Brain Pickings

The Original Cartoon Canon of Lolcats: Legendary British Artist Ronald Searle’s 1960s Cat Drawings

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Caricaturing our human struggles, insecurities, and social anxieties through facetious felines.

Ronald Searle was not only one of the greatest satirical cartoonists of the 20th century, but also a man of extraordinary sensitivity who, when his wife was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, made for her the most moving love letter imaginable, which helped her persevere. But Searle’s sensitivity extended beyond his closest human, beyond humans in general, and into the animal world — he was an extraordinary cat aficionado, as evidenced by his contributions to the terrific Big New Yorker Book of Cats, and created the feline counterpart to Ralph Steadman’s delightful dog drawings. Nearly half a century before the Lolcats meme, Searle began drawing quirky, impossibly charming, exuberantly expressive cartoons and caricatures of cats, collected in Searle’s Cats (public library) — the original cartoon canon of cats, published in 1967 and reprinted in 2005. His unmistakable ink drawings of cats are coupled with wryly witty, brandishingly British captions that wink at our everyday human struggles, insecurities, and social anxieties, inviting us to laugh at those felines follies as we laugh at ourselves.

Vegetarian cat regarding a plate of fried eggs

A rather timid wolf in cat's clothing

Two cats discover that love is a many-splendoured thing

Remarkably hairy cat faced with the problem of dandruff

Happy cat in bath unaware that the house is on fire

Young cat already regretting puberty

Exhausted Persian cat contemplating the advantages of monogamy

Balding cat walking out in an unsuitable wig

Cretinous laboratory cat under the impression that animals are exploring space

Cat of a thousand disguises concealing itself as a rug

Two cats quite calmly making beasts of themselves

Searle’s Cats was followed by More Cats in 1975 and Ronald Searle’s Big Fat Cat Book in 1982. Complement his facetious felines with the immeasurably wonderful Lost Cat, then counter with the irreverent Cat-Hater’s Handbook.

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