B. Kliban Cats

B. “Hap” Kliban was born on January 1, 1935, in Norwalk, Connecticut. He attended Pratt Institute in New York City for two years before dropping out to become a painter in Europe. Back in the U.S. in the late 50’s, Hap rode out to L.A. by motorcycle. He soon made his way up to San Francisco’s North Beach, where he plugged into the Beat scene and found a lasting home. 

By the early 1960’s, Kliban realized that there had to be something more than working at the San Francisco post office. He struck up a gig drawing live nude models on stage at a Broadway strip club called Mr. Wonderful and began to seriously draw cartoons. Around that time, he answered an ad soliciting cartoons for a new magazine called Playboy. Thus began a thirty-five year stretch of work that established Hap as one of America’s top cartoonists. He also sold many cartoons to the New Yorker, National Lampoon, Esquire, and Punch, but Playboy remained his primary publisher.

In 1975, he published Cat, the first book to feature his famous tabby cat character, what he called ”one hell of a nice animal, frequently mistaken for a meat loaf.” A chord was struck that went beyond mere cat lovers. The image of a red sneaker-wearing cat was perfectly in step with the distinctly American love of Pop. In no time, one of the largest merchandising efforts ever was underway, followed by a “Klibanophilia” frenzy. B. Kliban®Cats posters, T-shirts, stuffed toys, sheets, stationery, towels, mugs, sleepwear, pens & pencils, pins, key chains, greeting cards, baby clothing, glassware, ceramics, tote bags, clocks & watches, jewelery, and so on were to be seen all over the world.

Fans of his work will tell you that it goes way beyond The Cat. “Kliban’s work is absolutely what cartooning is all about,” says Charles M. Schulz. He took on all kinds of subjects with equal wit and acerbic insight. No subject was sacred–race in America, religion, sex (lots of it), and French cuisine were all targeted. Both his style and his choice of subjects had a major impact on future cartoonists. According to Art Spiegelman, Kliban invented the form of cartoon, popularized by Gary Larson and others, of a single panel with a third-person caption describing the action. Also, the 5×7 book format that he pioneered (which originated because of his use of 5×7 index cards to draw ideas) in his many humor books, such as Advanced Cartooning, Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head, Whack Your Porcupine, Tiny Footprints, Two Guys Fooling Around with the Moon, Luminous Animals, and The Biggest Tongue in Tunisia, made an enduring impact on the world of cartooning.

During the crazy mid-1970’s, Kliban met fellow artist Judith Kamman and began a deep and lasting friendship. They later married and enjoyed a wonderful creative and spiritual alliance. Judy grew up in New England and attended Rhode Island School of Design, where she trained as a designer and painter. Judy ran the business as a “cottage industry,” preferring to keep things simple, under control, and small. She began to draw the Cat when Hap pronounced, “I don’t draw this Cat. You need to teach yourself how to draw it.” And so she did, channeling Hap’s sideways humor. Judy remains fanatical about maintaining the highest standards in all phases of business and artistic life.

Since Hap’s untimely death at 55 in 1990, Judy has continued to expand and strengthen B. Kliban’s legacy. Her wide experience in design and with Cat enables her, in a way, to continue even today her collaboration with her husband.

Kliban’s work comes to Gravel & Gold by way of Auntie canals. Judy, who now splits her time between Maui and New Zealand, is Numero Uno Auntie to Lisa and her brother Drew, who have both been steeped in Kliban’s work throughout their lives. It is our pleasure to remind a new generation much in need of irreverent and biting humor of Kliban’s work as a whole and to carry on with the catification business that Judy has sagely shared with her kittens.

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