B. Kliban (1935-1990), was arguably the first to put now outrageously
popular cat cartooning in the fore, the artist who opened up doors for the
likes of Gary Larsen, Jim Davis, and others of feline-connected fame
Kliban studied painting and design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New
York, and later at Cooper Union in New York City. In the mid 1950s, he traveled
and painted in Europe for a couple years, spending so much time at the Uffizi
in Florence that he said he felt as if he lived there. He kept a daily journal
of watercolors of abstract heads; he drew incessantly and developed a masterful
hand, especially as related to figure drawing. After he returned to the States,
he mounted a motorcycle and road to the West Coast, arriving first in southern
California and eventually settling in Marin County, north of San Francisco.
Determining after a short time that supporting himself as a painter was
simply not feasible, Kliban took a variety of odd jobs, including one drawing
showgirls at a club called Mr. Wonderful in San Francisco's "red-light"
district. In his boredom at Mr. Wonderful's he began inventing satirical,
biting, hilarious cartoons and drawing them on cocktail napkins. The cartoons
offered a no-holds-barred look at every type of person and human
situation--here Kliban offered his perspective on religion, on government,
history, and more.
Responding to a 1962 ad in Playboy for
contributions from cartoonists, Kliban was "discovered" by the magazine.
Playboy entered into a long-standing relationship with Kliban, continuing to
publish his work for the next thirty years.
So how did Cat enter the picture?
Kliban loved cats (no surprise there) and usually had several living with
him. In the early '70s, four "stripers" were hanging out with Kliban, demanding
his attention as he was doodling and thinking up ideas for Playboy. Kliban's
editor at Playboy saw the drawings of cats that resulted from this "session"
and asked permission to show them to a literary agent. A deal was made with a
publisher and Cat was born to the world.
The first book (called simply, Cat) was published in 1975 and Kliban became
an overnight cartoon sensation. This book was followed by seven other cartoon
books--in which Cat's appearance was minimal--over the next several years.
Colorful Cats followed, decorating a range of merchandise from calendars and
t-shirts to magnets, plush, and beach towels. Cat had become the ultimate cat
to collect--an iconic image, trusted friend, and producer of, well,
Kliban Cat Screens
Love to Eat Them Mousies
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