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When I received a review copy of Penny: A Graphic Memoir, a wonderful book about a tortie with a colorful imagination (review to follow on Friday,) I just had to learn more about the real Penny. Her human, Karl Stevens, is a graphic novelist and painter whose comics have appeared regularly in the New Yorker, Village Voice (where Penny initially premiered as a series), and Boston Phoenix, was kind enough to answer a few question for me.
Tell us about Penny. How did she come to live with you?
Penny is a healthy and hearty seven years old. My wife Alex and I have had her since she was three months. Our friends Bill and Chris had taken it upon themselves to rescue and feed the strays that were living in the back of their apartment in Brooklyn. One day they noticed a litter of kittens had infiltrated, and they brought them in. Got them their shots, spayed and neutered, and gave them away to various friends. Thus, we got Penny and her shy, tabby sister Pepper.
What is her personality? Does she have the infamous tortitude?
Oh does she have tortitude! If she’s sitting with us on the couch, she will not move until she’s damn well ready. Same goes for the bed at night. If she decides she’s going to sleep on the bed, you’d better find a way to sleep around her. She ain’t going nowhere. That said, she loves chin scratches and being brushed, and is very affectionate to both of us.
Who had the idea for the book? Was it you, or was it Penny?
It was Penny. Back in the summer of ’16 I had the opportunity to pitch a weekly comic strip idea to the late great Village Voice. I was racking my brain for ideas, and one night I was talking about it with Alex, and Penny jumped up on the couch. She just stared at us to say “Duh, all the content you need is right here, dude”. So I quickly got out my sketch pad and started following her around and transcribing what she said. Unfortunately the strip only ran for 20 installments, and I went on to other projects, but Penny kept me interested, so eventually I tracked down an agent, the wonderful Meg Thompson at Thompson Literary, to look for book publishers. We approached Chronicle because of their history of producing top notch books about cats. The editors (Rebecca Hunt and Olivia Roberts) loved Penny, and the rest is history.
I’m in absolute awe of your drawings. Penny’s facial expressions in every single panel are incredible. How long does it take to draw a panel?
Thank you! I can spend anywhere from two to four hours on each fully watercolor-ed Penny panel. The pages overall take me between 10 and 15 hours to complete. Very labor intensive, but when you have an interesting model, it’s fun. I truly enjoy drawing the patterns on Penny’s fur. All the lights and darks, there are a lot of rich values going on there.
Does Penny assist you with your drawings?
Sometimes she’ll get on my case about making her eyes too far apart, or she’ll find some perspective issue that I’ve overlooked. That’s her main thing, that I keep the drawings as true to life as possible. She believes it gives them more weight and adds nuance to the fantasy. Hey, she’s right!
How will Penny handle her celebrity status?
She’s got a pretty firm head on her shoulders, and she hasn’t forgotten where she comes from. She knows that she’s a goddess and inspiration to most, and understands the responsibility of that position. We are lucky to have her.
Penny: A Graphic Memoir is available from Amazon. Look for my full review on Friday!
*The Conscious Cat is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. This means that if you decide to purchase through any of our links, we get a small commission. We only spread the word about products and services we’ve either used or would use ourselves. I received this book from the publisher. Receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review.
Interior images from the book used with the artist’s permission