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Philippe Geluck: The Cat, the Bible & God

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It felt like quite a treat to get to go and meet such a famous Belgian cartoonist as Philippe Geluck at his studio in Brussels this week, and I (Stephanie) was far from disappointed when I left, for all the rain tried to dampen my spirits. I didn’t know much about the man himself, but an hour before we met, I discovered a certain fact; I share the same birth date, 22nd March, with the infamous Le Chat. Already I felt a certain affinity and affection for this curious creature, and even more intrigued to meet his creator…

The reason I was going to interview him is because his book, The Bible According to the Cat, co-authored with God, is being launched in English, which suddenly opens up The Cat’s quirky, dark, clever, satirical, unique brand of humour up to a whole new audience.

So, I was given carte blanche to ask some obvious and not so obvious questions to the man who has already had a fulsome career as an actor, and star on radio and TV. Below makes for some interesting reading, and you can see the man himself hard at work here...

AND...if you're already a big fan, you can enter to win a signed copy of The Bible According to The Cat... 

1)   The Cat was born 30 years ago – what inspired him to be created?

The first time I drew Le Chat was in 1980; he was drawn on my wedding card, it was first time I drew a cat. I had done drawings but they were not published in any newspapers, they were only shown in galleries and exhibitions. The wedding was in 1980, 3 years later my son was born, so I drew a little card with two cats and a baby cat. Then, a journalist of Le Soir asked me to come up with a cartoon and invent a character for a new weekly supplement. So the cat was given a coat, tie, hat, and so Le Chat, The Cat, was born. At first he was not very well appreciated. I received a letter that said, “Sir your bear doesn’t make me laugh.” After that I had to improve my drawings and make them more precise. He is a cat not a bear. For the first few months Le Chat was not appreciated, after 5 months it took off, and became a mascot of the paper.

2) Did you know you wanted to be a cartoonist when you were younger or did it just accidentally happen?

When I was a child, I used to make up theatre with my friends, I made cartoons by myself, and I made radio using my brother’s recorder. All these three aspects of my childhood became my adult career. I became an actor, TV & radio presenter, and of course, made cartoons. I didn’t play football.

3) Did success come easy? Did you ever want to give up or fall out of love with The Cat?

No, it was a long haul, but I never had doubts about the cat. In the beginning I thought that I had found a very simple but special character, and that I could go a long way with him. I had this instinct in the beginning. The one thing hasn’t changed though; I am not an anxious person, but when I start working on a blank canvas, I am not sure I will succeed. That feeling is the same 30 years ago as today.

4) Have you ever got tired of drawing or had cartoonist blocks?

No never, the only thing that’s important to me is that the cartoons are funny. There are no barriers, everything interests me, even uninteresting things.

5) Why choose now to put The Cat into English?

Two reasons – first there is Laurence, my press officer, and she speaks 5 languages and is brilliant. With her on board we are ready to conquer the world. Secondly, Alan Ward, the translator has done a brilliant job, and because he understands Belgian, UK and New York culture, and loves The Cat, he has the understanding to translate even the subtlest humour into English for me.

6) Do you have a real cat?

During my life I have had cats, but at the moment we don’t, we live on the 3rd floor and in Brussels it is a bit difficult. 

7) Do you see aspects of yourself in The Cat?

Of course, he is me, fatter and more stupid, sometimes more intelligent.

8) Do you use him to say things you can’t?

When he says something intelligent, it is my opinion; when he is stupid, it is him. It is like a mask. I can say everything with The Cat, things I can’t say myself.

9) Tell me about the Bible – it’s quite an ambitious title.

It is the new version of the Holy Bible, but my hope is to replace the old one with The Bible According to The Cat. I have sent one to the Pope, with a little note, “From Philippe Geluck & God, best regards.” I added two lines; “I presume that this is the first Bible that you have received by the author. I look forward to your reply.” 

I hope also, that the next President of the United States will swear to the constitution on the new Bible, because in my book you will have the revelation of a few things that are not present in the old one. There is God’s wife Margaret, who frightens people, Steve the Sheep, a great friend of God, and he has a role to play in the creation of mankind. In my version, god is often drunk so when he has to create man, it is one day he has a hangover…

10) Are there 10 Commandments?

Oh yes – this is a proper Bible, I want it to go into hotel rooms. 

11)   Will it put people off having illicit affairs in hotel rooms then?

Possibly, it is a very moral book after all, though they maybe laughing too much to do anything illicit, but we have got a funny movie for the book involving two gay priests in bed

12) Why is the Bible being launched in English before being launched in Dutch in Belgium?

Because we have met our very good translator for the English, before the one for Flemish. There are about 10 books of The Cat which exist in Flemish but they were not very well promoted by my editor. It is very important to translate the very fine details, and to reinvent something otherwise the humour is lost. The ones that were impossible to translate I did not use, but I have many cartoons, over 11,000 cartoons are published.

13) Would you say you are a genius or are you just a man who likes cats?

Me, a genius? No, I am a simple man, but my co-signee, God, he did what no man could do. But I am a hard worker, I published my first cartoon when I was 16. I am now 59 so it’s a lot of work and devotion over the years.

14) Do you have a favourite cartoon of all time?

Yes, if I had to pick one, it is one of The Cat in front of a city map, that says, YOU ARE HERE. His response is, “News travels fast.” Typically The Cat, he sees the world through his eyes.