Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Pudgy Cat in Space

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Pudgy Cat in Space

Nathaniel G. Moore’s Conflict of Interest column appears biweekly.

One can argue whether or not cats have actual imaginations. One can also argue and continue the infinite debate on which is better: cats or dogs. For me, personally, I had to like cats as we never had a dog growing up. Sadie was a grumpy tabby cat, and she often looked terribly bored in our household. When I was eight or nine, I used to make her co-pilot my imaginary spaceship which I built in my basement out of wood and pieces of plumbing. I even made a space helmet for her out of an empty margarine container. I cut one of the sides of the container out so she could properly see the controls, and it fit gently over her ears. This went on for months, and we flew many missions together, but usually I would have to take the helmet off her or she would not stay in the cockpit. She was not terribly into this game.

Brand new this fall, and not entirely unrelated to my own feline space dramas, comes Ashley Spires's Binky the Space Cat (Kids Can Press) who is a house cat with large (outer)spacial dreams.

There's something futuristic or cosmic about the cat's name. Binky. Binky has a mission: "to blast off into outer space (outside), explore unknown places (the backyard) and battle aliens (bugs)." The book details Binky's intensive training for this mission, training he feels necessary in defending the alien attacks that threaten his human family. The book also chronicles the secret building of his spaceship from blueprints.

Soon Binky is ready to voyage into outer space — commonly known as the backyard. But just as he's about to blast off with his co-pilot, Ted (stuffed mousie), Binky realizes that he's left something very important behind. Just what has he left behind … well, I don't want to spoil it for you. This is not the last time you'll read about the adventures of Binky the Space Cat, as it’s the first book in a planned Binky Adventure series.

Speaking with author/illustrator Ashley Spires about Binky gave me an appreciation of the diligent process of creating a graphic novel, especially one for children. It seems these books usually come from warm memories or special circumstances, and Binky’s origins are no exception. Binky's journey into space grew from a painting the artist did for her nephew a few Christmases ago. "It was a futuristic piece with Ethan, my nephew, space-surfing above some robots. I put Ethan's cat in the picture with a space helmet on and an idea was born."

Spires says making a graphic novel was a unique experience. "For one thing it is twice the size of a typical picture book so it's a whole lot of drawing and painting!"

Heavy revisions followed the first draft and patience from the design team at Kids Can Press was also a decided advantage and luxury. "Doing a comic was such a different method of storytelling from the traditional picture book. It was really fun to have the space to let my character's actions and the text work with each other to set up the humour of the story."

Spires has her BFA in photography from Emily Carr Institute where she took some bookmaking classes which led to illustration. "A few years later I mustered the courage to move across the country for a while so I could complete a graduate diploma in illustration at Sheridan."

When asked about the choice in species for her hero, Spires declares Binky was always a cat. But dog lovers shouldn't worry though, Spires has plans for Binky to obtain a dog companion somewhere down the road. "Binky is based on my sister's cat that she rescued from a shelter. He had a rough life before she came along and he is actually deaf, blind, has few teeth and respiratory problems. The concept of this loving, clumsy little kitty being a fly by night hero made it all the more hilarious for me."

Spires is at work on the next adventure right now: "This time Binky has to find a way to get to outer space to save a close friend of his. It's a very action packed sequel, Bruce Willis would be proud."

Fans of the series should be pleased to know there are many adventures still to come for the clunky hero. "Don't worry,” says Spires. “Binky is going to be a busy guy."

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