Katie the Catsitter, a new middle grade graphic novel by Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue with colors by Braden Lamb, is available today, January 5th, 2021 from RH Graphic.
Katie the Catsitter follows Katie as she gets a job taking care of her upstairs neighbor Madeline’s 217 cats… but the catsitter soon grows suspicious of the fact that Madeline is always going out at the same time as the mysterious Mousetress takes to the streets! Is it possible that Madeline is actually a notorious super villain?
The Beat caught up with Venable and Yue over Zoom to find out more about Katie the Catsitter, how they’ve been weathering the pandemic, all about Colleen’s pet rabbits and where in the world Stephanie’s Vespa might be!
KAPLAN: Do you have any pets?
VENABLE: I have two bunnies, and had a cat, but the ex got to keep the cat. The cat, Miles, is actually in the book! But my bunny did not like the cat. They never got along. And Miles was this huge, really long beautiful cat, and my rabbit was four pounds, and Miles would just chase him out of the room.
YUE: I do not have cats. I’m a little bit allergic, sadly. I love cats, but! I used to live with two of them, but my studio was a cat-free zone so I didn’t have to live on Benadryl. I like to play with everyone else’s cats!
VENABLE: I think that pets have been such great things during this whole lockdown. I help out at the animal shelter, which of course we’re not able to go in, but at the very beginning of it I got to foster newborn baby bunnies. So for the first six months I raised these bunnies and now they have a home.
KAPLAN: Could you tell us a bit more about volunteering, and how it’s changed during the pandemic?
VENABLE: I did two things! I used to do photographs of the bunnies, the guinea pigs, and sometimes the cats… They had two thousand cat photographers and one person who would do guinea pigs, so, it was only if there was a newborn litter that I got to take cat pictures.
And then the other thing they would do is they would have people take animals on the news every Saturday morning. It was always kittens or puppies, always baby babies, and we’d bring these cats on the news and we’d talk about the shelter. We had different themes: “how to deal with depression with an animal,” “why you should adopt an elderly animal,” things like that. So that was really fun but of course, the last one I did was March 14th, the news stations aren’t going to let outside people in and the shelters are starting to have volunteers now but it’s really limited hours. They actually don’t have that many animals right now, which is kind of surprising.
They got really aggressive with having people foster so now they have hundreds of foster homes all over the city, so it’s not as necessary to have as many people come in. But I miss it, a lot. I used to go once a week… It was like my zen couple hours, to be doing model shoots with these animals who had no interest (laughs).
KAPLAN: Speaking of the COVID-19 pandemic, do you have a daily routine that you’ve adapted to?
YUE: I’ve been working remotely for years now, so it actually wasn’t a huge disruption to my daily life. It’s kind of weird to realize that it’s like, “Oh, I’ve just been doing this social isolation thing before it was even necessary.”
VENABLE: I have a day job that was luckily remote already. I work for Epic, which is a reading app, and I help them make webcomics for kids. So I do a lot of hiring artists and illustrators and writers, so that’s been really nice.
I’m an extrovert, and I’m always out doing stuff. I used to teach craft classes once a month and I can’t do that now, I have a hackerspace that none of us have been in that’s just kind of sitting there with all these beautiful woodworking machines. But, you know, it’s not the worst. I’m very lucky that I have a job that’s solid, and I have a lot of friends, a lot of check-ins. I have the group I meet for puzzles once a week and then the group I watch TV with the other night a week and then another one we do trivia… That kind of stuff has been keeping me sane. Because I definitely… I have not done as well as other people during this time. (laughs)
YUE: I don’t think I could say I’m doing, like, “well”… (laughs) But can anyone really say that?
VENABLE: If anybody really says they’re happy right now, I’m like, “What? Why…? What is wrong with you? You know the world’s on fire, right?” And I’ve got no poker face, so I feel bad for people who asked, “How are you?” I’m like, “Here you go!”
YUE: It’s very extremes for me. It’s either I’m very starved for human interaction and attention, and it very quickly switches to like, “Oh – indoors. Now.”
VENABLE: And you were traveling a bunch before this!
