The term “cat enthusiast” tends to conjure the image of Eleanor Abernathy. Known more commonly as the Crazy Cat Lady on long-running animated sitcom The Simpsons, this woman's obsession with felines has devolved her sanity to the point where all she can do is scream gibberish and hurl her beloved tabbies at unsuspecting citizens of Springfield. Beyond serving as a punchline, Abernathy personifies the prejudice that all cat lovers are zealous misanthropes squatting in a tenement with several dozen mewing furballs.
Fortunately, when CatConLA debuted at the Reef in downtown Los Angeles this past weekend, the assemblage was void of any visible Abernathys. Instead, the two-day event attracted several thousand sane cat lovers from across Southern California eager to purchase the vanguard of kitty-centric merchandise, ranging from cat food and products to cat-themed art and literature to feline fashion for both owners and pets. Think of it as Comic-Con for cats.
“The love of an animal is unconditional. They don’t judge,” said Susan Michals, founder of CatConLA. “They offer a different kind of love and affection you can’t get anywhere else. Plus, pets heal. Just ask the team from The Doctors, they’ll be on-site too.”
Television's premier daytime medical professionals weren't the only celebrities in attendance this weekend. Mayim Bialik, the actress formerly known as Blossom, appeared on behalf of Petsmart Charities on Saturday to both promote feline adoption and to debunk the Crazy Cat Lady stereotype. On Sunday, 30 Rock alum Jack McBrayer played kitty–Johnny Carson when he conducted a Tonight Show–style interview with celebrity cat Lil Bub. McBrayer and Bub were joined by Bub's person (the term “owner” seems to be a cat-culture taboo) Michael Bridavsky, who supplied translation.
For all you civilians unaware of celebrity cats, or more probably unaware that cats could be celebrities, Lil Bub (aka Lillian Bubbles) is a feline with several genetic mutations, resulting in her unique appearance. Images of the quirky kitty garnered a sizable Tumblr following, which led to her starring in the documentary Lil Bub & Friendz, which won the Tribeca Online Festival Best Feature Film. Even in cat culture, late-night talk show interviews are rare.
“I don’t really know any other cat that’s done that or, could pull it off, quite like Bub,” said Michals.
Lil Bub may have some competition breathing down the scruff of her fuzzy neck with the advent of the new #CatWars app. Like a Hot or Not for hairball hackers, owners post pictures of their pets so that other users can rate them. Each week, the app announces the top three winners. Justifying the necessity of this nascent iTunes download, Amber, a representative of #CatWars, echoed a sentiment that would be repeated myriad times over the course of the weekend: “People really love their cats.”
This mantra was evidenced by the merchandise of Blunder Puss, a Newcastle-based clothing company that specializes in handmade garments decorated with cat-headed hipsters. Again, when asked why they chose that specific aesthetic subject matter, Andrew Wade, who founded the company with his brother Greg, merely shrugged.
“We really like cats,” he replied in his charming British clip.
Not surprisingly, felines were the focus for several visual artists in attendance. Jenny Parks specializes in reimagining iconic sci-fi figures, such as Wonder Woman and Boba Fett, as anthropomorphic cats. Fittingly, Parks was hired by Marvel Comics to create covers for its series of animal variant publications. On the darker side of the spectrums sits Universal Error, with works by artist William Schulz featuring images of cats clawing their way out of human uteruses. While admittedly disturbing, it did create a welcome respite from the convention's innate, saccharine cuteness.
The concept of CatConLA can be traced to 2014 when Michals created Cat Art Show L.A., an exhibit featuring an international lineup of artists examining their relationships with felines. The success of the event inspired Michals to dream bigger.
“Nearly 5,000 people showed up to see works by some of the biggest artists in the world, including Shepard Fairey, Tracey Emin and Ray Caesar,” she said. “I was introduced to a lot of groovy people there, cat fans of course, who were really into chic and hip cat fashion, furnishings and art. It took a lot of research and hiring a lot of people to work with me to pull off CatCon in 2015, but it will be the first of many.”
While CatConLA was as well attended, the crowd was almost disappointingly tame. The most notable eccentricity was a pair of women cosplaying as feline femme fatales. In fact, one of these female's outfits was a spot-on replica of Julie Newmar–era Catwoman. I guess a sexy Cat Lady is better than no Cat Lady at all.
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