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Louis Wain: The Man Who Drew Cats

The life and work of the Edwardian cat artist Louis Wain, whose obsession drove him into the madhouse, is being explored by writer and broadcaster David Quantick and artist Savage Pencil in their serialised biography for Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic magazine. Quantick and Pencil discuss their fascination with Wain and their approach to comics in an illustrated presentation. The evening also marks the publication from The London Print Studio of a set of four signed, limited-edition silkscreen cards by Savage Pencil inspired by Wain’s cats. More details…

Tickets: £4, booking required
Where: London Print Studio, 425 Harrow Road, London W10
When: Tuesday, November 23, 2010 - 7pm to 8pm

A Comica Event in association with Dodgem Logic.

About Louis Wain:
Louis Wain is an Edwardian painter and comic illustrator - is best known as “the man who drew cats”. He’s also one of the most popular and collectable artists on the market today, whose work draws crowds to exhibitions around the world, and whose celebrity fans have ranged from HG Wells to Nick Cave. His life story is fantastic and extraordinary. More importantly, his work is still brilliant and wonderful.

Wain began his career as a popular magazine artist, drawing cats in human poses playing tennis, taking tea and engaging in other Edwardian pursuits. He made the first ever cinema cartoon about a cat, and he was a household name, admired by millions, including the King, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and by HG Wells, who said “English cats that do not look and live like Louis Wain cats are ashamed of themselves.”

But Wain suffered from schizophrenia. Increasingly mentally disturbed, and with a genius for involving himself in money-losing schemes, his health and wealth both vanished, and Wain ended up, broke and mad, in Middlesex County Mental Asylum.

Here, two extraordinary things happened. Wain continued to draw and paint cats - strange, wild pictures where cats turned into bolts of electricity or vanished into walls of fabric - paintings whose origin and effect obsessed the rock musician and major Louis Wain collector Nick Cave. And he was re-discovered by a health visitor who recognised his style. A horrified nation subscibed to a Louis Wain fund, headed by the PM, and Wain ended his days in comfort, still painting cats.

Louis Wain is still a hugely popular and collectible illustrator, but it is his later work, fuelled either by insanity or a completely new vision, that attracts the most interest; and artist as diverse as Nick Cave and Psychic TV’s David Tibet, are now drawn to Wain’s art.

David Quantick:
David Quantick is a music journalist, comedy writer and a former contest on Celebrity Come Dine With Me.

I first became aware of Louis Wain as a child, when I read an article about him a children’s magazine called Look And Learn. Most of the pieces in Look And Learn were about famous princes or inventors, but someone at the paper clearly thought Louis Wain’s story was worth telling. What branded Louis Wain into my imagination for ever, though, was the picture chosen to illustrate the piece - one of Wain’s later pictures called Electric Cat. At the age of ten or whatever I had never seen anything like Electric Cat - fizzing, exploding and alive like nothing in any other picture.

For possibly 20 years I saw nothing about Louis Wain but this changed in my 20s. I started to meet people who’d heard of Wain, who even owned work by Wain. (I once interviewed Nick Cave for a rather laconic hour until at the very end, I asked him if he was a Louis Wain fan. “Louis Wain?” he said, almost enthusiastic, “Now you’re talking.”) Since then, I’ve learned more about Wain, his life and his pictures. I even own one or two myself. I’m still a massive fan.

Writing this strip with Savage Pencil is a labour of love for me - and I believe there’s no other artist alive who could bring out the fire and the strangeness of Wain, the gentle maniac, the way he can. If anyone comes close to capturing the way I felt when I first saw Electric Cat, it’s Sav.

It was his idea to take this strip to Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic and I’m somewhat delighted that it’s appeared, first there, and now here.

Savage Pencil:
Savage Pencil (aka Edwin Pouncey) is an artist/illustrator whose work has appeared in numerous magazines and art shows across the world. His Trip Or Squeek strip appears every month in experimental music magazine The Wire.

When friend and former NME collaborator David Quantick first asked me to illustrate his ideas about Edwardian illustrator Louis Wain I admit that I first felt somewhat sceptical about the project. Although Wain’s anthropomorphic felines initially seemed to be too tame for me to satisfyingly attack, what did emerge when David delivered his script took me pleasantly by surprise. For this is no tale of one man’s achievement of fame and fortune through drawing cutesy cats and kittens at play, but rather the much grimmer tale of his fall into a self-driven maelstrom of madness.

When the project finally took off I found myself becoming more enchanted by Wain’s wacky “Catland” empire. Although many of his cat characters are emblematic of the age when they were produced, there is also an element of psychotic demonic possession extant in some of the later drawings - before the psychedelic wallpaper cats fully take hold. It was this latter aspect of his art that I wanted to channel into the story, together with Wain’s love and almost ritualistic obsession of the creatures that would eventually commit him to the madhouse. His relationship with his wife’s cat Peter is, for me, of particular interest - as he slowly transforms from fluffy-tailed family pet into Wain’s witchy feline familiar.

The pages on display here are the first three of what will hopefully expand into a more substantially sized comic book. As the storyline develops the full impact of Wain’s mental illness and the effect it had upon his art becomes more pronounced - until the reader ends up looking through Wain’s eyes at the crazed visions that have invaded his sanity.

Finally, I would like to thank Alan Moore and Lucy Paint for agreeing to publish this work in issues 5 and (forthcoming) 6 of Dodgem Logic magazine.


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