The Series: Lackadaisy Cats by Tracy J. Butler.
The Heroes: Anthropomorphized cats in a Prohibition setting.
The Ideal Format: An animated series—think Boardwalk Empire meets Disney.
It's 1927, and Prohibition is in full swing. Also in full swing is a thriving underground of liquor smuggling, speakeasies, and criminal activity, punctuated by the rat-a-tat-tat of Tommy guns.
In the midst of this, the Lackadaisy Speakeasy—built in the limestone caverns beneath St. Louis—is struggling. The previous owner, Atlas May, has been dead for a year—gunned down in the street by a rival faction.
Was his death merely a case of friendly competition turned foul? A bribe to a corrupt cop that backfired? Or was Atlas's beautiful wife, former jazz musician Mitzi, involved?
No matter the cause, Atlas is gone and Lackadaisy must go on, so Mitzi May is desperate to retain their supply chain, win back a dwindling clientele, and manage a staff of colorful misfits. A wrong step will cost her more than her business, when you consider her competition won't hesitate to pull a trigger.
A wrong step could very well cost her her life.
Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your perspective), Mitzi's employees include:
- Rocky Rickaby: Technically, he's just a member of the jazz band, but what Rocky really wants to do is be a rum runner and Mitzi's hero. This natty dresser is more than a little crazy, willing to risk death-by-irate-pig-farmer to secure the goods and his boss's affection.
- Calvin “Freckle” McMurray: Rocky's cousin, Freckle would rather be on the right side of a law. But, when he fails his police exam—something about “excessive excitement in action”—his unusual prowess for firearms makes him useful to the Lackadaisy crew. He's (usually) quiet and shy, the polar opposite of his flamboyantly loquacious cousin.
- Viktor Vasko: A Slovak transplant, Viktor has been the muscle/bouncer for Lackadaisy since the early days. But, the one-eyed war vet is getting on in years, and not even his impressive size and boundless rage makes him impervious to bullets.
- Ivy Pepper: Atlas's goddaughter, she works the counter of the Little Daisy Cafe (the front for the speakeasy) by day and heats up the dance floor of Lackadaisy at night. Something of a maneater, this flapper/college student sets her sights on poor Freckle.
- Sedgewick “Wick” Sable: Wick isn't an employee; he's a patron. And this mining magnate has carried a torch for Mitzi for years. Now that Atlas is gone, and her mourning period (seems to be) over, there may just be a chance for him yet…
And then, there's Mordecai Heller, a former employee turned foe. Back in the day, he and Viktor were semi-unwilling partners-in-crime. This stoic sociopath carries a grudge against the Lackadaisy crew and is currently working for their biggest rival, Asa Sweet of the Marigold Room.
Helping Mordecai on Sweet's orders are the Savoys, Serafine and Nico—bayou transplants. She's a Voodoo mamba who carries a giant gun named Boudreaux; he's a laconic boxer willing to pound “the ever-loving snot” out of someone. Together, the siblings are quite a threat.
The crew of the Lackadaisy Speakeasy have an awful lot on their hands—er, paws.
Because this entire cast of crazies, crooners, and crooks? Are cats.
It's a truly winning package. Who doesn't love a good Prohibition story full of gunfire and jazz, zoot suits and beaded fringe, illicit liquor and sultry promises? Dress it all up with feline faces and bristling tails, and you've got something that's fun, zany, and—above all—really, really appealing.
Butler's web comic is nothing short of incredible. She writes, she illustrates, and she backs up every detail—both textual and visual—with exhaustive amounts of research. This is a great series for anyone who loves historical fiction.
It may be hard to believe, given that the characters are pussycats, but Lackadaisy Cats is rife with information on Prohibition-era St. Louis—everything from steam trains to riverboats, from films to slang, from fashion to cultural events, are backed up by solid facts.
Butler's art style is a winning mixture of Disney and Bluth; while the character's faces and body language are sweetly cartoony, the world they move through is realistic and highly detailed. The cars are especially impressive—today's automobiles have nothing on those of the 1920's in terms of panache and beauty.
A combination of drawing-by-hand and Photoshop editing produces the finished comic. Butler adds in multiple layers for lightning and contrast and the whole thing is finished in a sepia-toned wash so the story resembles a collection of old photographs.
Lackadaisy Cats has been updating every month or so since 2006, and has garnered a slew of awards—including an Eisner nomination for Best Digital Comic. With a plot that's a mixture of comedy, mystery, thriller, and historical fiction, there's a little something to please everyone. And, while it's often cutesy and whimsical, this isn't really a kid's story: there's plenty of gunfire, criminality, and sexual tension to appeal to a more mature crowd.
As someone who still loves animated shows, I'm a firm champion for adult cartoons. Too often, adult means “raunchy” or “erotic,” and I'd love to see more variety out there. Lackadaisy would be a brilliant animated series for an older audience, a historical crime series with elements of Boardwalk Empire, Peaky Blinders, and Disney—who doesn't want to watch a show like that?
For now, the entirety of Lackadaisy Cats is available on its official website. Volume 1 can be purchased in a book format and Volume 2 is finally on the way. The series is still being updated on an irregular basis, and Butler hasn't announced plans to quit any time soon.
With death-defying escapes from moonshiners, the glitz and seedy glamour of hidden speakeasies, clandestine meetings in smoky alleys, and romance galore, Lackadaisy Cats has plenty of action, heart, and humor to charm even the curmudgeonly over. Don't let the fact that it's a series about anthropomorphized cats deter you—this isn't Mickey Mouse and friends.
Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.