Itō Junji is a horror manga artist who began depicting his daily life with cats in the manga titled ‘Yon & Muu’. Itō is married to Ishiguro Ayako, a painter and fellow cat-lover who makes appearances in his manga. Now that their life with Yon and Muu is over, the couple lives with Tenmaru and Ton-ichi, a pair of cats with uncommon fur patterns. While asking them about the joys of drawing cats, we found that the two artists have quite unique perspectives on felines.
Cats are the unknown of the animal kingdom!?
– The comic book “Yon & Muu” is definitely one of the most popular cat-themed manga series among our ilove.cat editing team. Kyō Machiko, the first person we ever interviewed, told us about it. We were intrigued by how it differs from other essays about cats. How do the two of you actually deal with cats?
Itō Junji: “I had lived with dogs and hamsters, but never a cat. Therefore, I used to have only negative impressions of cats. This impression came from being stared at by cats on the street corner and seeing my friend get all scratched up by a stray when he tried to feed it. I couldn’t tell what they were thinking. Cats were a completely unknown world to me.”
Ishiguro Ayako: “I have always loved cats. I’ve lived with them since I was in high school. We had a cat named Jirō that suddenly died of kidney failure. After that, we found Yonsuke through a pet adoption website. He’s the black and white cat that appears in ‘Yon & Muu’. As for Muu, one of my friends was looking for someone to take care of the brother of their Norwegian forrest cat. As soon as we adopted Muu, Itō instantly fell in love with him (laughs).”
Itō: “He loves affection. That’s just too cute (laughs).”
– In the manga, you depicted the contrast between the cat-loving Ishiguro-san and Itō-san, who is totally wrapped around the cats’ fingers. Add that to the way you dealt with cats in such a realistic manner, and I’m sure you had many cat owners nodding their heads during many scenes.
Itō: “We exaggerate in the comic a little bit, but the stories are all based on actual episodes that happened. I originally wasn’t thinking about making a cat-themed manga. It all started when I thought it would be fun to make a manga out of the incidents that the cats were involved in – such as Yonsuke’s great escape.”
Ishiguro: “What? It was such a hassle when he ran away. Yet you had such positive thoughts?”
Itō: “No, no, I thought about that later. Yonsuke looked kind of like Miki Norihei, the comedian who was the model for the character of Momoya. Yonsuke had such a funny face that I was looking for a chance to incorporate him into a project. Then an editor brought me the project and I was able to make a manga about him. I still wasn’t used to cats, so I constructed jokes out of the fact that they were tamed by my wife.”
Ishiguro: “Both Yonsuke and Muu were pretty generous cats. They were friendly with everyone. Compared to that, Tenmaru is a ‘scaredy cat.’ Yonsuke died suddenly of a heart attack after we moved to Chiba. I don’t know if the move was the cause… Muu is now living at my parents’ house. Once I sent him off to them, they became pretty attached to each other. They’re living together comfortably.”
– How did you first encounter Tenmaru and Ton-ichi?
Ishiguro: “After Yonsuke died and Muu left for my parents’ house, I realized that I was missing life with cats. So I started searching for new ones. Because we have two kids, I figured that adult cats might get stressed by the situation. Therefore, we decided to adopt kittens. Tenmaru was a rescued cat. He was about three months old when he came to our home. He hid from us at first. However, he was soon sleeping alongside the children. He must think he is one of them. We found Ton-ichi at the same pet adoption website. Tenmaru had just turned three years old, so we thought this might be good timing for taking in a new cat. We started living with Ton-ichi on a trial basis this July. Because the two cats became good buddies right away, we decided to keep him.”
Drawing the peculiar form of cats
Ishiguro: “Yonsuke was with me since before I was married, so I had a special attachment to him. Itō-san was absolutely crazy about Muu. As for Temaru and Ton-ichi, we treat them the same way as we do with our kids. Much like Yonsuke was, Tenmaru is like an intelligent human. Because Ton-ichi is still a frisky little kitten, it’s too early to judge what kind of cat he will turn out to be.”
– Both Tenmaru and Ton-ichi have unique spot patterns on their coats.
Ishiguro: “I was very surprised when I saw Tenmaru’s pattern for the first time. His other siblings were all brown tabbies or beautifully spotted, so I thought, ‘Nobody wants this kitten… I must take him home!’ Even though he has a peculiar pattern, it doesn’t mean that he was sick or anything like that. That’s just a misguided belief some people have (laughs).”
Itō: “She paints critters for a living, so she likes strange forms. Ton-ichi had sharper tail when he first came to us. He kind of looked like a lizard.”
– Is there anything in particular that you keep in mind when drawing cats?
Itō: “I used to draw from photographs that my wife had taken. If you observe my drawings closely, you might notice things such as how my cats’ forelegs are longer than one might imagine they should be. I had done some dog illustrations previously, so when I started drawing cats I had a hard time not making them look like dogs. Cat noses were especially hard. Dog noses stick out in front, but cat noses go straight down. I also like the gently-sloping lines of their neck-to-shoulder area. Therefore, I take great care when drawing a silhouette. Moreover, because Muu was more ‘cute’ and Yonsuke more ‘funny’, I distorted their shapes a little bit to create some difference in their characters.”
Ishiguro: “I originally liked the work of Utagawa Kuniyoshi, particularly his way of drawing well-muscled Japanese cats. Yonsuke was that type of cat. I’ll be having a show titled ‘Bakeneko-ten’ (‘Monster Cat Eshibition’) at the Billiken Gallery in Tokyo starting on November 1st. To be honest, I’m not as good of a painter as Itō-san, so the cats I draw can’t escape from being distorted. My picture book titled ‘Ōkii Neko to Chiisai Neko’ (‘Big Cat and Small Cat’) was based on the Aesop’s Fables, so it wasn’t important for the creatures to actually look like cats. My ‘Bakeneko-ten’ exhibition, though, is about cats and cats only, which is a first for me. There will be a whole bunch of ‘Nekomatas,’ which are twin-tailed monster cats. Because they aren’t very cute, the show may surprise people who expected to see cute and cuddly cats (laughs). Kuniyoshi is synonymous for paintings of cats and monster cats. Of course, he personified many other animals in his paintings, including raccoons and goldfish. His cat paintings are so outstanding that I can never hope to possibly match them. However, I defied these thoughts and did my best to create these images as an homage to Kuniyoshi.”