Inside CatCon: A Comic-Con for Cats
Tears of excitement were shed over the biggest celebrity this weekend in downtown Los Angeles, an Internet star, published author, talk-show host, and motivational speaker just shy of her fourth birthday.
She interrupted her own Sunday afternoon show to snack on yogurt—her favorite treat—and take the occasional nap on her Dude’s lap in front of a standing-room-only audience of devoted fans.
At the first CatCon, a convention and symposium dedicated to felines and the humans who love them, Lil Bub reigned supreme.
The genetically adorable celebri-cat with her own YouTube channel, Instagram feed, and 1.9 million likers on Facebook embodied the plucky, new-Internet spirit of the two-day event designed to dispel the cat lady myth and make cat fancying cool.
“When Comic-Con started, people just saw it as something for geeks and freaks and nerds,” CatCon founder Susan Michals told The Daily Beast as the doors closed on Sunday, an hour after announcing that the convention would return for a second time next year. “It’s expanded to being the mecca for making announcements for every studio in the world. It has gone from being geek to chic.”
Exactly 12,501 cat ladies, cat guys, and cat kids flocked to CatCon on Saturday and Sunday to immerse themselves in that chic new kind of kitty love, through panels with Animal Planet’s “cat guys” Shaun Sears and Tom Otto, artist Simon Tofield, and Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik.
Sammi Wallschlaeger was one of many celebri-cat owners who came to CatCon from all over the country to meet like-minded folks. She owns Lil Adolf, who commands his 21,600 Instagram followers with a German accent and was born with markings that form a moustache that’s, well, “sort of Hitleresque.”
“He’s into the world domination thing but he loves everybody of all creeds and ethnicities,” Wallschlaeger insisted, adding, “He’s very chill. And I’m Jewish, so it’s cool.”
By Sunday afternoon many vendors, sourced from Etsy or handpicked by Michals from the cat-ternet, had sold out of their inventory. Long lines stretched down the hallways to meet “Fugly Cat”—Triumph the Insult Comic Dog in disguise, accompanied by his “handler” Robert Smigel and Adult Swim co-star Jack McBrayer—and get a glimpse at Lil Bub’s live show.
“I think that is the opportunity here,” said Michals. “It’s cool to be a cat lady. It’s no longer that Grey Gardens persona; there are the Katy Perrys and the Kate Walshes, and Ian Somerhalder, who is a great cat lady! All these people are cool cat people, but there’s still that stigma.”
Avant-garde designer and Project Runway survivor Joseph Aaron Segal flew in from Rhode Island with wares from his Pretty Snake label, a company known for its cat-centric couture. He reported brisk sales of his googly-eyed cat sweaters.
“I made the first cat print six years ago inspired by studying the occult,” said Segal, who admitted he’s never owned a cat. “I actually don’t have cats but I’ve always liked them from a distance.”
Also for sale on CatCon’s convention floor: cat art, cat-themed clothes, cat ears, whimsical cat furniture designed like the Leaning Tower of Piza ($685), high-end litter box and pet food products, yoga mats for your cats, Kanye (Catye?) glasses for kitties, designer shirts for hairless cats, and the Kittyo, the successfully Kickstarted device that lets you remotely play with your cat via smart phone, talk to it, drop snacks for it, and drive it bonkers with a laser pointer for just $249.
Pet lovers looking for even less of a commitment to caring for an actual living, breathing creature could place their orders for a Zoomer Kitty, the interactive robot cat that plays and purrs at a touch ($100).
The most unusual booth at Cat Con belonged to ceramics artist Sarah Sherman, who crafts sleekly designed cat urns inspired by the Egyptian cat goddess Bast out of her Tujunga studio.
The idea came to Sherman as a student at OTIS College of Art & Design and was heavily influenced by her indelible experience as an 8-year-old one summer, when she went to feed her neighbor’s tabby Milo and instead discovered his expired corpse.
“I think animals bring us back to the earth and connect us with our humanity,” she explained. “I don’t trust people that don’t like animals. I think that pets serve an important purpose, to remind us of our own mortality—cats especially.”
“I’ve had moments where people came in and cried in my booth. I could make a T-shirt or a bag with a cat on it easily, but to me making something that is for the afterlife of your cat is meaningful, and has integrity.”
Karen, a 55-year-old veterinary assistant and receptionist who flew down for the weekend from Hayward, sported a pair of cat ears, cat dangle earrings, her own Grumpy Cat swag, and a cat-themed Star Trek button, the word “Meow” emblazoned across her shirt and necklace. “I’ll tell ya, I have a whole shitload of cat clothing and cat jewelry,” she giggled.
The proud owner of seven cats, she’d heard about CatCon through her network of fellow animal lovers in the Bay Area, which last year—controversially!—played host to two competing Internet cat video festivals.
“I have many years of cat rescue and I’m a crazy cat lady—in a nice way,” she smiled.
The community-minded CatCon also gave prime real estate to nonprofits FixNation, the only free spay and neuter clinic in Los Angeles—where the city offers woefully few resources for feral animal control—and the Best Friends Animal Society.
The latter proved to be an even bigger draw than Lil Bub. Attendees waited an hour in line to get their cuteness fix with the cats and kittens up for adoption. On-site adoption numbers exceeded expectations by so much, organizers scrambled to bring even more kittens late Sunday afternoon. Many of them had found homes by the time doors closed on CatCon.
I met Maria Tyger, a friendly 29-year-old, while sneaking in one last closing-time petting session with a tiny black kitten named Abe. Sadly, few CatCon attendees had gone all-out with the cosplay, even if this is “Comic-Con for cats.” Maria Tyger made up for them all in her tiger-striped leotard, ears, tail, collar, and makeup.
“My Chinese zodiac sign is the tiger, but I came upon my tigerness later in life,” she explained, pulling off a furry glove to shake my hand. “I always identified with cats and my spirit animal is a tiger. I think it helps me be more powerful, to take on the essence of a tiger.”
Maria and her tigerness can occasionally be seen out and about in L.A. “I work at a hospital as my day job, and then I prowl at night,” she laughed.
What brought her to CatCon? “I just wanted to celebrate cats and meet other like-minded people. Not to compartmentalize people, but I feel like cat people are a certain type and it’s good to meet other cat people—especially in L.A., where there are a lot of dog people.”
“You can’t walk a cat,” she philosophized. “So how do you find the cat people?”