Felix the Cat
'Felix the Cat'. 

Pat Sullivan was an Australian cartoonist, animator and film producer, best known for his involvement in the creation of the iconic cartoon character 'Felix the Cat' (1919). While Felix wasn't the first animated character, he was the medium's first superstar. During the 1920s, 'Felix the Cat' was the most famous and popular animated series on the planet. His cartoons stood out for their inventive visual gags. They were also the first mass-merchandised animated series. 'Felix the Cat' was the first animated character to spawn an equally succesful and long-running comic series. Although the happy cat remains iconic, even a century later, controversy has risen over the question who was his spiritual father? Historians and animation fans still debate whether Pat Sullivan or his employee Otto Messmer deserves the most recognition for the series' success. 

Early life and career
Patrick Peter Sullivan was born in 1887 in Paddington, New South Wales, Australia. He was the son of a Darlinghurst cab proprietor. After leaving school, he worked various jobs, including as gatekeeper at Toohey's brewery in Surry Hills. He attended classes at the Art Society of NSW, while doing his first assignments as a caricaturist. Between 1905 and 1907, he submitted humorous cartoons to the trade union newspaper, The Worker. In 1909, Sullivan emigrated to England, where he tried his hand on lightweight boxing as well as singing and dancing in music halls. His first actual comics work was contributing to the 'Ally Sloper' strip, which was created by Charles Henry Ross en Émilie de Tessier, for a year and a half.

Sullivan eventually emigrated to the United States, where made a living designing cinema posters. He worked for the McClure Syndicate as an assistant to William Marriner on his comic strip 'Sambo and his Funny Noises', in itself based on Helen Bannerman's popular childrens' book series 'Little Black Sambo'. Sullivan also created some Marriner-inspired strips on his own, both for McClure and the New York Evening World. These include 'Great-Idea Jerry' (17 July 1912 - 5 April 1913), 'Johnny Boston Beans' (1914, plagiarism of Marriner's previous strip 'Johnnie Bostonbeans'), 'Obliging Oliver' (1913-1914) and 'Old Pop Perkins' (1914). After Marriner's death in 1914, Sullivan went into animation.

Early animation career
In 1914, Sullivan joined the animation studio of Raoul Barré. But he was fired a year later. When newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst set up his own animation studio, International Film Service, he bought several people away from Barré to create cartoons for him. One of them was Sullivan. At Hearst's studio, they worked on animated cartoons based on the most popular newspaper comics in Hearst's papers. However, the cartoons weren't much of a success and in 1918 Hearst folded the International Film Service. 

Criminal conviction
In 1917, Sullivan was convicted of raping a 14-year old girl and sentenced to jail for nine months and three days. This put a temporary halt to his animation studio's productions. 

Sullivan Studios
In 1919, Sullivan established his own animated studio, the Sullivan Studios. One of the company's first projects was an animated adaptation of William Marriner's newspaper comic 'Sambo', though retitled as 'Sammy Johnsin' to avoid copyright issues. This was followed by an animated series based on the popularity of Hollywood comedian Charlie Chaplin. Among the people who were once employed at Pat Sullivan's Studio were George Cannata, Al Eugster, Gerry Geronimi, Burt Gillett, Otto Messmer, Bill Nolan, Dana Parker, Hal Walker and Rudy Zamora. 

'Great-Idea Jerry'.

Felix the Cat
On 9 November 1919, the Sullivan Studios finally scored a worldwide commercial hit with the creation of 'Felix the Cat'. While Winsor McCay's 'Gertie the Dinosaur' (1914) was the first cartoon to revolve completely around the personality of one character and J.R. Bray's 'Colonel Heeza Liar' (1913-1924) the first animated series overall, Felix was the first animated character to become an international superstar. The silent 'Felix' shorts were funny and creative. They took advantage of all the possibilities of the still young animation medium. Felix would, for instance, often use imagery from the scenery of his cartoons. He would also take words, punctuations, speech balloons or parts of his own anatomy, leading to very surreal moments. The little black cat also frequently broke the fourth wall. At the time, only 'Koko the Clown' by the Fleischer Studios rivalled them in popularity and inventiveness. 

