Cats & Connection — A Personal Essay About Inkblot Vol. 1 by Katie Liggera

If you’ve ever met me — or scrolled through any of my social media sites — you know that I have a deep love for cats. Cats have been in my life since my birth, and I’ve rarely lived anywhere where I didn’t have access to petting the silky fur of my favorite felines. I’ve actively consumed any media or piece of writing centralized around cats since I could read. From the ongoing kids Warriors book series about cat clans in the wild, to watching Milo and Otis on repeat (note: imagine my devastation when I learned about the unspeakable animal cruelty in the filming of that movie), to reading every Garfield comics volume I could get my hands on, I’ve been driven to cat-focused content since childhood. One of the first comic volumes I read last year after a years long hiatus from comics in general was Captain Ginger Vol. 1 from AHOY Comics. I’ve written several pieces about the space-adventuring-felines in Captain Ginger — and even a feature on artist June Brigman — since discovering this majestic comic story. Captain Ginger made me venture into my local comic shops for the first time in five years. It was also in September of 2020 that I first saw a curious black cat on the cover of Inkblot #1. The first arc finished in February, continuing on its second arc with Inkblot #7. I’ve collected and read the first six issues of Inkblot over the months, and was ecstatic to finally see issues #1-6 collection in Inkblot Vol. 1. Because this piece is about my intimate connection with the cat-starring Inkblot comic, here’s a short history of my own experience with cats.

A Contextual Background About My Cat Connections

The summer I turned seven years old, the family adopted two cats from the SPCA. Unfortunately, Harvey, our beautiful gray American Shorthair with stinky breath, gag-worthy flatulence, and an affinity for pancake syrup, passed away early only seven years later. Highlights of his career were farting excessively, scooping out tomato soup from an unmanned mug on the ground with his paw, and sleeping so soundly he fell off the top of the couch onto the ground without waking up. The untimely end of his life and numerous veterinarian surgeries that only seemed to worsen his conditions were a hardship on the entire family.  Harvey was our special, stinky, sweetheart who will never be forgotten. 

Our female cat named T.C. (short for Terrific Cat — my family kept the names from the SPCA . . . ) passed away recently in March of this year at the ripe old age of seventeen or so. After running away for weeks, we printed out “LOST CAT” signs and left them on the doorstep of our neighbors. It’s every cat owners’ worst nightmare to lose their precious pet. Apparently, someone must have been keeping her in their garage or house, because a day after the paper pleas for help went out, T.C. showed up at the backyard door, as healthy-looking as ever. Because of this incident — and due to the manner of death Harvey endured — T.C. became a solely “inside cat.” She never took well to the confines of the house. Still, we loved having her at our beck and call to snatch off the ground and cuddle twenty-four hours a day. R.I.P. T.C. 

About three years back, five cats who looked almost fully grown, but not quite, appeared at the  front doorstep of my family home. Assumedly, they were all siblings, since they bore a striking resemblance to one another. The tiniest cat, who my sister later named Tiny (we aren’t great with names), was the outlier of the family. She sported an all gray coat (like Harvey!) with white tips on her paws and a white and brown streak on her nose. The rest of the cats were all white and various shades of tabby colors. Ultimately, the family of felines ended up sleeping in the backyard while they waited for food every day. Jumbo (the biggest cat), his brother Angel (I named him when I thought he was a girl — oops), their other brother Mead (short for “Medium Cat”, apropos of my dad), their sister Lily (a mostly glossy white, gorgeous girl), and Tiny all became regular outdoor visitors. 

Angel and Jumbo were the only ones who preferred the cozy inside of the house to the fickle weather of outside Sacramento. Over time, Jumbo got all high and mighty and drove his brothers, and even Tiny, out of the yard, until only him and Lily remained. Lily also grew up and, well, received many male suitors from across the fences. She birthed six kittens in August of 2019. After reaching six weeks old, we as a family took on a challenge I spent dozens of hours preparing for: Raising near neonatal kittens. Trying to feed and house and clean after extremely young kittens was a huge undertaking. But the thousands of pictures, adorable squeaks, and watching them suckle and fight over the milk bottle made the task entirely worth it. Shoutout to my best friend Amy for taking in two of the kittens and to Bradshaw Animal Shelter for providing an essential and cost-effective service to the animal rescuing community. The runt of the litter, Pip, did end up passing away, due to the common disease called “failure to thrive” or “fading kitten syndrome.” That little guy was spunky, excited, and a true fighter during his seven short weeks of life. 

