Felix the Cat had his heyday in black-and-white silent cartoons in the 1920s, but that was just the beginning. In Felix the Cat: The Great Comic Book Tails, editor Craig Yoe sketches out Felix's murky beginnings and later popularity, then presents a generous sampling of full-color Felix comics from the 1940s and 1950s.
Yoe starts the book with a brief essay that introduces Felix without bogging the reader down with a lot of detail. Comics historians differ on who actually created Felix, Joe Sullivan or his employee, Otto Messmer, and given the way studios worked at the time, it's hard to know who exactly did what. Indeed, at the beginning of the book, Yoe notes that most of the artwork and stories in the book are by Messmer, and then he points out a few that were identified as being by Joe Oriolo, who drew the Felix comics in the 1940s and 1950s. Most of the comics aren't signed, and one that is --- a newspaper strip from the 1920s --- is credited to Sullivan although Messmer is the actual artist.
This introductory section includes a few remarkable facts about Felix: He was the first cartoon character to be represented by a balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade; Charles Lindbergh had a Felix decal on the side of his plane, The Spirit of St. Louis; and Felix was the first cartoon character to be shown on television, although not as a cartoon. When NBC tested the first RCA television camera, in 1928, they used a Felix doll rotating on a turntable for their test image. Yoe includes photographs of this event as well as a fascinating array of early Felix ephemera before launching into the meat of the book, the comics.
All the comics collected here are from the same era, from 1945 to 1954. At this point, Felix has moved pretty far from his Roaring ’20s roots, and like many cartoon characters, he lives in an ordinary house (complete with overstuffed armchair in the living room), works at various jobs, and is bedeviled by his mischievous nephews. What sets Felix apart is his almost hallucinatory adventures. Traveling to different planets on his flying carpet, he encounters vegetables bent on revenge (and is tried by an all-carrot jury); a fish tries to catch Felix and fry him up in a pan; and when he mixes jumping beans with his garden seeds, he ends up with fast-growing plants that get him out of a number of situations. The stories have a slapstick character, with lots of physical humor, and the gags come fast, one or two per page. That makes the stories seem rather episodic. It's like the creators start with a theme --- Felix has an unlucky day, say --- and run with it until they run out of ideas. And they have plenty of imagination: In one sequence, Felix lands his spaceship on the bottom horn of a crescent moon and falls asleep. When the moon wanes to a thin sliver, his spaceship falls off. The art and paneling are workmanlike, not brilliant, but the stories move fast and deliver plenty of laughs --- just like a good children's comic from any era.
Reviewed by Brigid Alverson on November 29, 2011
Felix the Cat: The Great Comic Book Tails