REVIEWS

The Eyes of the Cat

This entire review is an elaboration on the following disclaimer: I am the single worst person to review The Eyes of the Cat. I am the over-emotional, door-slamming detective who is too close to the case and about to be sent home. Secondary disclaimer: everything I know about police I have learned from TV.

Here’s the problem:

When I was a kid there was all sorts of weird shit hanging around the house in aid of the comic my Dad was illustrating – From Hell. There were reference pictures of disemboweled Victorian prostitutes pinned to his drawing board, a rotting kidney from the local butcher glistening on a handkerchief with a cloud of flies to keep it company, and a bunch of Polaroids of big hairy Alan Moore standing in front of various important buildings. In amongst all this, plus the ancient top hat that smelled weird and the books with bloodied knives on the cover, were copies of Taboo, the Steve Bissette anthology series in which From Hell first appeared. Either I was a nosy kid and made off with the comic myself or Dad saw that it had a cat in it and handed it to me without thinking – both are plausible. What I do remember is becoming completely enthralled by this one story in Taboo 4. It was called The Eyes of the Cat, though I wouldn’t know that until much later because it still has its French title sans translation: Les Yeux du Chat. “Lez Yurks Doo Chat” didn’t mean all that much to me at the age of seven.

It wasn’t like the other comics in the book – it read like a picture book, with full-page illustrations and a line or two of text, no more. It was on the brightest of bright yellow pages. It had a cat in it, and a bird. I saw no problem in filing this picture book next to my Little Golden Books despite the fact said bird kills the cat, yanks its eyeballs out by the root and flies back to his human master with them clenched in his claws wherein the boy slots the stolen eyes into his empty sockets and flails around blindly, pretending he can see. From where I was standing in my socks and pink pajamas it was no worse than the black inky horrors being produced on the household drawing board.

Lord knows how it made its battered return to Dad’s archives, but it must have done. It disappeared from my collection and it wasn’t until three years ago, at 22, that I was reunited with a copy of this thing and actually comprehended what it was I was reading all those years ago. It’s just as strange and wonderful as I remember but also totally horrific and in no way even remotely appropriate to the eyes of a child. Is it Bissette’s fault I turned out the way I did? That I would go on to spend sunny afternoons inside watching terrible films like Necromantik? Partially, maybe. But what a lucky kid I was to have Moebius on my bookshelf. (I recently thanked Steve for the astonishingly good taste I accidentally had back then, and he responded by mailing me the Taboos I was missing.)

What I like about Moebius’ work here is the quiet intensity, the hypnotic almost metronomic quality that lets the horror catch you totally off-guard. It’s dark and atmospheric and has no light in it but the single shard that eventually dooms the poor cat. I read an interview with Moebius somewhere where he called The Eyes an example of the “effective horror story”: one in which the genre is a soaring night-bird of prey stalking the reader in an effort to awaken them and open their eyes. It’s an interesting way of putting it given how I took to clenching my eyes shut near birds of any kind.

Now, here’s my beef:

The story’s inclusion in the 1990 edition of Taboo was its first in English translation, reproduced on yellow pages to match its first appearance as a publisher giveaway in France, in 1978. I don’t know who had the first go at the English translation but his work is not included in the impossibly rare deluxe hardcover edition that is currently taking up a not insubstantial area of my desk.

If you ever had a book read to you when you were little you’ll know that those words become burned onto your brain with a searing clarity you’ll never again be capable of. You knew when a tired reader attempted to skip a page, and you probably called them on it. I read this like any other of my picture books and along with Where The Wild Things Are or The Owl and the Pussycat I could probably recite it verbatim even now. The words were there in somewhat clunky size 14 Arial font and they did, admittedly, look a little classless and temporary next to Moebius’ illustrations. This is where my closeness to the book becomes a problem: I can’t tell if the new translation is better or worse. I don’t like it as much as the previous version, but the words are clearly more poetic, perhaps more suited to the book. But they jar and I have to ignore them. While the artwork is presented beautifully, and it is treat to have actually got my mitts on one of the 750 copies that were printed, I can’t help feeling a bit like the kid who’s been made to sleep at a some other kid’s house where everything is sort of the same but sort of different. Here they have honey on their pancakes instead of maple syrup.