Now, Lily and Jumbo have been properly spayed and neutered and the family takes care of three of the kittens: our big tabby boy, Charlie, our once-dainty princess, Petunia, and the mischievous tuxedo boy, Mews. Raising kittens forever changed how I felt about animals. I had obviously loved cats long before I ever had to truly ensure their survival. Helpless young kittens who need a warming bed and a tiny bottle to drink from, controlled by the steady pumping of your own hand, makes you consider baby animals differently. 

My mind was indelibly tethered to my kittens. I was working eight hours a day, my thoughts pulling toward the tiny animals awaiting me that night. I would return home to feed, change the litter/pads in the play pen, freed, and care for(at one time, five to six) kittens at night. Usually, I would stay up until midnight, or even 1am, doing homework for five online college classes until midnight while my five sweet animals kept stomping on my laptop keys. Later, when I only had the trio of kittens to take care of, I would wake up all night in a panic. Either I’d feel tiny claws mauling me through the blankets or I would jolt up, afraid that I smothered one of the kittens in my sleep. Petunia’s favorite spot used to be nestled against the crook of my neck while I laid in bed. I often prayed my sleeping head wouldn’t crush her petite body. Regardless, the kittens gave my anxious mind focus. I felt happier and like I was finally living up to my own unattainable expectations when I would weigh my growing kittens and see them finally reach a pound! That time in 2019 was one of the busiest schedules of my life thus far, but I experienced a fulfillment I had longed for my entire existence.

Now, Mews, Petunia, and Charlie are . . . cats. They don’t require much attention besides begging for food. Petunia loved to pester T.C. when she was still alive, but T.C. wanted nothing to do with this invader cat. The cats definitely noticed her absence at first. On the other hand, their Uncle Jumbo demands attention. He’ll butt his head against our hands or stare you dead in the eyes and meow until you pet him. The house is full of cats. My heart is full of happiness. Their tummies are full of treats.

Black Cats & Historical Stigmas

Before I was born, my mom had a black cat with bright eyes aptly named “Jet.” Not only was she named after the color of her jet black fur, but for her lightning quick running speed. This cat avoided death from the jaws of an unchained dog because of her jet-fast haunches. Sadly, her less speedy brother, Smokey, met his fate that day. 

Surprisingly, Jet was a Siamese cat. Black-furred Siamese cats aren’t usual, but Jet inhabited the shrewdness and elegant beauty most associate with Siamese breeds. Because of Jet’s presence in the formative years of my life, I was shocked to discover the historical stigma surrounding black cats. During the Middle Ages and the rising fear of witchcraft, black cats began to be considered omens of bad luck — or even death. Individuals believed black cats were witches, shapeshifting into the creatures to spy upon an unsuspecting citizen. 

These unsubstantiated claims perpetuate a centuries-long stigma around black cats. People have long assigned positive and negative connotations to colors. This mindset existed much prior to psychological studies about how specific colors engender certain emotional responses.

Although the stigma around black cats has not entirely dissipated, representations of black cats across literature and transmedia — and in the last 100 years or so, comics — have shed the wrongful facade of terror. In fact, the Studio Ghibli animation film, Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) subverts the tropes around both witches and black cats. (Shameless plug: In celebration of National Cat Day last year, I wrote a piece here about the feline stars — including Kiki’s Jiji — in Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films.) The film centers around a young witch-in-training, aided by her adorable black cat companion, Jiji — who ends up practically stealing the show! Not only does Jiji bring Kiki crucial quips and guidance, but he also comes to parallel Kiki’s transformative character growth in the film. Kiki’s Delivery Service flipped the unfounded narrative about black cats in a film accessible to any age group. 

Paw-sitive Portrayals in Inkblot (Vol.1)

Magic, powerful female figures, and black cats all coalesce in a comic book series I have been enthralled by since its first issue came out back in September. Everything I’ve written about cats, my personal connection with felines, and the stigmatized history of black cats should help you fully realize why I love the current Inkblot comic series from Image Comics. 

Real-life partners Rusty Gladd and Emma Kubert create Inkblot through a spin on what’s commonly known as the “Marvel Method” of comic making. Instead of working individually, Gladd and Kubert work completely in tandem with one another. But instead of heady dialogue bogging down the art (like early Marvel Comics tend to suffer from), Gladd and Kubert’s collaborative effort synthesizes flawlessly with a palpable feeling of personalization. Kubert and Gladd discuss the story in layman’s terms before Kubert draws the general outline of ideas in pencil. After, Gladd inks the pages, writes the narrative dialogue, and hands the work back to Kubert to finish in gorgeous colors (and alter the script where necessary.) I love how transparent the two are about this process. Every issue details this creative operation on the final page, reaching out to readers in a way that comes across intimately. I’ve interacted with Gladd, and mainly Kubert, on Twitter before. They are incredibly hard-working, hilarious, and appreciative to fans of their work. Seeing the behind-the-scenes of their relationship and Kubert’s artistic endeavors manufactured an even greater, tangible respect for these creators and their comic series. 

