weeks and concluded before another title would take over. Later in the run the series titles were reused but with any random title being used each week.