Margaret Atwood On Cats, Comic Books & The Upcoming Graphic Novel Of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’


Cats and rats and owls, oh my!

Angel Catbird is a three-part comic books series combining mystery, sci-fi, action, environmentalism, and good old-fashioned fun. With visual and narrative nods to the Golden and Silver Eras of comic books, Angel Catbird tells the story of Strig Feleedus, a genetic engineer and recent hire to Muroid Inc., brought on to complete the work of his mysteriously deceased predecessor. Through an unexpected series of events, Strig finds himself exposed to his predecessor's mysterious "super splicer serum," and his DNA merges with that of a cat and owl. This is where the real adventures begin.

This delightful narrative gift springs from the mind of Margaret Atwood (yes, THE Margaret Atwood, of The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace, and so much more) and is further backed by a talented creative team, with illustrations by Johnnie Christmas and color by Tamra Bonvillain. Volume One (which includes a revealing introduction by Atwood about her relationship to comic books, self-expression, and cats) and Two are currently available, and Volume Three is set for release on July 4 (look for the forthcoming review, featured in the second installation of my comic book roundup Graphic Content), so you still have plenty of time to catch up! 

I had the opportunity to speak with Atwood about her experience bringing this world to life, what we really need to know about cats, and what exciting new projects, comic and otherwise, are on the horizon.

In these trying times, I found Angel Catbird’s theme and story arc deeply refreshing. Did you have as much fun writing this as I did reading it?
Yes, I had a lot of fun writing it. I also had a lot of fun working with the collaborators, namely my co-creator Johnnie Christmas—yes, that’s his real name—and Tamra Bonvillain, the colorist. They’ve been really good, and so has Daniel Chabon, the editor. And the person who pulled it all together in the first place, Hope Nicholson. I’ve also been very cheered by the invitational pin ups and the back of each volume, where the art of different artists who have done their own interpretations is featured. My favorites are this one by Gisèle Lagacé in which Strig has given Cate a gift, and it's done in this sort of Betty and Veronica style, and there’s a beautiful, very sort of formal portrait of Count Catula as the sun is setting, by an artist named Razzah. I think that’s a lot of fun. What’s not to like?

Illustration by: Gisèle Lagacé, Colors by: Anwar Hanano

Illustration by: Razzah

This story is a strong nod to the Golden Age of comic books, when the ideas of good and evil within a story’s universe were clear, and moral ambiguity isn’t often present. You've said in the past how you began your relationship with comics during that Golden Age. What was it about that era that you found appealing?
Well, I was a kid, right, and that was the late '40s, right after the war. Colored comics came roaring back in Canada; there had been a number of wartime comics, but we couldn’t get colored comics in Canada during the war. They really surged forth in the latter part of the '40s, and I would’ve been six in 1946. Comics were the hot new thing, and they were also what there was. There wasn’t television, there wasn’t the internet; there were movies, but, of course, most of them were adult movies, and the few that kids could go to cost money. More money than comics. Comics were what kids did on Saturday mornings. We read and traded comics, and we also drew comics ourselves at that time. We didn’t actually have anything to compare them with, because they were it.

And so was it nostalgia that directed you back to that era when it became time to do your own series?
It’s not totally back [in that era]. It’s aware of the tropes, but it's not an intent to recreate that. It is its own thing. You find that a lot with any kind of superhero comics. You probably know the one called Mama Tits Saves the World. She has superpowers, too. Unfortunately, she can’t fly. Instead, she has a magic word, which is completely an homage to Captain Marvel. Comics have become quite a self-referential field, and people are quite aware of it. But they weren’t at the beginning.

The first book of the trilogy was released last year with the second and the third coming in 2017. When did you really start this story?
I had the idea for quite a while, long before I acquired an artist who could draw these kinds of comics. I draw comics, but mine are quite lumpy, so I would not have been able to draw this sort of thing. I was looking for somebody who could, but I didn’t really know where to look. 

Then I ran into Hope Nicholson, who is a kind of curator of comics. She has this new book out about female superheroes and comics. It’s very thorough, she really knows her stuff. I was helping her with a Kickstarter to republish an old Canadian wartime series. Once, while together, I said, "Do you think it would be really crazy if I did the following?" And I explained to her what I had in mind for this series. She said, she didn’t think it would be crazy, and helped me start by finding an artist; got a bunch of sample art, figured out who was free to do it... she put that together. She found our publisher, Dark Horse Comics, and the editor, and that’s how we put it all together.

