All cats may have nine lives, but being limited to using one at a time surely reduces the potential benefits of such a gift. But in "Scratch9," a four-issue miniseries by creator Rob Worley and artist Jason T. Kruse, readers will meet a feline hero with the ability to summon all of his other lives to his side to combat evil and commit household mischief. CBR News spoke with Worley about the series, which arrives in August from Ape Entertainment's KiZoic imprint.
"When we first meet Scratch, he's an ordinary house cat, kind of mischievous, kind of innocent, kind of spastic. The first issue of the story focuses on how Scratch gets his special ability," Worley told CBR. "I will say that involves a scientist called Dr. SchrÃ¶dinger and a lab experiment gone haywire. Oh yeah, he's the mad flavor of scientist.
"Dr. SchrÃ¶dinger is the catalyst for Scratch's adventure. He's the founder of the Center for Research into Universal Energy and Longevity (which makes for a rather unfortunate acronym)," Worley continued. "Aside from being bad at naming things, SchrÃ¶dinger is obsessed with extending his own life. He'll half-heartedly tell you that his work is for the betterment of all mankind, but his primary concern is getting out of his old, wrinkled-up, smelly skin and into a new, strong body.
"He captures the cat in the first issue and his experiment has a positive effect for Scratch...and a negative effect on the Doctor himself. So, Schrodinger is aware that Scratch is special and is obsessed with recapturing him so he can perfect his experiment and restore himself to perfect health."
Rounding out the cast are Scratch's human and animal friends. "Penelope is Scratch's girl, and she does not know her cat has a super power. There's also the 'pet posse,' Marco (a dog), Pollo (a chicken) and Squirelly (well...you know). They all witness Scratch's ability during the course of the first story."
Scratch's first adventure, though, will test his loyalty and his mettle. "Scratch has two things on his mind which are at cross purposes. He wants to avoid getting captured by SchrÃ¶dinger. But at the same time, he knows that his animal friends Marco and Pollo and Squirrelly have been captured by the C.R.U.E.L. corporation and may be undergoing similar torturous experiments," Worley said. "So he has to choose between self-preservation and rescuing his friends.
"At the same time, he misses his home and his girl Penelope and doesn't realize that she's out in the big city looking for him."
Luckily, is newfound powers do give Scratch something of an advantage. "The power occurs as a summoning, rather than a possession. The nine lives are lived at different points in history," Worley said. "So Scratch remains present, even when he calls one of his other aspects. He interacts with them.
"When Scratch initially discovers his ability in the first issue, he summons his first aspect, a Smilodon (or sabre-toothed cat) who lived during the Ice Age," Worley added. "Having an enormous tiger-like aspect on hand is just the thing when Scratch is faced with opponents who are larger and more dangerous than he is.
"I'm fascinated by the treatment of cats throughout history and different cultures," Worley sontinued. "Especially those where there's a reverence or respect for them, as you find in ancient Egypt or the temples of Tibet. So, many of Scratch's past aspects are drawn from such historical occurrences of cats. But I'd also add that Scratch is only on his seventh life, so not all his aspects are from the past."
But for all of his amazing abilities, Worley suggested that Scratch is not a superhero in the traditional sense. "I love cats and my goal was to keep the animal characters acting as much like their real world counterparts as I could. So Scratch has no inkling to put on a costume and fight villainy, as a typical superhero might," the writer said. "His concerns are cat concerns: things like avoiding baths, playing, looking suave - stuff like that. But he's drawn into his adventures out of his growing sense empathy for other animals.
"So there's a lot of humor for people who like cats and dogs, mixed with some fun science fiction stuff like mad science experiments, robot minions and things like that. It's kind of like 'Snoopy Come Home' mixed with Chuck Jones/ACME-style antics."
Joining Worley for the series are Jason T. Kruse on interior art and Mike Kunkel on covers. "Jason is an amazing artist who I've known for quite a long time. I watched him take his 'World of Quest' comic from a web-strip to a Saturday Morning cartoon. I just love his whimsical, animation-style artwork," Worley said. "He had a break between volumes two and three of his 'Quest' graphic novels and I begged him to help me bring Scratch to life. He was kind enough to oblige and, as I think you can see from the preview pages, he's just done an amazing job depicting Scratch, Penelope, SchrÃ¶dinger and the pet posse. He's also one of the most dependable and professional artists I've ever worked with. Why he's not drawing every 'Marvel Adventures' title right now is beyond me.
"Mike Kunkel is, of course, a pioneer in the modern wave of kids' comics. He was out there on his own doing 'Herobear & the Kid' long before the industry really committed to doing these kinds of books. It's a beautiful, heartfelt book and the kind of book I aspire to," Worley continued. "So having him bless 'Scratch9' with his cover art is truly a great honor."
"Scratch9" will be one of the earliest titles in Ape's KiZoic line, along with comics based on Dreamworks' "Shrek." "I showed [Ape Marketing Director] Brent Erwin a 5-page preview version of 'Scratch9' at WizardWorld Chicago in 2008. He immediately was excited about it and called his partner Dave Hedgecock over to look at it. They were on board with comic very quickly," Worley said. "I really wanted to be with a publisher who is committed to kids' titles. Ape Entertainment's very first title was 'Go Go Gorilla & the Jungle Crew,' which I had picked up from them at Comic-Con in 2005. They had a line that I thought 'Scratch9' would fit well with, so I was sold on them pretty early on. After we made our deal I started learning that they had huge plans for the young readers market, which included the KiZoic line and the DreamWorks titles. And I understand there are a few more big reveals coming that will blow people away.
"'Scratch9' is in the perfect place, as far as I'm concerned. I'm very grateful that the Ape boys have been so supportive."
Worley's other recent work has involved adopting Aesop's Fables into comics for young readers, which may suggest his current track is taking him away from earlier creator-owned books like "Revenant." But, the writer said, this is not strictly the case. "I haven't sworn off material for older readers," Worley told CBR. "The next two things I'm writing (that aren't 'Scratch9') are both for older readers. But I do love writing for younger readers. I started doing that with 'Actionopolis' (which is returning to publishing this year!) and that lead me to other opportunities, like the 'Aesop's Fables' story books, the 'Boxcar Children' comics and the upcoming 'Norse Mythology' story books (all from Abdo Publishing).
"What I love about writing 'Scratch9' or 'Heir to Fire' or other things for young readers is there's space for free-wheeling fun," Worley continued. "'Scratch9' is very near and dear to my heart. It's born out of my affection for and my fascination with my own cats and wanting to put their charm and energy into a story. I'd love to continue making Scratch9 comics for a long time."