YUE: I was… I think that’s the thing I really miss. Along with everyone else, all of my plans got totally scrapped. I think last year I only spent about four months in Cambridge, because I was otherwise in Hong Kong or Thailand or Vietnam, Spain, Portugal, California… like, anywhere else. So this is the longest that I’ve been in one place in an unbroken stretch for many years.
VENABLE: Did you have a Vespa in all the other countries, too?
YUE: No! I have the one Vespa that I flew from Toronto to Barcelona – it’s stored in Lisbon. I didn’t intend to store it for so long, so it still has all the oil in it, I just put a bit of stabilizer in the gas and now I realize, “Yeah, whenever I do see it again – one day – it’s going to have a dead battery and I hope everything’s not too gunked up.” Because it does have a lot of miles on it, so, I’m hoping that it runs okay because I wanted to take it to Morocco, and they don’t have a lot of Vespa dealers there…
KAPLAN: Stephanie, you completed work on the book while in several different countries, is that correct?
YUE: I did, yeah! I started Katie the Catsitter in Hong Kong. I go to my family for winter, also because Cambridge winds are cold and uncomfortable. (laughs) Fall is a great season here. So I started in Hong Kong, and then I spent a month or so in Chiang Mai, an amazing part of Thailand – great for motorcycle riding. If you notice a theme, I go places to go riding! Came back to Cambridge for a bit. Flew my bike to Barcelona, started working from Barcelona, rode it across the Pyrenees and then worked from Lisbon. I finished inking Katie in Lisbon in October 2019. And I just finished inks for the second book!
VENABLE: I’m working on the script for the third book right now! The sense of time is just so strange. And especially with kids’ books, when they do come out… suddenly these kids all over the world are reading this stuff, and it’s like, you’ve lived in this isolated bubble working by yourself for how many years before it comes out? 2021’s going to be the best! January’s going to be great! There’s going to be a vaccine, and we’re going to have a book, and yeah. Going to get to hug my mom! It’s going to be great.
YUE: I feel like everyone is ready to make 2021 exceptional.
VENABLE: Yeah, and then make Dolly Parton president. You know, Joe Biden’s fine, but – have you seen that thing about her funding the vaccine?
KAPLAN: Do you each have a favorite cat from the first book?
VENABLE: I mean, of the names of the cats, Paul Simon makes me laugh every time. I love Miles, I’m biased. The idea that he’s just really good at weaving through lasers, like the movie Entrapment, and then in the scene when he finally gets to show off, the lasers are all too high and he can just walk right under it. That’s my favorite long gag.
YUE: Miles was fun to draw. I specifically remember in the script, it said, “Entrapment-style” laser scene. I knew exactly what you were talking about!
VENABLE: If you look at it while watching the movie, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Miles are very similar…
YUE: I’m really fond of Jolie, it’s hard not to like Jolie. I based her laptop off the stickers on my boyfriend’s laptop, because he actually works in cyber security. So I said, “Great, let me sneak in all these hacker stickers.” Except slightly modified – instead of “Cult of the Dead Cow” it’s “Cult of the Dead Cat.”
VENABLE: Jolie’s one of the few cats in the book that’s not based on a real cat. Almost all the cats in the book are based on my friends’ cats – the names, and some of them the personalities, and some of them it’s a play on the personalities: “Let’s have the laziest cat in the world be the one that’s the military strategist.” The cat that would be like, “Just rub my belly,” and would never fight.
Jolie is a play on the movie Hackers, because Angelina Jolie is a hacker in it, and I was always really into that movie growing up. I wonder if she’ll ever see the book and be like, “Wait a minute…”
YUE: I do have, on the side here, a spreadsheet with all 217 cats. And then I also have the spread that’s in the book.
VENABLE: Oh, where it says their talent or their skill! It’s funny because everyone keeps saying their superpowers for that, but they’re not actually superpowers. These cats are good at very specific things, and the way Steph draws them, it’s still cats doing this stuff – they’re still acting like cats, you know?
