What are you doing givin’ a raccoon a sugar cube? / What are you doing? What are you doing? How rude. / Cuz you can’t tell me you don’t know what he does with his food. ~ The Sugar Cube Blues
I learned a long time ago that there is little connection between the popularity of something and its quality. An author well remembered is not necessarily more talented than one whose work has been buried under the monolith of time (squish!), and what manages to claw its way into the public consciousness, much like a raccoon out of a trash can, is often more of a question of luck than some sort of intrinsic worthiness.
Occasionally, I feel like casting a spotlight on comics long forgotten… assuming that there was some memory to be forgotten in the first place, which is often not even the case. American comics artist and illustrator Cathy Hill set loose seven issues of her charming series Mad Raccoons between 1991 and 1997, but how many have made friends with these raccoons? Her absence on Wikipedia (surely today’s litmus test for fame?) underlines the obscurity of her work. I located a link to a Cathy Hill art exhibition… which seemed promising, as I know that Hill was predominantly a painter who has also drawn covers for SF novels as well as posters for a wide variety of events. Well, it was the wrong Cathy Hill – this one was British. So the cookie crumbles.
Mad Raccoons has a cast of highly entertaining characters. Virgil, for example, is a rambunctious racoon, liable to burst into poetic soliloquies as befits his name. He’s also subject to random temper tantrums (especially when somebody mentions cousin Oddfuzz, with whom he is perpetually at war), that typically end in a total melt-down accompanied by his trademark EEAAIIIEE!! scream.
Speaking of tantrums – here are the concluding three pages of Virgil’s Visitor, in which Virgil is visited by the dire-raccoon of comeuppance (published in Mad Raccoons no. 2):
And he does indeed have to endure the cruel games of the dire-dragon of delinquency, three issues later:
As entertaining as Virgil’s outbursts can be, I prefer to bask in glimpses of the world he inhabits, peopled (raccooned?) by characters young and old. The Natural Raccoon (published in no. 1), featuring Grandpa Prickle (which I tend to call Grandpa Pickle) and nursery of youngsters, makes for a choice example.
As someone who has very much a chicken scrawl of a handwriting, I reserve special admiration for folks with a steady hand and patience enough for calligraphy. Hill’s lettering is an important part of the dynamic art of her stories, and the following pages from Raccoons and Music (published in no. 2) allow one to really admire a fancier version of it:
A keen eye may note that 1988 appears at the bottom of the last page, whereas no. 2 was published in 1992. Indeed, Hill’s original idea was for a series of humorously informative stories about raccoons (such as Raccoons in Music, Raccoons in Art, Raccoons in Literature…), all of which were to be published in The Raccoon Booke. That never came to pass, but at least all (as far as I know) of these stories landed between the pages of Mad Raccoons. This earlier material has a different (although still recognizably Hill’s) art style; I would be hard-pressed indeed to decide which I like better.
There’s also my favourite, Uncle Erf, who’s also his own wife Pansy and his son Furley, depending on which personality has control at any given moment – and things can shift pretty damn fast. This poor tormented beast is more than just the butt of jokes – Erf/Pansy/Furley is a walking repository of all human foibles, but with something really vulnerable and innocent peeking through the endless ‘family’ conflicts. In Woover’s Day Out (published in no. 5), a new member of the family, a dog named Woover, joins the team. Poor raccoon!
Thanks to the intercession of a friend, aside from having the individual seven issues, I am the proud guardian of The Mad Racoons Collection (signed, yet!), which gathers issues 1 to 4, the preface to which is probably the only place one can glean some information about the series and its author. I’d like to think that Cathy Hill is still out there somewhere, with friendly raccoons continuing their adventures inside her mind.