Jason Edward Davis, "Camping Incident"
"It's like Comic Con, but for cat people," writer and CatConLA organizer Susan Michals explained to The Huffington Post. Not that the phrase "CatCon" isn't comprehensible enough -- both cats and conventions are staple elements of nerd culture in the United States and beyond.
CatConLA is a special combination of the two fandoms, though, taking place over two days this weekend at the Reef in Los Angeles, California. It began last year, boasting not only cat adoptions, but cat-inspired poetry and lectures. "CatConLA is all about debunking the cat-lady myth," Michals continued, "that just because one digs cats doesn't make you a Grey Gardens-Miss Havisham type."
The part expo, part symposium, as the website points out, will celebrate everything from pop culture to art and design, with a heavy dose of feline-centric merchandise sprinkled in. (Think T-shirts with "Simon's Cat" and mugs emblazoned with the iconic lazy tongue of Lil BUB.) But beyond the kitty "experts" scheduled to speak, Internet personalities ready for 15 more minutes of fame, and the general enthusiasts eager to catch a glimpse of the Cheezburger CEO, Michals and the other organizers behind CatCon have managed to recruit an impressive roster of artists supplying fans with exactly what they want -- more funny cat pictures, memed before they ever encounter a URL.
In anticipation of the blessed event, Michals -- who's previously curated a hilarious exhibition of cat art -- put us in touch with a few of the exhibiting artists, illustrators and painters who couldn't resist a cat-themed prompt. Martin Hsu, Jason Edward Davis, Rob Reger, Laura Keenados and Rachel K. Schlueter helped us to understand the ins and outs of a kitteh obsession that just won't quit.
Why take part in CatCon, besides the obvious: that you personally like cats?
"Hey, no one ever said anything about liking cats. I think, for the most part, we live in fear of them. Some of us just like to live a little closer to the edge. It’s kind of like Internet dating. You do everything you can to impress them and there’s still a 50-50 chance that you will have an amazing time or you spend the rest of your night drinking wine and trying to figure out how far back in the fridge is your self-esteem.
"I don’t want to outright say I’m a hero for painting cats. I mean, maybe I’m really brave or just really foolish, but by god, someone has to stand up to those cute, adorable, complex monsters. I’m partaking in CatCon to warn others through my paintings, share survival tactics, exchange great wine and ice cream flavor combinations, spend all of the money I make on other cat products, and maybe, just maybe, add a few people to my In Case of Emergency contact list." -Jason Edward Davis
"CatCon is the place and oportunity for the expansion of cat awareness on a myriad of levels! We obviously need to ratchet this thing up." -Rachel K. Schlueter
Rachel K. Schlueter
"My booth partner [Rachel K.] Schlueter participated in the wildly successful Cat Art Show LA last year, and inspired by that event, we created our own NorCal version called HumCats, which was also very successful, benefiting Humboldt Spay Neuter Network, a local NPO that supports TNR (trap-neuter-return) colonies and offers low-cost spay and neuter services in Humboldt County. We were ecstatic and immediately interested in vending at CatConLA when we heard Susan Michals was planning another cat-themed event." -Laura Keenados
"Personally, I'm looking forward to meeting and taking lots of selfies with cat gents and ladies from all generations." -Martin Hsu
Jason Edward Davis, "Pink Kitty Screams for Horror Movies and Cheese"
Why do you think the Internet has wholeheartedly accepted the cat as its spirit animal?
"Maybe the mysterious cat is the fifth element, i.e. Earth, Wind, Fire, Water, Cat." -Schlueter
"I personally have never bought into the notion that single individuals with cats are less than normal (any more than dog or other pet owners are). That said, I think that the [reason the] Internet is filled with cats is similar to why 'America's Funniest Home Videos' loved cats so much -- they make you smile, laugh out loud, and ease the pains of life's daily trials. Cat videos are filled with cute and crazy, and always make us smile. Cats are also so easy to personify, given their range of looks and 'emotions' (at least, what seem to be emotions) which makes memes so fun." -Rob Reger
"We all know that the Internet is made of cats (and tubes). I feel this may be because cats are so approachable as an aesthetic. They are just as diverse as humans, with grumpies, sweeties, ferals, ignorers, admirers, lazies, fat, sleek -- the list goes on. They worm their way into even the most crusty, [the] most lofty and heartless people.
"The love that one feels for their CLP (Cat Life Partner) is so intense I feel like single individuals with cats as roommates, friends, and life partners are the ones who are really living the dream." -Keenados
"If you really think about it, the cat is like the Internet. We're bound by an invisible bandwidth that's moody and elusive, but sometimes offers much-needed entertainment and comfort when least expected. Let's face it: cloud sharing feels cozier when you've got a kitty napping on your head." -Hsu
"The Internet is made up of 60 percent cat videos, 20 percent shirtless pictures of me (sorry, mom), and the rest consists of YouTube video comments and Netflix Original series. In this world of connected isolation, something has got to give me and Claire Underwood the strength to go on. Something besides whiskey, that is. And towering above our digital screens are these beautiful celebrity cats, often odd, always unique. We praise them for their differences and identify with their indifference towards society.
"I’m pretty sure Lil BUB actually runs the prison in 'Orange Is the New Black.' Cats do what they want, I do what my cat wants. It’s a give-give situation." -Davis
How do you feel about the contemporary fascination with cats overall?
"Well, according to 'Radiolab,' Toxoplasma Gondii has played a microscopic role in total human domination for cats ... I can tell you the contemporary cat craze isn't just driven by fascination, but a primal search for kindred spirits. In a world where real human interactions are becoming a rarity, perhaps we reflect much of ourselves in the cat, as self-reliant creatures seeking good company." -Hsu
"I perceive the cat as a perfect reflection of the principals of yin and yang. Cats possess an inner calm most of us admire. And from that place, all actions become effortless and beautiful. What’s not to love?" -Schlueter
"People love to have something to obsess over, and with the digital age making media so accessible and immediate for folks, I feel like the fascination was bound to happen. Dogs are so predictable, but cats ... you never know what to expect from them. Cats are more than an accessory. They're editorial by nature, always having a view and an opinion, and they aren't afraid to show it. I feel like that's an admirable trait, and humans have come to rely on the comfort of that special bond that happens between a cat and a human that is different from other animals." -Keenados
"Cats are pretty low-maintenance compared to many other animals as pets, yet you get so much love and enjoyment from them. [Most] are less needy than dogs are, and are happy to be left alone for at least part of the day ... My comic book character, Emily the Strange, prefers cats over humans as her best friends. Perhaps others also realize that cats can keep you company, and be around for you in your times of need, but come with a lot less baggage than most humans do." -Reger
The Little Friends of Printmaking
"Cats have been the cornerstone of social media since the dawn of visual communication. Society has been constantly asking our collective minds one question: how do you make a cat do something that isn’t their idea? CatCon could be the next stepping stone in this pursuit for [having] greater intelligence than a cat.
"Also, though, I think people would go to CatCon for the same reason they would go to a certain dinosaur-themed park -- for the off chance of seeing a stranger getting eaten by a really cute creature." -Davis