The world of Manfried the Man is an odd one. Anthropomorphized cats keep tiny men as pets and they do all the things we do with our own pets, from begging them not to knock glasses off tables to searching for them when they run away. The cats in Manfried’s world even enter their men into performative man shows, much like the Westminster Dog Show. When the first graphic novel came out through Quirk Books last year, it was surprisingly emotional. The sequel, Manfried Saves the Day, bears equal weight and resonance as it tackles subjects like jealousy, classism and competition.
Ahead of the May 14 release of Manfried Saves the Day, The Beat caught up with creators Caitlin Major and Kelly Bastow to talk about the series, Manfried’s unexpected adventures, and what’s next for these lovable characters.
Samantha Puc: How did the story of Manfried come to be and how did you decide to expand upon that world?
Caitlin Major: Manfried came about when Kelly and I were living in a share-house together, here in Toronto. I had the idea of Manfried and I’d been picking at it a little bit and working on it in different forms. I pitched it to this animation company, but it didn’t really go anywhere and I was kind of worried that they were going to steal the idea, so I was like, “I need to get this comic on the internet, and fast!” I enlisted Kelly’s help to get the first few webcomics up online and then it took off from there.
Puc: After Manfried Saves the Day, do you have more planned in this universe? Will you revisit it in more books in the future?
Major: We don’t have any more books planned right now, so this is the story arc for now, as far as it goes.
Puc: The second book deals with a “man show”—where did that particular idea come from? The second book deals with issues of class, displacement of community spaces… so how did that come to be?
Major: When I was first coming up with the idea for the second book, I had intended it to be very much like Best In Show. I was like, “I want to make something that’s exactly like that,” and I wanted there to be a bad villain and have it just be a simple, silly story. The more I was writing it, the more I explored the other characters. There was so much going on in my life at the time that I had to kind of get it out into this book. It became two things at once.
Puc: What was it like to collaborate on the art for these two books?
Major: By the time we got to the second book, we had a pretty good workflow down.
Puc: Is Manfried your first project together?
Kelly Bastow: I had some stuff I self-published, but it was only black and white. Caitlin ended up coloring that and we made a Kickstarter out of it. She took my little, rink-a-dink project and made it a lot more professional and nice, so that was one of the first projects that we did.
Puc: Do you have a favorite moment or panel or scene from Manfried Saves the Day?
Bastow: [I like] the ending, because it all just wraps up so nicely. There’s a little image when Garfield and Manfried are napping next to the gold ribbon that’s really cute.
Major: I think, for me, my favorite bit is when Manfried is training and Steve is sitting and not paying attention and Manfried hurts himself. Then, the same thing happens at the end, where Steve is egging him on and Manfried does the obstacle course perfectly. It’s such a nice moment to show him failing and then show him succeeding at the end, with the encouragement of his beloved owner. And then he sticks the landing!
Puc: Was there anything that surprised you about working on this story?
Major: A lot of the feedback I get is people saying, “I never thought that I would cry over this book about a little naked man.” I’m so glad that people are responding to it that way because, especially in the first book, the story of Manfried going missing and Steve looking for him—I just kept thinking about if my cats had gone missing. There was a moment when one of my cats went missing and we were out looking for him and it was just so heart-wrenching. I know that other people have the same experience, where you just love your pets so deeply that anything bad that happens to them makes you feel it ten times worse.
Puc: In the sequel, you have this very villainous banker character. Was there anything in particular you drew from to inspire him?
Major: Kelly sent me a picture of a really fat ginger cat wearing a bowler hat and I was like, “Yes, that’s it.”
Puc: Is that the case with many of the characters? Are they based on real cats?
Major: Most of the cats in the book are based on cats that I’ve known in real life. Some of them, I kept the names the same. Some of them I changed. Henrietta is based on my pet cat.
Bastow: Roger is based on your cat, too.
Major: Roger is based on my other cat. He’s like the “man” version.
Puc: What kinds of conversations have you had with fans?
Major: It’s usually people who have pets and they can identify with the characters. A lot of cat lovers. There’s a bit of a furry following of Manfried. I guess we filled that niche.
Puc: Do you think this concept would work with another species of animal, or would you want to explore it with another animal?
Major: I think it was cats from the beginning, but I think that’s mostly because I have cats as pets so to me, it was the most obvious role reversal. Cats are just really weird animals. If you flip the roles of humans and dogs, for example, it wouldn’t have the same comedic value. Cats are so arrogant and to depict them as people is just so silly. They’re so prissy and perfect and then when they do something stupid, it makes it ten times funnier.
Bastow: Cats are internet gold, too. We knew there would be a big response.
Puc: Is there any moment in this process that stands out as a moment where you thought, “wow, this really worked. We pulled this off”?
Bastow: Going on tour was pretty amazing and seeing people in real life who had read and enjoyed the book, because it’s alright getting internet reviews, but when you come face-to-face with people out in the real world, in America and the UK, who have read Manfried and liked it and recommended it to people… It’s extremely heartwarming and humbling. There were a few moments like that when we went on tour.
Major: When we were in London, Kelly, there was a man who came up to you who was from Korea. He said Manfried was really big in Korea.
Bastow: Yeah, we’ve gone global! That’s crazy.
Major: Manfried is actually getting a Korean translation, too.
Puc: My last question is, do you have a favorite character in the world of Manfried? Why are they your favorite and are they someone you’d want to hang out with in real life?
Bastow: I like Henrietta because she’s so compassionate and kind, and I feel like, if I was transported into her universe, I would want to hang out with her and hang out in the man shelter.
Major: I think my favorite is Chelsea, Steve’s neighbor. She’s really no-nonsense and she’s got a bit of a temper but she seems like she would be cool to hang out with.
For more Manfried, follow the graphic novel on Instagram. Toronto-based fans can attend a launch party for Manfried Saves the Day at the Liberty Arts Gallery on Tuesday, May 9 at 7 p.m. You can also check out a preview excerpted from Manfried Saves the Day, provided by Quirk Books, below.
Manfried Saves the Day hits shelves May 14. Click here to order your copy.
Samantha Puc is an essayist and culture critic whose work has been featured on Bitch Media, The Mary Sue, Bustle, and elsewhere. She mostly writes intersectional pop culture analysis with a particular focus on representation of LGBTQ and fat characters in fiction. Samantha is the managing editor at The Beat, as well as the co-creator and editor-in-chief of Fatventure Mag, an outdoors zine for fat creators who are into being active, but not into toxic weight-loss culture. She lives in Montana with her partner and cats.