Since I opened this version of my “store,” I decided to reconstitute it with some anonymity: a picture of our dog. He appears elsewhere in these screens. My name does not. Guess my name and bring your lawyer with you. Ha. Ha.
Well, I decided to replace the dog-avatar. In its place is a rather grotesque comic strip cat.
Yes, that really is a cat. The name of the illustration is “The Pang.” It’s part of a short comic strip from 1881 that appeared in Harper’s Weekly. The strip is called Our Cat Eats Rat Poison. The artist was named A. B. Frost. He was born in 1851 and died in 1928. You could once see a significant sampling of his work on a French website called Coconino World. However it’s since been taken down. No explanation. So I’ve dropped the hyperlink.
The “comic” was called “The Pang” because the unfortunate kitty has just felt his first pain from ingesting rat poison. A few panels later, after tearing around the house in agonized panic, he dies. It’s nasty. So is what some of you will focus on to the exclusion of all else, the timebound depiction of black characters in the strip as mammy singers with minstrel show lips. Remember that we have been transported back to 1881 and that even Harper’s Weekly was part of its own time. Try also to remember that you could build a cartoon around the death of an animal back then because in 1881 most people were accustomed to having at least one of their children die, and surely they grieved those kids as much as we do now. So what is a cat after your kid has died?
Think of A. B. Frost as an earlier-day Art Spiegelman.
The dog on the opening screen of the Frost pages is named Carlo. He’s a mangy doofus of a mutt who keeps getting into trouble with the gardener who embodies a(nother offensive cliche) “stage Irishman” named Patrick, and with Maria the cat, who rips him a new nostril for getting near her kittens. Patrick is a strange one: in an age when it was probably common to abuse your animals (“they don’t feel pain the way we do”), sure enough he whups Carlo…but at the end of the second section (not reprinted online), Carlo wins over Patrick because of a couple of creeps who come around and endanger the house and are out to truly hurt the dog.
In other words, a relationship has developed where it was least expected and you could almost say that Patrick has fallen in love with the dog in his charge as much as Carlo has shown Patrick a dog’s infinite affection and forgiveness. If it sounds familiar, it should. Some kinds of love, especially the unconditional kind from animals, never changes. Look at Patrick and Carlo in this last panel…I think I know love when I see it, and Frost’s genius was he knew how to represent it.