Simon's Cat, Created And Illustrated By Simon Tofield
A Literary Review

South Africaby Mandy J Watson
Posted: 15 December 2009
In: Books > Reviews Comments View Comments

In a relatively short time Simon's Cat has become a much-loved online animated series of shorts but this is not the first time that an Internet meme has tried to cross the divide. Is it possible for a digital sensation to be reinvented successfully in a different medium. Does Simon's Cat translate in book form?

Simon's Cat, Created And Illustrated By Simon TofieldSimon's Cat debuted on the Web as an animated short that immediately gathered a cult following due to the humorous, sometimes anthropomorphised, portrayal of a cat's interaction with his human and his surroundings. A few more shorts followed over the course of about 18 months and then the book Simon's Cat was recently published, just in time for Christmas 2009.

While beautifully presented and certainly not lacking content the book is, unfortunately, a disappointment. Much of the humour of the shorts is derived from the excellent animation and the fact that, due to animator Simon Tofield's skill, the cat's mannerisms and peculiarities are so accurately portrayed (though also heightened for humorous effect) that cat owners are immediately able to identify with the behaviours. This doesn't translate via the static images found in the book and, additionally, the attempts at humour in the illustrations are quite uninspired and rather banal.

This is unfortunate as the illustrations, themselves, are beautiful and infused with character but it's not enough to make up for the weak humour. A lot of jokes are also repeated. Simon's cat "disguises" himself in a ridiculously schtick attempt at camouflage in order to try and blend in with a large group of mice. Or a large group of birds. Simon's cat sticks things to the quills on a porcupine's back (over and over and over). Simon's cat uses a prop and strikes a pose similar to an inanimate object that is familiar and unthreatening to birds, such as a bird feeder, a bird house, a different style of bird house, another different style of bird house, another bird feeder, ..., in order to entice the birds into his mouth. Had this book not been based on a familiar entity, with its back story and built-in fan base, I doubt that it would have been particularly well received. One joke made me laugh out loud. Two made me smile. The rest elicited no emotion from me bar indifference (and occasionally despair), though I did appreciate the art - the "night-time" sketches, in which the dominant colour is a grey background haze and white (no ink) is used as highlights and light sources, are particularly beautiful.

As for the structure of the book, here, again, it fails. For starters, there are no page numbers (so it's very hard to say "have a look at the image on 'page' ...something...", for example). Some multi-panel (or, technically "panel", as none of them are framed) cartoons are all laid out on one page; others drift across two, or three; and one, if I followed it correctly, drifted across a few pages with unrelated content sitting in between. Therefore it becomes hard to know if and when you've hit the punchline, especially if you haven't been finding much of it funny to begin with. The illustrations also vary in size, by design of the book, not due to the illustrator's work, and some images - jarringly - have thicker lines as they have been blown up after the originals had presumably all been drawn to about the same scale. You can even see a mistake on "page" 101, in that Simon's thumb in the image seems to have been erased or manipulated (or the pen ran out?) and redrawn, possibly with a different pen.

The anthropomorphism also occurs in a lot of the illustrations, usually as some sort of punchline, but, where a little bit of suspension of disbelief can work for the animated versions, in the static images it just seems contrived and out of place. In various situations the cat holds a spray bottle, uses a drinking straw, opens a tap, uses a magnifying glass, wields a baseball bat, uses binoculars, tries to open a tin can with a fork, and operates a blowtorch (complete with tank and mask). I found myself feeling increasingly frustrated by this as I felt that the core of what makes Simon's Cat work so well is the "catness", for lack of a better word (unless you'd prefer "felinity"), of the cat. That's what we all identify with and enjoy seeing reflected in Simon Tofield's portrayals.

If you are willing to approach this book as being the beautifully bound and presented contents of an animator's sketchbook, rather than being an attempt at a humour publication, you are likely to find infinitely more value in the final product (and the lack of page numbers certainly contributes to this feeling). Nevertheless, this book really is, unfortunately, for die-hard fans only.

The review copy of Simon's Cat, created and illustrated by Simon Tofield, was provided by Penguin Books (South Africa). It is available from leading book stores and online retailers, including,,, and OpinionShare/Bookmark
Rating: 4/10

Key Facts (Review Copy)
Title: Simon's Cat
Illustrator: Simon Tofield
ISBN/EAN: 9781847674814
Please note that the paperback version's ISBN is 9780446560061 and it is published by Grand Central Publishing.
Publisher: Canongate
Edition: First
Year: 2009 (1 October 2009)
Format: Hardcover with dust jacket, black and white illustrations
Pages: 240
Dimensions: 217x172x23mm (WxHxD)
Genre/Keywords: cats, humour, illustration

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