fantasy and science fiction book reviewsI Was The Cat by Paul Tobin (author) and Benjamin Dewey (art)

I WAS THE CATI’ve just found a great book for cat lovers: I Was The Cat by Paul Tobin tells the story of Burma, a cat who seems to be on his ninth life and is finally ready to have his memoirs presented to the world. In order to do so, he contacts Allison Breaking to act as a ghost writer for his biography. Allison is an American in London staying with her female friend Reggie, who is very wary of Allison’s new job working for Burma. And who wouldn’t be? Allison is contacted by a strange “man” who says he wants to pay her a very hefty salary to work for him. Burma doesn’t tell Allison he is a cat, but he does warn her that she may be alarmed by his appearance. Reggie tries to prevent Allison from even going to the job, but she is too curious. Imagine her surprise when the butler at Burma’s giant mansion ushers her in, and she comes face-to-face with a talking cat. Paul Tobin has come up with a great set-up for a story, but what makes this comic book an excellent one is that all is not as it seems with Burma, and Allison and Reggie are told only a portion of the truth.

Burma picks Allison because she has a blog called “Breaking News,” a play on her last name, and he feels that her writing the book will allow him exposure via the internet as well as print technology. Burma prides himself on keeping up with the latest technologies, which is quite impressive since his nine lives stretch back to 1180 BCE in Egypt. I was the cat 2He tells Allison of his lives, bragging of his superior intelligence and ability to manipulate human beings. Much of the story is interesting because Paul Tobin makes Burma’s story one that shows he was often at or behind key historical and cultural moments: Burma claims to have helped develop certain Egyptian mythology, as well as played a part in the trenches of WWI and later acted as a cold war mastermind constantly frustrated by a British spy who eventually became the model for the literary and cinematic character James Bond! Burma also tells them he was with Napoleon, but that the stupid man failed to listen to him at crucial moments.

There are many other examples of major cultural and historical figures from Audrey Hepburn to various presidents, but Allison and Reggie begin to notice a repeated motif: Burma, in every one of his lives, tries to take over the world by manipulating people to do his bidding. After hearing Burma tell of the third or fourth failed attempt to take over the world, Allison, stunned, says to him, “Wow. Seriously . . . don’t take this the wrong way, but . . . . bad kitty.” She seems to be joking, for the most part. But Reggie and Allison finally start to get suspicious. If Burma’s tried to conquer the world in every previous life, well then perhaps . . . . Uncomfortable with Burma’s stories, Reggie confesses to Allison: “I’m not grounded here. When blokes try to pick me up at bars, I always know when they’re bullshitting. But I don’t have a built-in lie detector for talking cats.” The only problem is that the two young women do not have any evidence of current wrong-doing, and Burma keeps suggesting he is too old for such grand schemes and manipulations.

I was the cat 1The final point I want to make about I Was The Cat is what makes the book narratively sophisticated. Paul Tobin creates a layered point-of-view that allows artist Benjamin Dewey to get very creative: Allison and Reggie are hearing what Burma tells them, and the artwork jumps back and forth between the events being described in the past and the present in which Burma is telling stories to Allison and Reggie, sometimes in his house and at other times in various locations in London. But there’s another audience: The readers of the comic. We get information that Allison and Reggie are not privy to. And that information is of Burma’s activities in the present. Those are actually the most interesting parts of the book, much more than Burma’s stories of the past even. Allison and Reggie want to know what story Burma will tell them next about his past. WE, however, want to know what Burma’s up to in the present. Why does he own a London hospital? What is “9th World Enterprises,” and how does it relate to the food industry? Who are these people running missions for Burma? Are they good or bad? How dangerous is Burma? These are the questions you’ll want answered, and the desire to get those answers will keep you turning the pages. And truth be known, I am NOT a cat lover, and Burma’s story just reveals much of what I always suspected about cats. So, I can honestly say, I Was The Cat is for cat conspiracy theorists, too. In other words, no matter what you think of cats, you’ll enjoy Paul Tobin’s I Was The Cat.


  • Brad Hawley

    BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

    View all posts