How was writing this story in comparison to a novel?
It was a lot like writing a television or film script, which I have done. I did a bit of that in the '70s. It’s similar in that you’ve got scenes, except you call them panels. You’re aware of the layout of the page, whereas in the film or television script you’re aware of syncopating different scenes and how long they should be. So it’s the same kind of thing when shooting the scene: What are they saying? What’s the camera angle? What are their emotions? What’s the scenery? Mention any relevant furniture. Essentially you’re telling the people who will do the visuals what it should look like.

As you were writing this story, did you feel like you had more freedom in the comic book format than in other written forms?
No, not at all. You’re most creative when writing a novel because it’s only you in charge of it. Whereas comics, television, film, plays, ballets, operas, they’re all collaborative forms, so you’re working with other people.

How involved were you able to be beyond the written part? You mentioned that you do draw. Did you draw any preliminary sketches to help design the characters?
Yeah, there’s one of them actually in Volume One. I did the nightclub outfit. I enjoyed it. They said, "This is rather daring." I said, "It’s a nightclub! It’s a cat nightclub. Of course, it would be daring." So that was fun. Sometimes you get to make notes. We went through several looks for Cate Leone and got her finally to look more cat-like than a human being.

That’s so funny because the first moment I saw her, I thought, She’s a cat!
Exactly! It’s because cats have a particular shape of face…

Her eyes!
Yes, exactly. We worked on the eyes. I actually sent him pictures of cat eyes and other people’s eyes that seemed to be cat-like.

One thing I really noticed is that the books are full of facts about cats and the environment and their place on the bottom of every few pages.
That was my main motivation for actually doing this.

What did you hope people would take from seeing them?
Well, first of all, that they all realize the magnitude of the problem [that cats are facing in the world], and second, that they realize that their cats should be treated as well as a dog. Some of the statistics in the book are on cats that get hit by cars, cats that are killed by other animals, cats that get lost and you never know what happened to them… those statistics are high. You would not actually let your dog run around outside by itself in that way. People have been in the habit of doing that with cats with the mistaken impression that cats can take care of themselves, which is true in some cases, but actually in the city, not. Because they’re not very smart about cars. The territory for a male cat in the wild would be a square mile. So they’re always running around trying to defend their territory and getting in fights if you let them.

Are any of the characters based on your cats?
No, not really. They’re more based on the requirements of the plot. I had cats all my life, but we don’t have any at the moment because we’re too old, and it would be a tripping hazard. The latest two, one of them was very smart but neurotic, and the other one wasn’t as smart but was very friendly to other people. She wasn’t a hunter, so I don’t think she killed much of anything, but she would go outside our house and roll around on the sidewalk and entice strangers. One day there was a knock on the door, and it was a guy I didn’t know at all, and he said, "Oh, I forgot her smoked salmon today, but I’ll bring it tomorrow." [I thought,] Oh Fluffy, what have you been doing? Hanging out with strangers.

There was a lot of character development and historical reference. What was your favorite part to write about?
I’m partial to Count Catula, I have to say. He was fun to write. He has an old-style, gentlemanly way of expressing himself. Count Dracula, as you know, had three brides of Dracula, but Count Catula has way more. He’s a cat. They come in, of course, as a plot element in Volume Three. They’re very mad about their interior decoration being ruined.

Can we look forward to more comic books from you, whether in this universe or another?
We’re discussing that right now. But we are turning Angel Catbird into an audio book. It’ll be like an old-fashioned radio play with a theme song and musical aesthetics and different actors playing different roles and voices, and that will be all three of the books in one audio book. That will be produced by Audible, the audiobook company.

That’s so exciting, radio plays are so fun.
That’s the other thing I grew up with, that and comics, and the two seem to really go together. In fact, some comics have their own radio shows, like The Green Hornet.

I can’t wait for that to come out. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
We have a graphic novel of The Handmaid’s Tale coming out in probably 2018. And, of course, everybody’s very excited about the television show of The Handmaid’s Tale, but we have another television show coming in the fall, and that is a six-part miniseries of Alias Grace. That’s launching on September 25, and that’s Netflix. So I’m kind of busy. Lots of fun though.

Photo courtesy of TNT.

The gang takes on a casino this season

For its third act, the TNT series Claws is here to prove that it's still the gaudiest show on television.

