If you’ve turned on a computer in the last two years, you’ve probably seen Lolcats, those funny feline photos, the ones that use misspelled captions and capture cats, as John Hodgman puts it in his introduction to this new book, “at the precise moment they are talking.” ‚
By A. Koford
Now comes‚ The Laugh-Out-Loud Cats Sell Out, a collection of distantly related comics drawn in an old-timey style. The book’s premise is that the comics, written by cartoonist, walrus hunter, spy, hobo and retired U.S. senator Aloysius Gamaliel Koford, first appeared in newspapers between 1912 and 1914. None of this is true, of course, and the book is probably (definitely) the work of “Aloysius’ great-grandson,” Adam Koford, who is real.‚
Written in that distinctly “Icanhascheezburger” speak, the book is a series of single-frame escapades involving the hobo-cat duo Kitteh and Pip, all of which take place in the early twentieth century. There’s no real plot, just a series of recurring themes, such as Pip’s obsession with “Caturday” and things being invisible (Invisbl everything? Kitteh: No, itz snow”) References include‚ Lord of the Rings‚ and Lovecraft.
Hodgman writes in his introduction that the production of the original online Lolcat pictures is a “challenging hobby” that is “much, much harder than just sitting down and drawing an old-timey picture of cats.” This is apparently him joking, calling attention to the superficial creation of this viral phenomenon and the often-underrated artistic street cred of cartoonists. (Hodgman later calls Koford a genius.) But in fact, Koford’s cartoons do, in the end, leave the question of what work is being done by their creation. They reference things, yes, and are occasionally stand-alone funny. But an original Lolcat picture, when done right,‚ is‚ without question a kind of work, a situation and a funny punchline in the form of the caption.
Or a triangulation of sorts: the photo of a cat doing something-which we find all the more funny because the notoriously uncooperative animal is clearly not in on the joke-and the creative affixing of the anthropomorphism, just so, enchanting the scene so that now that cat jumping is actually riding an invisible bike! Then there’s the play between the facial expressions that are so spot-on, almost intelligently human, and the grammar that butchers the sentiment and reminds us that cats are cats and not as smart as us, that if they could talk and think out loud, well, those silly guys would still never master grammar. I mean, c’mon, they’re cats. ‚ ‚
So, like Chuck Norris facts, Lolcats succeed so frequently because they are an inherently silly premise that ultimately serves as a blank canvas. And the work with the online Lolcats has always been in the painting onto that canvas, even if there is no drawing being done. But with Koford’s cartoons, since the raw material is not the reality of a digital photograph but whatever he decides to sketch, there remains the question of what work is actually being done, of what the point of Koford’s cartoons are if they’re not to be consistently, well, laugh out loud funny. ‚
What‚ is‚ done is something subtler. At first glance they appear to be a cartoonist having a little fun, meshing the old Krazy Kat style with this new Lolcat speak. But, Koford’s cartoons also raise a deeper question: just how do we categorize this current Lolcat phenomenon in the ever-thickening file cabinet our cultural legacy? Especially as these files now become electronic, where will these less-than-serious artifacts end up, say, when we are as far removed from Lolcats as we are from the original old-timey cartoons?‚
So when Koford sketches pip chasing after a spool and saying “I Love Where Dis Thread Iz Going!” we groan at the pun, and then realize how unsettling it is to hear this almost hyper-timely speech applied to characters in hobo cloths. And because these characters are using this i-can-has way of talking the scenes become not merely pat, linear jokes about how things are different now from how they were back then. These are not Plugger cartoons.
No, a project centered this boldly on something so recent and possibly transient has the effect of eviscerating any linear humor-time continuum, of asking, where will Lolcats-and cartoons and memes and humor, and possibly even the recently overdone concept of fake-premise humor books, for that matter- be when Koford is, as the fictional creator of this book is supposed to currently be, 117 years-old?‚ ‚
This is, I guess, what they are doing. It’s kinda cool. Still, call me new-fashioned, but I like the original (newer) version of Lolcats, where they just make silly faces.