Cats to the rescue

Singapore's street cats are at the heart of a new superhero comic and a collection of short stories about community felines

In the graphic novel Starlight Cats #1: Merlion Rising, created by American comic artist Shane Davis and his wife, Singaporean Lin Yanzi (both above), a Singaporean girl helps super-powered cats fight aliens.
In the graphic novel Starlight Cats #1: Merlion Rising, created by American comic artist Shane Davis and his wife, Singaporean Lin Yanzi (both above), a Singaporean girl helps super-powered cats fight aliens.PHOTO: SHANE DAVIS & LIN YANZI
In the graphic novel Starlight Cats #1: Merlion Rising (left), created by American comic artist Shane Davis and his wife, Singaporean Lin Yanzi, a Singaporean girl (right) helps super-powered cats fight aliens.
In the graphic novel Starlight Cats #1: Merlion Rising (left), created by American comic artist Shane Davis and his wife, Singaporean Lin Yanzi, a Singaporean girl (right) helps super-powered cats fight aliens. PHOTOS: SHANE DAVIS & LIN YANZI
The Community Cat Chronicles, by Lachlan J. Madsen (right) and Eleanor Nilsson (left), was inspired by real neighbourhood cats.
The Community Cat Chronicles, by Lachlan J. Madsen (right) and Eleanor Nilsson (left), was inspired by real neighbourhood cats.PHOTOS: EMMA FLEETWOOD, PAUL SEARLES

The street cats of Singapore have been leaving their paw prints on the literary scene, inspiring two new books, a collection of short fiction and an intergalactic graphic novel by a DC Comics artist.

The Community Cat Chronicles, a collection by Lachlan J. Madsen and Eleanor Nilsson about a group of cats in a Housing Board estate, has spent six weeks on The Straits Times' bestseller list.

Meanwhile, American comic creator Shane Davis has teamed up with his Singaporean wife Lin Yanzi for graphic novel Starlight Cats #1: Merlion Rising, in which a Singaporean girl helps super-powered cats fight aliens.

Davis, 40, has been working in comics for close to 20 years. He illustrated the graphic novel Superman: Earth One, a New York Times bestseller, and created Dex-Starr of DC's Red Lantern Corps, a feline anti-hero based on his pet cat Dexter.

He and Lin, 36, have been planning Starlight Cats for three years. In it, eight-year-old Rebecca Chow meets a street cat called Barnaby and joins the cosmic-powered Starlight Cats in fighting the Verkins, rat-like aliens bent on conquering Earth. The Merlion makes an appearance as a deity to the cats.

Davis and Lin - who live in North Carolina, in the United States, with four cats - launched Starlight Cats as a project on fund-raising platform Indiegogo on Oct 4, with estimated delivery in August next year. It has since raised more than $56,000 with more than 430 backers.

They say in an e-mail interview: "We both felt that setting the story in Singapore was a great fit as Singapore is a cosmopolitan, multicultural modern city. A lot of people in the US have heard of Singapore, but there are very few representations of Singapore in American pop culture.

"With Yanzi being a Singaporean, we felt we could tell a story about a Singaporean girl and the culture of the street cats with the proper attention to detail that such a story deserves."

Barnaby is based on a real cat in Clementi, which strolled up to Lin one day, sat at her feet and later allowed her to pick it up and carry it home. Her family has adopted it, though it remains very much an outdoor cat and continues to roam the streets, returning daily for food and petting.

The Community Cat Chronicles also fictionalises real cats. When Australian screenwriter and producer Madsen, 51, moved into an HDB flat in Ang Mo Kio in 2012, there was a silver-grey tabby which lived under his block and seemed to have full run of the neighbourhood.

The cat went by many names, including Midnight and Manis (sweet in Malay).

I believe community cats in Singapore... play an important role in the mental health of many lonely and elderly residents, helping give purpose to their lives.

AUTHOR LACHLAN J. MADSEN, on his hopes that books about cats can raise awareness of the animals' importance in the community

He told Nilsson - a long-time friend who lives in Adelaide, Australia and is the author of 24 children's books - about Manis. Soon, they began creating a fictional universe around him.

Manis has since died, but is remembered in the book, which weaves together stories about the other cats in the community - Mr Bubbles, Kucinta, Charlie Chaplin and so on - all based on real felines in Madsen's neighbourhood.

It also pays homage to those who look after the cats, from their feeders to the members of the Facebook group Sayang Our Singapore's Community Cats, and depicts the threat posed by cat abusers.

Madsen says in an e-mail interview that the book's bestseller status has been an "unexpected but delightful surprise".

Books about felines can be catnip for the charts - the 2017 English translation of Hiro Arikawa's Japanese road trip novel The Travelling Cat Chronicles has spent more than 90 weeks on The Straits Times' bestseller list.

Locally, The Community Cat Chronicles counts among its predecessors the 2013 anthology From The Belly Of The Cat, edited by Stephanie Ye, with stories such as Wena Poon's Maruchan, Amanda Lee Koe's Laundromat and Joshua Ip's Robotz Attackz Teh Citeh.

Madsen hopes such books can bring greater awareness of the importance of cats in the community in Singapore, where the keeping of cats in HDB flats is banned.

"I believe community cats in Singapore... play an important role in the mental health of many lonely and elderly residents, helping give purpose to their lives.

"The cats may get a feed, but as I see them in void decks as sentinels on night duty, I can't help thinking they are guarding stoically against the spectre of loneliness for some of the two-legged residents. They look after us, just as we look after them."

• The Community Cat Chronicles ($16) is available at bit.ly/CCatC_MN. From The Belly Of The Cat ($19 before GST) is available from BooksActually. Starlight Cats #1: Merlion Rising can be pre-ordered at igg.me/at/starlightcats

• This article includes affiliate links. When you buy through affiliate links in the article, we may earn a small commission.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2020, with the headline 'Cats to the rescue'. Subscribe