'Felix' was the first cartoon character to be globally merchandized, making him as recognizable as any live-action Hollywood star. He became the first cartoon character to be mass-produced in merchandising and the first fictional character to be turned into a giant balloon during Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Ed E. Bryant and Hubert W. David wrote a song about the cat, 'Felix Kept On Walking' (1923), which was covered by various musicians, including jazz legend Paul Whiteman. Bryant and David followed up with another song, 'Here He Is Again (Being More Adventures of Felix)' (1924). Other music inspired by Felix from the same period were the songs 'Let's All Follow Felix (That Dog-Gone Crazy Cat)' (1923) by Ralph Stanley and Leslie Alleyn, 'Fido Followed Felix' (1924) by Harry Tilsey and 'Felix! Felix! Felix the Cat!' (1928) by Alfred Bryan, Pete Wendling and Max Kortlander. Even famed composer Paul Hindemith wrote an entire score for the now lost cartoon 'Frolics at the Circus' (1920) and in the 1990s house DJ Felix Stallings, Jr. adapted the pseudonym 'Felix da Housecat' as his stage name.

When Charles Lindbergh made his famous non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, he took a Felix the Cat doll along with him (after arriving in Paris he was given another doll, this one modelled after Émile-Joseph Pinchon's 'Bécassine'). During the experimental TV broadcasts by NBC in 1928 they tested the transmission by filming a Felix the Cat doll.  The cartoons were not only popular with the general public, but also drew praise from Hollywood legend Charlie Chaplin and intellectuals such as French literary critic Marcel Brion and British novelist Aldous Huxley (of 'Brave New World' fame)  who wrote: "Felix the Cat proves that what the cinema can do better than literature or the spoken drama is to be fantastic." Huxley also argued that European Expressionist filmmakers ought to take notice of Felix in order to avoid the pretentiousness and humorlessness that marred their work.

Felix the cat, by Pat Sullivan
'Felix the Cat'.

Felix the Cat comics
After J.R. Bray's 'Colonel Heeza Liar' in 1916, Felix was also the first animated character to be adapted into a comic strip. Between 1923 and 1967, King Features syndicated a 'Felix the Cat' newspaper comic.The comic strip made its debut as a Sunday comic in the British newspaper The Daily Sketch before it was published in the United States on 19 August 1923. Sullivan's co-worker Otto Messmer was the main author of the 'Felix the Cat' Sunday feature until September 1943, with Sullivan credited as the inker of the early episodes. On 9 May 1927, 'Felix the Cat' became a daily comic too, initially consisting of cut-and-paste reworkings of the cartoons by animator Jack Bogle. After 1931, Messmer started writing and drawing original stories for the daily strip. Another animator, Joe Oriolo, took over from Messmer from 1954 until the strip's cancellation in January 1967. Other artists who worked on the 'Felix the Cat' newspaper comics were Bill Holman, Dana Parker and Ed Cronin. 

A first series of monthly 'Felix the Cat' comic books was published by Dell Comics and Toby Press between 1948 and 1955. In the 1990s, Harvey Comics also published 'Felix the Cat' comics, drawn by  Frank Hill . Between 1926 and 1928 British comic artists Charlie Pease and Arthur Martin also had a humor comic strip named 'Felix the Fat', which, apart from the lame pun in the title, had nothing to do with Felix.

Right from the start, the 'Felix the Cat' Sunday page was accompanied by topper comics, like 'Laura' (1926-1935), 'Funny Films' (1933-1935), 'Sunny Side' (1935), 'Bobby Dazzler' (1935-1940), 'Gus the Ghost' (1940) and 'Don Poco' (1940-1942). 'Laura' centered on the antics of a talkative parrot named Laura. 'Bobby Dazzler' also appeared as 'Bobby and Chip' (1936-1938) in the British Mickey Mouse Weekly. These were in turn reprinted in Mickey Mouse Magazine the first full-scale US periodical devoted to Walt Disney's iconic mouse, published by Hal Horne and later Kay Kamen. 

Laura, by Pat Sullivan
'Laura' Sunday topper, credited to Sullivan, but ghosted by Messmer.