Of course, I’ve explained why slapping a cat on the cover of any sort of consumerist product is an instant allure to a can-fanatic like myself. Understandably, just because cat content appeals to me doesn’t automatically equate said content with a well-written narrative. But Inkblot delivers on what it’s advertising without faltering. 

Gladd weaves a narrative about magical portals, diverging realms, and an immortal family who ventured through this expansive world. Issue #1 opens with a backstory about a Living Castle created by the narrator’s immortal brother, Xenthos Voidbreaker. The sprawling roots of the Castle (sort of) connect each realm, and even an intermediary place between realms called the Void. The narrator, the sister of Xenthos and many, many siblings, goes only by the name, Seeker. The now-lone sorceress writes diligently, chronicling the saga of Xenthos, experimenting with magic, and preserving thousands of years of history in a library while her siblings live separate lives in distant lands.

The Seeker is a powerful protagonist. She’s a magical, immortal sorceress, a wordsmith, and possesses a spirit of unending determination. The Seeker’s fearlessness enforces the integrity of her quirky characteristics. A headstrong woman like the Seeker relates a message of empowerment to younger, female readers. Although she loses control of her situation, she maintains a resolute mindset. Depictions of magic-wielding women like the Seeker evidence the necessity of moving past harmful stigmas (like misconceptions of Middle Ages ‘witches’).

On a personal level, the Seeker maneuvers through life like me. I found perspective through reading about how she handles loss of control. Without control, I experience an overwhelming helplessness in my mind. Opposingly, the Seeker’s confidence undulates slightly, but she learns to grapple with her foibles in an inspiring manner. I also instantly related to her love of writing, isolated while surrounded by books and history. 

Like me — and so many other voracious writers/readers — the Seeker falls asleep one night in the midst of writing. Her sudden bout of sleep acts as the catalyst to Inkblots’ creation when her arm knocks over a jar of ink. When the inkwell spills out of its container, magical forces beyond comprehension coalesce and conjure a portal-opening black cat. Thus, Inkblot materializes in the comic midway through the first issue. 

Inkblot serves as the realm-jumping guide throughout each issue, leading its readers where the cat wants to go — similar to a cat’s real-life behavior. Apart from the majestic artistry depicting appropriate wardrobes, mythical beasts, and jaw-dropping fantasy realms, my eyes always gravitate toward any place on the page where Inkblot makes his presence. 

Inkblot’s character design is optimal for selling the comics’ premise. The cat literally manifested from a jar of ink, and Inkblot’s deep black coloring and nearly fluid shape echoes the cats’ own creation. Green gradient colors engulf Inkblot’s black pupils. Akin to the forestry landscapes often used as the settings in Inkblot issues, the green ringlets of Inkblot’s eyes permit the cat clear expressionism. Kubert and Gladd’s inks visually convey the cat-like qualities Inkblot inhabits. Inkblot’s pupils dilate to various degrees, contracting during events of uncertainty and expanding when showing affection. Inkblot’s fur spikes upward and the cat’s limbs flail around wildly, mirroring the real-world physicality of a frightened — or falling — feline. 

Essentially, Inkblot acts and looks like a cat. Inkblot isn’t truly a cat and can summon humongous creatures, vanquish enemies, and travel through time, but Inkblot generally participates in cat-adjacent behaviors. Inkblot moves with alacrity when obligatory, but otherwise enjoys grooming, exploring, and letting out a “Mow” in every issue. No other dialogue is provided for Inkblot except this “Mow.” Yet, somehow, Inkblot’s affable personality supplements the narrative. For such a small creature, Inkblot’s presence reverberates immensely. I can’t help thinking of my own cats and imagining what they would do in the same scenarios Inkblot becomes entangled in. I squeal over particularly cute illustrations of Inkblot and wish Inkblot would jump through time and land into my arms so we can cuddle!

Inkblot’s realism ironically juxtaposes the fantasy surrealism of this magic world. Fantastically rendered castles, two-fold pages brimming with life, and luxurious ocean scenery causes me to inhale deeply as I digest the splendor of Kubert’s art. The sublime fantasy of Inkblot captivates me while the tangibility of Inkblot the cat strikes a personal chord within me. Reading Inkblot lifts the weights of personal anguish from my chest. Psychology proves that physical interaction with a cat positively alters a persons’ mood. Inkblot supports this study, because I feel inextricably happier when I pick up a new issue about an unrestrained black cat who says, “Mow.”

1 Comment

  1. This was such a great read – having fostered families of cats, I know only too well how that goes and cats are such a delight. Love the comic, love hearing about your cats, a very well-written piece!

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