Monday, June 07, 2004

Remembering Kate.

It seemed appropriate to post this today. I wrote it eleven years ago, the introduction to a collected edition of a comic called Omaha the Cat Dancer.


OMAHA Introduction.

I don't like soap operas, I often have a blind spot when it comes to funny animal comics, and I'm continually disappointed by pornography, which is why it is perhaps surprising how much I like Omaha the Cat Dancer.

And I do like it, very much. It's consistently one of the best comics being published today. Reed Waller has been consistently improving his craft as an artist since it began. Kate Worley's dialogue is economical, well-observed and effective. I care about their people, and am absorbed by their story.

And the sex stuff is pretty good, too.

I first met Reed and Kate some years ago, at a signing I was doing in Minneapolis. (That was before I knew Minneapolis well, and before I knew how accurate a city portrait their 'Mipple City' was.)

I ran into them again at the 1990 San Diego Comic Convention after that, several times, and got to know them better, and to be able to tell them apart: Reed is the small quiet one with the facial hair, Kate is the tall redhead. At one San Diego party, for reasons too complicated to explain here, I wound up exchanging tee shirts with Kate in order to get my leather jacket back (there may be a moral there, which probably has something to do with people stupid enough to wear heavy leather jackets in the San Diego heat, but I have no idea what it is), a story that seems to travel the world and which mutates into something stranger each time I hear it; and you'll not get the truth of it from me.

After that Reed and Kate and I would chat on the phone from time to time -- and with increased frequency during the time of Reed's illness, which occurred during, and delayed, the production of the stories in this comic.

In brief: Reed was very ill, and had no medical insurance. Kitchen Sink published a benefit book, called Images of Omaha, to raise money for his medical and living expenses. Many of the brightest talents in comics donated their time and energy to the project, drawing pin-ups and short comics for the book: so many of them, and with such enthusiasm, that the benefit comic wound up running to two issues, which demonstrated that Reed, and Kate, and Omaha were better loved and respected than perhaps even they knew.

I wrote an afterword for the first of the benefit books -- it was an honour to be able to contribute, and in such sterling company. Reed got operated on and got well, and Omaha The Cat Dancer came out once more.

Reed Waller continues to be a quiet craftsman -- although he talks a little more once you get to know him, always interestingly and always to the point. Kate Worley continues to be a tall redhead.

Linda Williams, in her remarkable book of film criticism Hardcore, pointed out the similarities between pornography and musicals as genres, that just as in a standard Broadway-type musical the story exists to keep the songs from all happening at once, to showcase the different types of song, in pornography the plot exists only to keep the sexual acts apart. They're what you've come to see (the songs, or the sex), what you'd feel cheated if you didn't get. It applies to other genres too, in any medium.

Before writing this introduction, I had the pleasure of sitting and reading the Omaha story to date in one long afternoon. I'd never done that before -- I'd read a comic here and there, as they came out (with occasional interruptions from the British department of Customs and Excise). And one thing became very apparent: in Omaha, the sex, like the conversation, like the people, exists to forward the story.

I began this introduction by listing certain prejudices. But it's still not surprising I like Omaha. (And not just because it could be used as a manual in the craft of creating comics in serial form -- aspiring creators take note.)

Omaha The Cat Dancer is a soap opera, but it's drama, not melodrama; it is a funny animal comic, but the funny animals are real people; and it's neither erotica nor pornography -- simply a story in which the virtual cameras continue to roll while people take their clothes off and make love (just as they do in the world you and I inhabit) -- delineated with an unblinking charm which has the odd effect (for me, at least) of making one wonder where all the sex has gone in the other fictions one reads or hears or sees...

Neil Gaiman.

August 1993