Four reasons we’re excited about Margaret Atwood’s comics debut ‘Angel Catbird’

Four reasons we’re excited about Margaret Atwood’s comics debut 'Angel Catbird'
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Is there any medium in which Margaret Atwood can’t write? After over forty years of writing highly acclaimed novels, short fiction, poetry, children’s fiction, and nonfiction, the 76-year-old Canadian author is about to make her debut as a writer of comics.

Atwood will write a three-part series of graphic novels entitled Angel Catbird, illustrated by artist Johnnie Christmas. The first of these novels will be published in autumn of 2016, and will feature a superhero who is part-human, part-cat, and part-owl.

A statement from the publishers, Dark Horse Comics, quotes Atwood as saying, “I have concocted a superhero who is part cat, part bird. Due to some spilled genetic Super-Splicer, our hero got tangled up with both a cat and an owl; hence his fur and feathers, and his identity problems.” Here are four reasons we’re excited about Angel Catbird:

Atwood will continue to explore her preoccupation with genetic engineering
Catbird is certainly not the first time Atwood is working with the idea of gene-splicing. One of the central preoccupations of Oryx and Crake, the first and perhaps greatest novel in the MaddAddam trilogy, is genetic engineering.  This is a specific example of the way a lot of Atwood’s fiction extrapolates present-day scientific and social practices into a future where go horribly wrong.

In this novel, which is set in a near-future world completely dominated by corporations, scientists create hybrid animal species such as rakunks, pigoons, and wolvogs. The character Crake, who becomes a renowned bioengineer, creates genetically-spliced Crakers, his vision for a new and better kind of human civilisation. It’s going to be interesting to see how Atwood deals with gene-splicing as a superhero origin story.

Atwood will advocate for animal rights
Atwood is a noted environmentalist, and regularly speaks up about issues such as climate change and animal rights. For this project, Atwood is collaborating with Nature Canada, the country’s oldest nature conservation organisation, for an animal rights campaign called ‘Keep Cats Safe and Save Bird Lives’. A lot of her poetry, and novels such as The Year of the Flood are concerned with the same issues.

The initiative will, according to Nature Canada’s website, “celebrate the contributions cats and birds make to our lives, our environment, and our communities, and invite Canadians to consider what they can do to make Canada a safer place for both cats and birds.” While she actively supports this campaign, it’ll be fascinating to see how she’ll bring this out in her treatment of Catbird as a superhero.

Atwood will, most likely, be very funny
We have every reason to believe that these books are going to be less serious than Atwood’s often bleak, too-close-to-home dystopias. It’s not that Atwood hasn’t been funny in her novels before, but the humour in Catbird will likely be quite different from the dark humour of her latest novel, The Heart Goes Last, which is set in times of economic collapse and within a panoptical community.

“Angel Catbird is a humorous, action-driven, pulp-inspired story. And the only other thing I can tell you at this early date is to expect a lot of cat puns,” says acquiring editor Daniel Chabon. We can certainly expect to see Atwood having a lot of fun with this material.

Atwood will join other prose writers crossing mediums
Atwood has been criticised for disavowing the science fiction genre, preferring to call her non-realist writing ‘speculative fiction.’  While the debate continues, there is no doubt that her work blurs the boundaries between genres.

Her foray into comic books is another kind of crossing, this time into another medium. If someone is still having that tired old debate about comics being less “serious” or “important” than prose, despite years of work by comics writers and artists, then this crossing by a hugely respected prose writer is significant.

Atwood is not the only one: she joins writers such as Stephen King, China Miéville, and most recently, Ta-Nehisi Coates, in this matter. Nor is this Atwood’s first foray into the form, though it isthe first full-length venture. She has contributed to The Secret Loves of Geek Girls, a romance anthology, which is also going to be published by Dark Horse, and features cartoons drawn by Atwood.