Innocent Bystander #3 did so well in the early part of 1997 that I was inspired to jump right back in and do another issue. Where I found the time and—more importantly, energy and MONEY—to do this, I have no idea. I often referred to my self-publishing side gig as my “early mid-life crisis” (I was in my early 40s at the time). Maybe that fueled the fire.
Since IB3 was a theme issue (click here for details) and was a success, I decided to go the same route, but this time I wrapped issue #4 around my cats, Stan and Ollie, subtitling it “Tales of 2 Kitties”. They had been the subject of the very first comic page I ever did and their appearances in both issues #1 and #2 seemed to please people. Comic Shop News, the weekly newspaper that is still distributed to comic shops and includes publication listings, previews, and reviews, started advocating for an all-cats issue as early as issue #2. Who was I to say no to my legion of fans … both of them?
I kid. I was getting letters from fans and really positive feedback in the comics press, including CSN, Comic Buyer’s Guide, Overstreet Fan magazine, and some early online outlets (in 1997, the internet was far from ubiquitous). My “Friends of Innocent Bystander” (FIB) mailing list topped out at close to 300 around this time. With IB3 debuting in March, IB4 was ready printed and ready for mail order in August, which means I had to have had it at the printer around June. It premiered in comic shops in September.
Stan (the grey one with the Batman mask) and Ollie or as I liked to call them, “The world-famous Innocent Bystander cats.” Click to see the full photos.
But let’s go back to where it all began: Stan and Ollie, my real-life cats. I never had pets growing up. My mother gave us some BS story about being bitten by a German Shepherd as a child, and pointed to the scar on her arm, which, quite frankly, looked exactly like the smallpox vaccination mark I had. And I didn’t know I liked cats until I got one. One summer, I worked with a woman whose parents owned a barn, and they always had barn cats. I got one, a fluffy little lion who I named Keaton (after Buster, but it could have been after Diane, too; I admired both equally if for different reasons), but sadly he developed problems early on with urinary tract infections and died young. He was a destructive little devil, too, and someone mentioned to me I should get two cats: “They’ll keep each other occupied, but get them together.” So that’s what I did, never realizing that—lo and behold—I was allergic to cats. In 1985, I called Animal Friends, a no-kill shelter in Pittsburgh’s Strip District (they’re still there: https://www.thinkingoutsidethecage.org/) around Thanksgiving. They told me they had just gotten a box full of abandoned kittens dropped on their doorstep. They had named them “The Royal Family”: Charles, Diana, Andrew, Sarah, etc. I went down and picked out two of them and gave them much more sensible names, after the classic movie comedy duo, Laurel and Hardy: Stan (the grey one) and Ollie (the white one). They were a major part of my life for the next 17 years, sneezing, wheezing and asthma included at no extra charge.
Some art from Innocent Bystander #4. Sadly the 1990s date badly (note the references to the Spice Girls, Larry King, and Richard Simmons. The comic strip was a pipe dream concept for a syndicated strip. I’ll be posting more of them over the coming weeks.
I was endlessly entertained by them and they became cannon fodder for quick, one-, two- and three-page stories for Innocent Bystander. So it was relatively easy for me to crank out another issue so quickly. There wasn’t a lot of depth to the stories, just anecdotes and flights of fancy. For a while, I fantasied about doing a comic strip with them, so there are a number of pages devoted to that concept. Some were simple, slice of life, living with cats vignettes, others were from the cats’ perspective. The litter box loomed large in this issue, as it did in real life; anyone that has cats can tell you that they poop and pee A LOT, and in the days of Tidy Cat clumping litter, shapes and forms began to emerge. (Okay, the only one below that was true-to-life was—I swear—Oklahoma.)
Clumping litter endlessly fascinated me. I’m not sure why.
IB4 became very popular in Pittsburgh. I did posters of the cover (once again appropriating my TV station’s color Xerox machine) and one store, Phantom of the Attic (they’re still there, too: https://www.facebook.com/potaOakland/) in the university area known as Oakland (nestled between University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon University) put it on their front door, and people came in who normally would not set foot in a comic book store, asking for that book about the cats. I sold over 60 copies with them, something that was unheard of for a book like Innocent Bystander.
IB4 was a hit outside of Pittsburgh, too, with great press once again from Comic Shop News, who took part of the credit for the all cats issue idea, in a special call-out on page 2 of their August 27, 1997 issue, titled “Felines … Nothing More Then Felines …”
“When we first perused Innocent Bystander #2, we praised the delightful comic pages focusing on the two IB cats, Stan and Ollie, pointing out that they captured the true essence of catness in a way that strips like Garfield never do. We asked at that time for a full book of cat tales—and now our request has been answered!
“Innocent Bystander #4 is a special all-cats issue that presents a series of short strips and vignettes sure to strike a chord with cat owners and cat fans. Not only will you get new insight into what’s going through your cat’s mind, but you’ll also learn to recognize some of those offbeat culpable cat litter sculptures that cat owners are all too familiar with.”
Stan and Ollie shilled for me, especially in 1998, with the first (and only) Official Innocent Bystander T-Shirt and World Tour Badge. Neither of them are still available, so don’t ask.
Stan and Ollie had become stars, at least on some small level, even though they didn’t know it. Their colors and markings—particularly Ollie’s—translated really well to black and white comics. I guess in some way, the success of IB4 helped offset their living expenses. I was always fond of saying that in all the time I knew them, they never held a substantial job. Maybe their appearances in Innocent Bystander made up for that. I would return to them again and again, for comic book and book ideas, post IB. More on that later.
And here’s the sad part: Stan passed away in 1998, right before I moved out of Pittsburgh to San Diego. Ollie made the trip with me, and lived until 2002, when he also passed away; both cats developed diabetes later in life. I loved them both dearly, but I never replaced them. Having never had pets as a kid, I didn’t realize how much space they take up in your life, how much a part of the family they become. Beyond my cat-related asthma, I couldn’t consider having that much pain again, because they always leave you. Sometimes, I still dream of them.
IB4 sold well, but not quite as well as issue #3, the all Marx Brothers spectacular. Still it was well enough for me to want to continue on with more issues in 1998, a year which would be a turning point for me on so many levels. Tune in next time for Innocent Bystander #5 and the year that changed everything, as we continue with our series “My Life in Comics.”
(To read the rest of the posts in this series, click on the My Life in Comics category in the right sidebar.)
I still have a very small number of copies of Innocent Bystander #4 available for sale, along with other issues. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.