101 Dead Cats Earn Cartoonist Simon Bond Fame, Fortune—and a Volley from Feline Fans
07/27/1981 at 01:00 AM EDT
Simon Bond has built his reputation over the dead bodies of 101 cats. Not literally, but literarily: His cartoon collection 101 Uses for a Dead Cat hit the top of the trade paperback best-seller list earlier this month, making Bond a culture hero among buffs of black humor and an archvillain to fans of felines. While he was surprised by the book's success, he was astonished at the cat lovers' backlash. "It's too close to home for some people," he guesses. "If I'd written 101 Uses for a Dead Aardvark, I bet no one would have complained."
Unlike the endearing images of B. Kliban's zebra-striped felines, George Gately's lovable Heathcliff and Jim Davis' Garfield, Bond's cartoons have the snap of a cat-o'-nine-tails. In his wickedly funny drawings, Bond shows dead cats being used as rugs, tennis rackets and padding for padded cells. "Black humor is one of the truest forms of comedy," says Bond, 33. "Good comedy will always upset somebody."
By that standard, 101 Uses is a work of genius. "It's a little beyond black humor," complains Dr. John Kullberg, executive director of the ASPCA and owner of two cats. Coming upon the book, he says, is "akin to being a member of the Moral Majority and seeing 101 Uses for a Dead Fetus" Bond's American publishers say they have received about two dozen angry letters from readers. "It's a gruesome kind of humor and it encourages the killing of cats," says Larry Andrews, executive vice-president of United Humanitarians, a Phoenix-based group. Aesthetics aside, cat lovers, including the ASPCA's Kullberg, worry that youngsters might take the satire literally and use the cartoons as a how-to book. Bond, a bachelor and a former cat owner who insists that he loves cats—although he is allergic to them—protests that his drawings show dead cats. "We're not hurting them," he says. "They're dead, they're inanimate objects, carcasses. It's no different from somebody buying a book on how to cook a casserole."
The quirky ailurophile was born in New York to a British couple, a United Nations political secretary and a civil servant. When he was 4, the family returned to England. Although Bond dreamed of becoming a stand-up comedian, his parents persuaded him to go to art school. Eventually, after dropping out of the West Sussex College of Design, settling in Phoenix in 1971 to cure his asthma, and working in jewelry stores and in a print restoration business, he wound up a sit-down comic, publishing private cartoon books and selling drawings (not about dead cats) to the New Yorker, Esquire and other magazines. His best year's take was $8,000. But with no car and a $200-a-month studio apartment, he became "adept at making a dime into a dollar."
The cat-cadaver idea came to Bond in 1976. His friend Terry Jones of Monty Python loved it and recommended it to the British publisher Methuen. Clarkson Potter brought out a U.S. edition. With 385,000 copies of 101 Uses in print and around $50,000 in royalties coming, Bond can afford now to live it up a little. He'd like to return to London, presumably to a flat big enough to swing a cat in.
Bond doesn't plan a sequel. He is working on a new collection, Bad Taste and Thereabouts, and seeking a producer for his screenplay, Shorts, a lampoon of the media. Though pleased with his success, he clearly doesn't take his work as seriously as do his critics. "It's only a little book," Bond shrugs. "If you're going to get upset about something, get upset about something more important."