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14 Responses to The Eyes of the Cat

  1. Anthony Thorne says:

    Good review Hayley and the imaginative kids that eventually check out Jörg Buttgereit and Argento movies and the like are more interesting and fun to talk to than the ones that don’t. For me it was early issues of HEAVY METAL, an issue of the UK mag PSSST! (possibly spelled that one incorrectly), Stephen King’s DANSE MACABRE and the Gaiman / Newman GHASTLY BEYOND BELIEF! softcover which I picked up upon its first release in Northern Tasmania some 25 years ago or thereabouts.

    Humanoids are doing a fine job with these Moebius / Jodorowsky reprints but I hope this one gets a reprint at a more affordable price (and probably smaller size). I saw this one previewed before release but didn’t have the bucks at the time to grab it. SelfMadeHero have produced a good UK edition of THE INCAL, but really all of the Moebius back catalogue needs to be brought back into print, and stay in print. The Moebius METAL HURLANT stuff in particular could use a good, comprehensive English-language edition.

    I’m sure a lot of weird memories are going to flood back when I read my newborn son (4 days old as I type) the Dr Seuss books I read as a kid.

  2. Lou Copeland says:

    Well I’ll go ahead and side 100% with Jean-Marc Lofficier’s translation in Taboo. The Humanoids translation seems just plain loopy to me, particularly the captions that accompany the second and third from last spreads:

    FRENCH: C’est merveilleux
    TABOO: It is wonderful
    HUMANOIDS: A joy so marvelous

    FRENCH: Jouer a voir
    TABOO: To play at seeing
    HUMANOIDS: This game that is sight

    Being far from fluent in French, maybe there’s some nuances somewhere that I’m missing, but the Taboo translation of “Jouer a voir” seems quite on the money, and the Humanoids attempt just leaves me scratching my head for a number of reasons.

    It doesn’t bother me too much, though, as I’m at a point with Eyes of the Cat where I prefer to read it without Jodorowsky’s captions. They seem a bit tacked on to me.

  3. Chris B says:

    (I recently thanked Steve for the astonishingly good taste I accidentally had back then, and he responded by mailing me the Taboos I was missing.)”

    I’ve been waiting eight years for him to mail me some in exchange for a boxful of books I sent him, pfft. Must have been some horror-crazed karma-ghost that attacked yr bike.

  4. Stuart says:

    I was just about to say ‘You’ve sold me on this, Hayley Campbell’, and then I saw the price. Is there any reason why this is so expensive for 56 pages? Apart from being awesome which it clearly is.

  5. Anthony Thorne says:

    Stuart, it’s a giant, oversized hardcover. Humanoids has more details here –

    http://www.humanoids.com/album/260

  6. Pretty sure it’s sold out too. Eyes to eBay.

  7. Oh, good. Not just me then.

  8. Paul Slade says:

    “I’m at a point with Eyes of the Cat where I prefer to read it without Jodorowsky’s captions.”

    Wish I’d thought of that when I was wading through The Incal.

  9. Stuart says:

    Nothing on the internet, eBay or Amazon… oh well. I’m sure it was wonderful.

  10. Zack Soto says:

    I’m sure a lot of stores still have copies, and most will probably ship it to you. (both Floating World and Cosmic Monkey in PDX had copies last I looked)

  11. Zack Soto says:

    oops, that response to Haley above was meant for you.

  12. Skuds says:

    i almost bought this book, i saw it in the local shop and when i went back to get it the shit was gone, i still want it tho but im not gonna pay a shit ton of money for it. oh well.

  13. Aw, man! Moebius just died. Ugh.

  14. Phillip Dokes says:

    Moebius, the man, the master is gone. So sad, was just looking thru 40 Days in the Desert yesterday with a magnifying glass. Have had that book for 12 years, and saw so much stuff going on in the backgrounds it brought me to a new level of humble and admiration. Fare thee well Jean…

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