The First Cat in Space and the Soup of Doom by Mac Barnett & Shawn Harris.The First Cat in Space and the Soup of Doom by Mac Barnett Shawn Harris is a sequel to the equally hilarious The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza. The series follows the exploits of the titular spacesuit-wearing feline, along with a cast of dozens of charming and memorable characters, as he  goes where no cat has gone before.

We caught up with Mac and Shawn over email and asked all about their creative routine, about integrating songs into a graphic novel series, and of course, about their Mario Kart 64 and soup preferences. And please be sure and let us know if you’ve had a chance to read any of The First Cat in Space books in the comment section!

COMICS BEAT: Obviously, The First Cat in Space and the Soup of Doom is a sequel. But, can you tell us about the road to get here? 

MAC: At first, The First Cat in Space wasn’t a graphic novel series—it was a live cartoon. If you’ve never heard of live cartoons before, that’s because Shawn and I made them up.

We started working on this story in March of 2020. I was doing a daily read-aloud of my children’s books on Instagram, and asked Shawn to present a live cartoon one Saturday morning. The idea was that he’d move his camera over some drawings and we’d do voices live. And so we made episode one of The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza—it was sort of a 50s B-movie meets 90s Bruckheimer blockbuster about a cat who gets blasted into space to save the moon from being eaten by rats. The joke was that the episode ends with a ridiculous cliffhanger, and at no point did the cat eat pizza. When we finished performing it, we were utterly exhausted and had no plans of doing another one. But people started commenting that they couldn’t’ wait to watch episode two. And so over three months we made a twelve-part science fiction epic, and each Saturday tens of thousands of kids from around the world would tune in. An editor from HarperCollins, Mabel Hsu, was also watching, and she asked us if we wanted to turn the story into a book.

SHAWN: We did!

THE BEAT: Can you tell us about your creative routine? What does the process of collaboration look like for you? How has your creative partnership evolved over the years?

SHAWN: Because we started telling this story in weekly segments, it felt unnatural for us to flip to Mac outlining and delivering a complete manuscript before I began paneling sketches. So I suppose that even though this series is published as a graphic novel, we approach it more like traditional comics– both working on writing and paneling the same chapter, and moving on to the next once that one feels right. Mac’s plot is reactive to my character and world designs, and I think we both get a lot of enjoyment from that sort of improvisation, and the result is alive in the tone of the books.

Soundtrack cover for The First Cat in Space and the Soup of Doom.

THE BEAT: Like The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza, The First Cat in Space and the Soup of Doom includes multiple musical numbers, which readers can listen to you perform at What goes into writing and recording these songs? Is there any chance we’ll see The First Cat in Space: The Musical?

SHAWN: Yeah, in the first “episode” of the live cartoon, I sang a song called “Space is No Place for a Cat” when First Cat was first experiencing zero g’s– the moment just kind of called for a cinematic touch. And ever since then, a musical element felt sort of integral. We keep finding characters who are prone to breaking out in song, like the bard worm, or the ukulele strumming surf bug named Dennis. And the audio component I think just helps the world feel more expansive, like the books can’t quite hold all of the story, so it’s boiling out into other media. And yeah, Mac and I both love live theater, so that’s definitely something I would love to happen sometime!

THE BEAT: Are we allowed to ask about The First Cat in Space 3 or would that veer too far into spoilerville?

MAC: Book 3 features the most terrifying villain we’ve written about yet—maybe the most terrifying villain in the history of literature: an evil paper clip.

SHAWN: And one chapter requires that I draw in 8-bit pixel art.

THE BEAT: What is your preferred Mario Kart 64 character and course? 

SHAWN: This is such a great segue. I’m Yoshi, and I’m gonna say Wario Stadium, because it’s such a hazard to take first place until the 3rd lap after that last chasm that Mac tries to snipe you into.

MAC: I race as Princess Peach and my favorite course is also Wario Stadium, as Shawn mentions,because I get nasty on lap three.

THE BEAT: Have you gotten any fan mail or fan art from First Cat Fan Club that stands out to you?

SHAWN: Yeah, and I’ve got to say, 95% of kids draw First Cat better than I do, and I practice all day long for ¾ of the year. It’s wild. Kids are so good at drawing these characters I’m almost ready to just outsource all of my work to elementary school art classes and spend ¾ of the year on a beach in Tahiti.

THE BEAT: What interesting things did you learn about black holes while researching The First Cat in Space and the Soup of Doom?

MAC: I’ve been fascinated by black holes since I was a kid and used to spend a lot of time imagining what it would be like to get sucked into one. One of our characters travels through a black hole and survives, so it was a good chance to talk to some experts about black holes. I think the most interesting thing I learned is that experts disagree a lot about black holes. (Everybody agreed that it would be very bad to get sucked into one, though.)

THE BEAT: We noticed the typography was credited to Shawn. What considerations go into this? 

SHAWN: Yeah, I created a font from my handwriting for the series, and I searched around for quite a while before finding an opentype font creator that would allow me to create a bitmap version of my letterforms. (I found one called FontSelf.) Since I draw the book with graphite, I wanted the text to match the line work, and graphite, being a bit softer edge-wise than traditional ink, doesn’t look very convincing when vectorized, which is what most font-creation programs like to do.

THE BEAT: Can you tell us about any specific inspirations for the series, whether from real life, comics, music or wherever else? (We knew a cat who aspired to eat, and eventually did eat pizza.)

MAC: Calvin & Hobbes, Armageddon, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, Alice, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

SHAWN: Yep, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Usagi Yojimbo, Scott Pilgrim, and actually, a bit of Garfield. (You know, a cat motivated by Italian food.) Also stylistically, Isabelle Arsenault (Louis Undercover) and Alexander Utkin (Gamayun Tales) encouraged me to make the comics with graphite instead of ink.

THE BEAT: What is your favorite kind of soup? How do you prefer it? 

MAC: French onion, in a charming crock.

SHAWN: Mac makes a really nice rustic tomato soup. I keep meaning to get that recipe. But actually, I suppose I prefer him cooking for me.

THE BEAT: Did you have any experiences on tour you’d like to share with us? 

SHAWN: We did eat soup just about every night. The best: a French onion in a charming crock. The worst: a French onion in a charming crock!

MAC: I was really moved by seeing all the people come to the shows dressed up as characters from the book but I guess Shawn still wants to talk about soup.

The First Cat in Space and the Soup of Doom is available at your local bookstore and/or public library now!