OF CATS AND MEN
Manfried the Man by Caitlin Major and Kelly Bastow (Quirk Books) is a modern, heartwarming take on Garfield, with the cat/human roles hilariously inverted. Based on the popular webcomic, this graphic novel plays with ideas of masculinity in a world where people-sized cats live in a humanlike society and keep cat-sized humans as pets. Steve Catson is an irresponsible, down-on-his-luck aspiring cartoonist whose joy in life is his pet man, Manfried. When Manfried escapes, Steve must rally the community to bring him home safely. While the cat society mirrors our own, the charm lies in the clever world-building details— Manfried being fed tiny hamburgers and whole turkeys straight from a can, Steve organizing a “man hunt” to look for the lost Manfried, and flashbacks to a young, svelte Manfried with a full head of hair. The pet men steal the show as they get up to the antics normally reserved for felines, such as hunting birds with bows and arrows, tussling with grizzled strays and being able to uncannily tell when it’s dinnertime. Bastow’s character design for each man is a delight, as each man has a diverse body shape, colouring and expression that adapt common male features into feline qualities. It’s also just plain funny to see a cartoon cat snuggle a small, naked man. Next to the pet men, Steve’s storyline is a little tired as it follows the familiar trope of an immature dude learning to take responsibility for his actions to become a better friend and neighbour. Although every pet man is, well, a man, Major and Bastow use this opportunity to break from toxic masculinity and show the men sleeping nude in a pile, grooming each other, showing affection, and teaching Manfried better social skills. Additionally, each man can only say “hey,” a refreshing change from mansplainers everywhere. This was perhaps what I enjoyed most about the book (besides the novelty of men as pets): the easy way Major and Bastow imagine a world where men— whether it’s a male-identifying cat or a cat-sized man—are able to grow into better people without being shamed for stereotypically feminine behaviour. Through humour, Major and Bastow model a new type of masculinity that I’d like to see more of.