We all know who Felix the Cat is. We should also know that he was one of the first really big cartoon stars and although his popularity is not near the levels it was in those heady days, he remains an extremely popular character around the world.
My first exposure to Felix came from a video cassette (remember those?) that was a compilation of shorts from the Sullivan era up to 1936’s “Bold King Cole”. The one I found most fascinating was the lone Sullivan short, “Astronomeows”. Even then I figured out that if a cartoon was in black and white it must be really old! I laugh at the thought of it now: the transfer was horrendously poor. Instead of everything being black and white, it was red and white, the sound was similarly atrocious and despite its warbling I doubt it was completely original.
What is there to like about Felix? Well, it depends on where you look. The later, RKO shorts feature a much more genial Felix whereas the early stuff has a much harder, more realistic character for a protagonist. I admit I need to see more of those shorts as I am not too familiar with them and subsequently the real reason why Felix was so popular at the beginning.
Felix is much more plucky than the likes of Mickey Mouse. He carries a certain amount of grit and I suppose that makes him just a wee bit more realistic. It helps that he has constantly retained his signature look of a big round head, huge eyes, point ears and a completely black body, unlike Mr. Mouse, who has been substantially changed over the years, especially after the Second World War.
The Sullivan shorts retain a certain amount of charm. It’s funny to think that audiences were, at one time, in awe of a character who could take his tail and use it as a baseball bat. Maybe folks were more easily entertained back then. Today, it takes a team of mathematics majors to make us laugh.
By all rights, Felix could have died a long, long time ago. The fact that he was one of the first cartoon superstars meant he had to jump over the hurdles of sound and colour followed by television. When you look at the numbers of cartoons (and studios) that didn’t make it past even one, that’s an astonishing achievement.
Although Felix may have disappeared from the mainstream public’s consciousness quite a while ago, he remains popular through his merchandise and comics and among animation historians and fans. He does have an official website and although the news articles aren’t dated the fact that they contain MySpace links should be a good indication of how old they are.
You are much more likely to find contemporary Felix discussion in the blogosphere. Storyboard expert Sherm Cohen regularly posts about Felix (especially his comics) over on his Cartoon Snap blog (a worthy read for much more than just the Felix stuff). Comiccrazys is another site that posts even older stuff, all the way back to Otto Messmers original Felix comics.
A quick read of Wikipedia reveals that Mr. John Canemaker wrote a book (Felix: The Twisted Tale of the World’s Most Famous Cat) that I will now need to procure in some way. Knowing John’s writing skills, it is safe to say that even though the book is 19 years old, it is still a must read.
Felix continues to enjoy the quiet life, which he richly deserves after his very long time in the spotlight. His longevity is only part of the reason why he’s one of my favourites, he’s a also a complete character a trait shared by all the greats 🙂