Claws follows a criminal underworld in Florida that lurks just beneath the surface of a local pain clinic, a strip club, and, most prominently, a nail salon. Despite wanting to make a legit business out of her nail salon, HBIC Desna (Niecy Nash) has spent the past two seasons getting deep into a life of crime. She has had the help of her autistic brother Dean (Harold Perrineau) and the four women she loves the most—Southern belle and con artist Polly (Carrie Preston), silent possessor of Big Strap Energy Ann (Judy Reyes), restlessly sober Jenn (Jenn Lyon), and former stripper Virginia (Karrueche Tran)—who are all back together in the new trailer.

Spoiler alert: Virginia was shot trying to protect Desna at the end of last season. But she survived, and now she's rocking a bedazzled eye patch as the gang takes on their next venture: a casino. "We own a casino," says Desna in the trailer, as we see shots of people gambling and money thrown in the air. "If we play this right, we can all level up." As always, trouble follows, the manicures are over-the-top, and, as an extra treat, Dean is still pursuing his dream of being an adult dancer.

Claws returns for Season 3 on June 9. Check out the trailer, below.

Claws: New Season Sunday, June 9 [TRAILER] | TNT

Photos by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for WE Day, Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

He also thought Lana Del Rey telling him he would be guillotined was a compliment, so we don't think he understands women

In a new memoir called Then It Fell Apart, singer Moby alleged he had a relationship with actress Natalie Portman when he was 33 and she was 20. But, in a new interview with Harper's Bazaar, Portman set the record straight, saying that his description of their relationship is false and contains other factual errors, that makes his behavior seem even grosser than it already did.

Not only did Portman say that the two didn't date, but that he also misrepresented her age. "I was surprised to hear that he characterized the very short time that I knew him as dating because my recollection is a much older man being creepy with me when I just had graduated high school," she said. "He said I was 20; I definitely wasn't. I was a teenager. I had just turned 18."

She says that they met when she went to one of his shows: "He said, 'let's be friends'. He was on tour and I was working, shooting a film, so we only hung out a handful of times before I realized that this was an older man who was interested in me in a way that felt inappropriate."

Portman also stated that she was not contacted to fact check this information, noting that "it almost feels deliberate." "That he used this story to sell his book was very disturbing to me. It wasn't the case," she said. "There are many factual errors and inventions. I would have liked him or his publisher to reach out to fact check."

Another part of his memoir describes a conversation with Lana Del Rey, in which she joked about how wealthy he was. "You're a rich WASP from Connecticut and you live in a five-level penthouse. You're 'The Man.' As in, 'stick it to The Man.' As in the person they guillotine in the revolution." His response: "I didn't know if she was insulting me but I decided to take it as a compliment." This only further proves that Moby doesn't understand women at all, which may explain how he took a couple of hangouts with Portman to mean that they were dating.

Moby has since responded to Portman's statement in an equally creepy Instagram post with a photo of him shirtless with the actress, calling the interview a "gossip piece." "We did, in fact, date. And after briefly dating in 1999 we remained friends for years," he said. "I like Natalie, and I respect her intelligence and activism. But, to be honest, I can't figure out why she would actively misrepresent the truth about our (albeit brief) involvement. He also said that he backs up the story in his book with "lots of corroborating photo evidence, etc." He then ends with this: "I completely respect Natalie's possible regret in dating me(to be fair, I would probably regret dating me, too), but it doesn't alter the actual facts of our brief romantic history."

Among many other things that are questionable about his claims, if you have to have "corroborating evidence" to prove a relationship that one person claims didn't happen, you're doing the whole "dating" thing wrong.

Photo by Jerritt Clark / Stringer / Getty Images.

She's been wonderfully honest about the ups and downs of her procedures

There is a good chance that, right now, Cardi B is wearing really something really tight. I'm not talking about one of the pieces from her Fashion Nova collection, either. Instead, she's probably cooing at baby Kulture while swaddled in a compression garment, a necessary part of the healing process after certain cosmetic surgery procedures.

As reported by E! News, Cardi B has had to cancel several performances after her doctor ordered her to rest and allow her body to recover following cosmetic surgery. A rep for Cardi explained to E! that "Cardi was overzealous in getting back to work" and that "her strenuous schedule has taken a toll on her body and she has been given strict doctor's orders to pull out of the rest of her performances in May." This followed an admission by Cardi herself, at the Beale Street Music Festival earlier this month, that she should have canceled her performance because moving too much would mess up her lipo.

