B. Kliban (1935-1990), was arguably the first to put now outrageously popular cat cartooning in the fore, the artist who opened up doors for the likes of Gary Larsen, Jim Davis, and others of feline-connected fame.
Kliban studied painting and design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and later at Cooper Union in New York City. In the mid 1950s, he traveled and painted in Europe for a couple years, spending so much time at the Uffizi in Florence that he said he felt as if he lived there. He kept a daily journal of watercolours of abstract heads; he drew incessantly and developed a masterful hand, especially as related to figure drawing. After he returned to the States, he mounted a motorcycle and road to the West Coast, arriving first in southern California and eventually settling in Marin County, north of San Francisco.
Determining after a short time that supporting himself as a painter was simply not feasible, Kliban took a variety of odd jobs, including one drawing showgirls at a club called Mr. Wonderful in San Francisco's "red-light" district. In his boredom at Mr. Wonderful's he began inventing satirical, biting, hilarious cartoons and drawing them on cocktail napkins. The cartoons offered a no-holds-barred look at every type of person and human situation - here Kliban offered his perspective on religion, on government, history, and more.
Responding to a 1962 advertisement in Playboy for contributions from cartoonists, Kliban was "discovered" by the magazine. Playboy entered into a long-standing relationship with Kliban, continuing to publish his work for the next thirty years.
So how did Cat enter the picture?
Kliban loved cats (no surprise there) and usually had several living with him. In the early 1970s, four "stripers" were hanging out with Kliban, demanding his attention as he was doodling and thinking up ideas for Playboy. Kliban's editor at Playboy saw the drawings of cats that resulted from this "session" and asked permission to show them to a literary agent. A deal was made with a publisher and Cat was born to the world.
The first book (called simply, Cat) was published in 1975 and Kliban became an overnight cartoon sensation. This book was followed by seven other cartoon books in which Cat's appearance was minimal. colourful Cats followed, decorating a range of merchandise from calendars and t-shirts to magnets, plush, and beach towels. Cat had become the ultimate cat to collect an iconic image, trusted friend, and producer of, well, happiness.