YUE: I really wanted the cats to be like the Studio Ghibli cats, in the movies where there’s cats in them where they’re still cat proportion and cat anatomy, they’re just doing human things. And actually, I styled Miles a little bit after Kiki’s Delivery Service.
KAPLAN: Were there any other particular inspirations for Katie the Catsitter?
VENABLE: I was inspired by two things. Catwoman: I have always loved Eartha Kitt as Catwoman and it always really bothered me that there was never that version in print. And I always asked, “Why does she have human minions? That’s dumb.” That’s why I liked the 90s movie where she actually had cats! So I liked the idea of playing with the idea of this villain who actually maybe wasn’t a villain – maybe they’re somebody who actually really cares about animals, but they’re doing it in a way that isn’t just writing petitions all the time.
And the other inspiration is The Tick. I love The Tick, I love the idea of a world where there’s superheroes everywhere and everyone’s just kind of cool with it. And the idea that I can have all these weird goofy gags, and they fit in with the world –it’s believable that an old lady’s couch could be stolen every night! I think those are my two big influences.
YUE: Yes, in designing the superhero outfits… I kind of designed the Moustress’s costume partly out of motorcycle gear, which I think is mentioned in the back matter of the first book.
But it’s also a little bit Bubblegum Crisis. I didn’t grow up so much with superhero comics, so I’m not really sure how to design those costumes; I’m going back to my anime years to draw inspiration. In Bubblegum Crisis, they had little anime-type mecha-type fins, to make it a little more geometric. Also, the ears… it took a little while to figure out how to make a mouse-ish costume that didn’t look very much like Mickey Mouse.
VENABLE: One theme of the upcoming second book: it’s about the female superheroes in the city not getting as much attention as the men, and them teaming up to work together. So: lots of costumes for those characters!
YUE: It was actually a bit challenging to outfit all of the cast, because I’m used to drawing animals, which is great – they’re all naked! But now it’s like, “Oh, I actually need to look up references for what a teenager wears in New York City.”
VENABLE: With Katie specifically, she’s partially based on my little latchkey kid – my dad was a drummer and my mom was a janitor, so they didn’t really make that much money. I didn’t have that many clothes: I had one pair of jeans, one pair of razor pants, a couple of t-shirts and anything the neighbors were getting rid of. So Katie’s wardrobe is actually limited, she wears the same four or five shirts over and over again – we expand it a little in the second book because it’s in fall, but the idea that she wears the same pair of shorts all the time… and one of my favorite character design things that we did is have it that her and Bethany had swapped one shoe, so they each have the teal and the pink.
Steph and I just realized we have the same size feet a month ago, so we’re like, “We need to get some Converse!” That will be when we finally get to see each other in person: the Swapping of the Shoe. Part of that, too, is thinking about kids doing cosplay: there’s nothing worse than when you work really hard on a costume and someone says, “Who are you again?” If you’re wearing the two different shoes than you’re Katie – that’s my hope for one day!
YUE: And Katie has a really distinct sweatshirt in book two. As I was drawing it I thought, “I better make it recognizable if someone cosplayed her.”
VENABLE: Having the clothes be really contemporary but then also having those little bits showing she’s slowly becoming a superhero. For the cosplay crowd, I think they’ll really like it, I hope. I just want to go to conventions again so bad!
YUE: Without conventions, you just feel like you’re in a bubble all of the time.
VENABLE: It’s hard not to see everybody, and not to get everybody’s new prints, new minis, and new stickers! I’ve been decorating a bike with stickers during the pandemic because the only bike I could buy that was left looked like Batman’s bike… Or our version – the Owl Guy’s bike. It’s just ugly black matte. So now it’s covered with stickers, but if I had gone to SPX, within an hour I would have had enough stickers.
YUE: I have a bike too! But it’s a stationary bike… but I still cover it with stickers! They’re almost all motorcycle themed, though, so it’s like, “SUPERCHARGED,” but it’s a stationary bike. It has dreams of one day going places!
Katie the Catsitter is available today, Tuesday, January 5th, 2021, at your local bookstore! And you can attend the virtual book launch, hosted by Wild Rumpus books, on Saturday, January 9th, 2021!