Cardi's transparency about plastic surgery is nothing new for her. She has opened up in the past about her underground butt injections, including the financial pressure she felt and the risks she took to get them. She's been open about both of her breast augmentation procedures as well, most recently getting them redone after giving birth to her daughter. But Cardi's transparency about the ups and downs of plastic surgery is still rare amongst celebrities and is therefore refreshing.

And it's not just celebrities who keep quiet about these procedures. The first person I knew to get a butt augmentation was a friend from high school. We reconnected as adults, and I remember going to her apartment after her surgery, and seeing her pace the floor in her compression garment, since it was still too soon to sit and put pressure on her backside. But even in the comfort of her own home, she seemed to speak in a hushed tone about having had the surgery. Before I'd arrived, she just told me she'd had a "medical procedure," and didn't say anything more. This has been the case for other women I've met who have gotten "work" done, including my aesthetician, a colleague who got a nose job, a darling YouTuber with whom I had the pleasure of having dinner; all of them would only acknowledge their enhancements in secret—the shame was palpable, and unfortunate. It's clear that women who get plastic surgery might be celebrated for the results, but there's an expectation that they should keep quiet about it, and feel bad for having made a choice about their own bodies.

So it's no surprise that, in the pop culture realm, people like Cardi are exceptions to the rule. Thanks to the internet, we can easily track the fullness of a celebrity's lips or backside over the course of time without them ever explicitly acknowledging the medical intervention that took place. And while people, of course, have the right to privacy, and should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies without offering explanations, it would still be nice if they opened up, if only to take away the attached stigma that affects so many people. Which is why I hope Cardi's willingness to lay it all out there becomes a trend. No one should have to harbor shame for investing in having a body that looks the way they want it to.

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Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

"In my head I thought, This is how it ends"

Kit Harington almost lost a lot more than the Iron Throne while filming the final season of Game of Thrones. According to an interview with NowThis News, the actor almost lost one of his balls while riding a mechanical dragon.

Harington revealed that the incident took place when he was filming the scene where his character, Jon Snow, takes a ride on Rhaegal for the first time in the Season 8 premiere. Since dragons aren't real (sorry), Harington was filming the scene, where Jon almost falls off the dragon and then swings around to pick himself back up, on a mechanical contraption.

"My right ball got trapped, and I didn't have time to say, 'Stop,'" Harington said in an interview. "And I was being swung around. In my head I thought, This is how it ends. On this buck, swinging me around by my testicles, literally." We see shots of the fake dragon he's riding in front of a green screen, and it does look pretty terrifying.

Luckily, his testicles remained intact through the near-disastrous event, and he's survived with quite the story to tell to unsuspecting journalists.

Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for goop

"I had to create a harder shell about being a woman"

In a panel discussion during Gwyneth Paltrow's In Goop Health summit, actress Jessica Alba revealed that she "stopped eating" to avoid unwanted attention from men when she was first starting her career in Hollywood.

According to People, Alba said that she "had a curvy figure as a young girl" and, as such, was made to feel as though her body was the reason that men may be inappropriate toward her. "I was meant to feel ashamed if I tempted men," Alba said during the panel discussion. "Then I stopped eating a lot when I became an actress. I made myself look more like a boy so I wouldn't get as much attention. I went through a big tomboy phase."

She continued, "In Hollywood, you're really preyed upon. They see a young girl, and they just want to touch you inappropriately or talk to you inappropriately or think that they're allowed to be aggressive with you in a way."

Alba also noted that she was raised in a conservative household. "My mom would say, 'You have a body, and it's very womanly, and people don't understand that you're 12,'" she said. "I wasn't allowed to have my nalgas out, which is butt cheeks [in Spanish], but I was born with a giant booty, and they come out of everything. So, I didn't get to wear normal things that all my friends wore."

She said that these reactions to her body really affected her attitude. "I created this pretty insane 'don't fuck with me' [attitude]," she said. "I had to create a harder shell about being a woman."

According to her, her relationship to her body only changed when her first child, Honor, was born in 2008. "[After she was born,] I was like, Oh this is what these boobies are meant to do! Feed a kid!" she said. "And that was the dopest shit I'd ever done. So, I came into my body as a woman finally and I stopped being ashamed of myself."