Cincinnati Native Ben Dudley’s Graphic Novel 'The Day the Cat Got Shot' Weaves Together Tales of Madness

The book features the work of more than 20 artists based everywhere from the Queen City to Italy to Quebec to Venezuela.

click to enlarge Ben Dudley's The Day the Cat Got Shot features work by 20 artists from around the globe. - PHOTO: PANEL BY RYAN HOLGERSEN; PROVIDED BY BEN DUDLEY
Photo: panel by Ryan Holgersen; provided by Ben Dudley
Ben Dudley's The Day the Cat Got Shot features work by 20 artists from around the globe.

Cincinnati native Ben Dudley spent nine years working on his new graphic novel, The Day the Cat Got Shot. The book braids together the work of more than 20 artists based everywhere from the Queen City to Italy to Quebec to Venezuela and more.

Described on its Instagram account (@ thedaythecat) as an absurd spy thriller, the book was released in April and is gritty but features over-the-top dialogue and snarky humor. That’s intentional. Dudley
tells CityBeat that he wanted to parody the 1980s action movies he grew up with, like Rambo and Predator. The book has plenty of genre hallmarks: a vague South American setting, henchmen, two-dimensional villains and a troubled protagonist.

Dudley also was inspired by the Coen Brothers’ 2008 film Burn After Reading. Like the movie, The Day the Cat Got Shot weaves together a wide cast of characters whose disparate antics eventually con- verge into one cohesive story.

Burn After Reading was an inspiration in terms of, I like absurd situations and looking at them in a logical way,” Dudley tells CityBeat. “Like, what is going on?”

This line of thinking is a recurring theme in Dudley’s body of work. For example, one of Dudley’s plays, Boo Boo, which premiered at the 2016 Cincy Fringe Festival, follows a 30-year-old who lives his life as a toddler. Dudley describes the screenplay as silly with a sad, poignant end.

With more than 20 artists featured in The Day the Cat Got Shot, the finished product that can, at times, feel jarring. Artists change every few pages, and some take over more sections than others. Styles range from photorealistic to heavy graphic lines and childlike illustrations. How did Dudley manage walking each artist, many of whom live across the globe, through his vision? The short answer: emails––around 10,000, to be exact.

To prepare, Dudley compiled virtual folders for the artists, complete with his own sketches, written dialogue and action directions plus reference pictures of actors, buildings, clothes and locations that could be used for inspiration. He also sent them illustrations from other participating artists to ensure that each character was recognizable from scene to scene. Artists sent preliminary drawings for Dudley’s feedback, and the editing process would continue until each comic panel was completed. Dudley then would add the lettering.

“I think the different styles really did complement the different stories,” Dudley says. “(The process) was mainly about always having open communication with the artists and a lot of back and forth with them having their own ideas. For me, I made sure those ideas meshed with mine and the overall story.”

The beginning of each section includes arrows with characters’ names to help readers keep track of who’s who between stylistic shifts. Artists also are credited at the start of each chapter by page number along with brief biographies in the back.

The graphic novel has its bizarre moments but often seeks to make a larger existential point about life’s purpose and humans’ interactions with one another. One character, Eli, is directionless, letting life move through him and seeking others to lead him to his next destination rather than taking charge of his own life. There’s also the cat, Joan, which Dudley says looks like his own feline friend at home. Joan is a constant but nonchalant observer appearing throughout the novel’s 202 black-and-white pages.

The cat, Dudley explains, ultimately represents the perspective that the book’s events are, in the end, all very absurd. Like in Burn After Reading, Dudley’s ultimate conclusion is, well, not much of anything. The Day the Cat Got Shot serves up a nihilistic platter of screwball proportions.

“Everybody is scrambling thinking that they are heroes, and that they are the protagonist, and that they are doing important stuff,” Dudley says. “The cat is wandering around seeing bits of that, say- ing, ‘Ah, I’m bored.’ It’s just completely independent.”

A true multi-hyphenate, Dudley has worked as a teacher, writer, editor, stand- up comic and actor since earning his master’s in creative writing in 2012 at the University of Cincinnati. In 2013, he even had a brush with internet fame: A meowing cat named Pouncy “booped” him on the forehead. Captured in a 11-second clip titled “Interspecies Bonding,” Buzzfeed named it one of the 30 most important cat videos of 2013.

Though Dudley has written and produced over a dozen plays, The Day the Cat Got Shot marks his first graphic novel.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a cartoonist. I’ve always wanted to be able to draw, and I’ve never been very good at it, unfortunately,” Dudley says. “There’s one page in the comic that I drew and it’s supposed to be bad, so that worked out well. I always had a lot of respect, admi- ration and jealousy for artists. The ability to see something and recreate it in your own style is really cool to me. I was pretty much always bowled over by what I saw when they sent me their pages.”

Dudley’s planning process dates back to 2013 when he began recruiting artists to work on the project. The same year, he posted an Indiegogo campaign that raised more than $2,000 from 34 backers. By 2018, the graphic novel was nearly complete, Dudley says.

“I’m a proofreader and editor by trade, so I would go through it with a fine-tooth comb and find any little thing I wanted to change,” Dudley says, later adding that the timeframe allowed him to update jokes and language and to think more critically. “I was tinkering with it from 2017 to 2019 or so.”

Now that his work is complete, there are still some elements Dudley wishes he could go back and change. Though he sent finished sections out to publishers, he heard that the market for graphic novels is small.

“When I was fully done around 2020, a niche market got even nicher,” Dudley says. “That’s when I looked into self-pub- lication. When I went to grad school for creative writing, there was a stigma about jumping publication (skipping traditional publication). I still had that with me, but I found out it was more common with graphic novels, and I really wanted to get the book out.”

Currently, the graphic novel is available at thedaythecat.com, but Dudley is looking toward getting his book into indie stores and at local comic cons.

“It was a huge relief to hold (the book) and be like, ‘Okay, my to-do list can have other stuff on it now instead of constantly adding a couple of things to the comic at any given point,’” Dudley says.

To purchase or learn more about Ben Dudley’s The Day the Cat Got Shot, visit thedaythecat.com.

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