Final years and death
Eventually the success of 'Felix the Cat', became too much for Sullivan. He was an alcoholic and would often drink during the working hours. Several employees, like Otto Messmer, Shamus Culhane, George Cannata and Al Eugster, remembered that Sullivan was never sober. During his drunken rants, he would sometimes fire people, but nobody took this seriously, because the next day he didn't remember his behavior from the previous day anyway. The downside of Sullivan's drinking problem was that the studio didn't adapt to the changing times. By the late 1920s and early 1930s, he refused to make the transition to sound and color cartoons. This gave 'Felix the Cat' a major disadvantage, especially compared with the tremendous success of the  Walt Disney Studios. 

In 1932, Sullivan's wife accidentally leaned too far from an open window and fell to her death, seven stories below. Sullivan drowned his sorrows in alcohol, like he always did. Almost a year later, he too passed away, from alcohol-induced pneumonia. He left no testament or any book-keeping records behind. As a result of his careless management, the Sullivan Studios were forced to close down, bringing the 'Felix the Cat' series to a sudden end. 

Felix the cat, by Pat Sullivan
'Felix the Cat'.

Creator controversy
Pat Sullivan's posthumous reputation has been tainted by his alcoholism, mismanagement, conviction for rape and anecdotes that he was racist against black people. According to former animator Rudy Zamora, Sullivan specifically didn't hire blacks. Some critics don't even give Sullivan credit for his major claim of fame: Felix the Cat. His main animator and comic artist Otto Messmer claimed that he was Felix' rightful creator. But he never received any official credit, nor a dime of the royalties. Many of Messmer's colleagues also acknowledged that Sullivan was hardly present - or sober for that matter - in the studio after 1925, while the rest of his staff kept all production running. 

As early as 1917, Sullivan directed an animated short called 'The Tail of Thomas Kat', featuring a prototypical black cat. Messmer's design for Felix in the short 'Feline Follies' (1919) was very reminiscent, down to the original name for the cat, 'Master Tom'. Only after his third cartoon did Felix finally receive his current name. Sullivan claimed he named Felix after the word "Australia Felix" ("Lucky Australia"), a term used by 19th-century explorer Thomas Mitchell. Messmer on the other hand pointed at his colleague John King, who named the cat after the Latin word "felix" ("lucky"), which also was very similar to the Latin word "felis" ("cat"). Messmer has claimed that he was the sole author of 'Feline Follies' (1919), which several animation historians have backed up. Yet defenders of Sullivan point out that Sullivan's handwriting can be seen throughout the short. Around the four minute mark a speech bubble appears in the left corner of the screen, which reads "Mum". Australians like Sullivan would spell the word for "mother" as "mum" while Americans like Messmer would spell it as "mom".

The issue about Felix' creation shall probably never be solved. It cannot be denied that Messmer was largely responsible for the development of Felix' personality. He drew the character more often than Sullivan ever did, both as an animator as well as a comic artist. But Sullivan's business sense played an equal part in Felix' enduring success. Even taken in regard that he possibly merely laid the foundations, this is still a tremendous feat for a medium that was still in its children's shoes in 1919. 

The controversy about who the real creator of 'Felix the Cat' is would somewhat repeat itself about a decade later when Ub Iwerks remodelled Felix into Mickey Mouse. For decades, Walt Disney was credited with the creation of Mickey, while today even the Walt Disney Corporation acknowledges that Iwerks was basically Mickey's creator. A similar dispute is the debate who is the real creator of Bugs Bunny, with people argueing whether Tex Avery, animator Bugs Hardaway or Bob Clampett deserves the most credit? In 1996, the 'Felix' controversy would be satirized in Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons', namely the episode 'The Day the Violence Died', where it is argued who was the original creator of Itchy from 'Itchy & Scratchy'. 

Legacy and influence
Despite being over a hundred years old, 'Felix the Cat' remains as iconic today as he was in the past. He can be considered the godfather of all cartoon stars and inspired numerous animators and cartoonists, including Walt Disney, Ub Iwerks, Paul Terry, Bob Clampett, Raoul Servais, Sally Cruikshank, Bjorn Frank JensenTabaréJohn Kricfalusi, Bruce Petty and Matt Groening. Disney and Ub Iwerks modelled Julius the Cat (from their 'Alice Comedies'), Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Mickey Mouse after Felix. At Paul Terry's Terrytoons Studio's, Waffles the Cat was also a direct copy. Japanese manga artist Suiho Tagawa's black-and-white dog Norakuro was also based on Felix. While Felix' name refers to "luck", the word "norakuro" is an abbreviation of "noranu" ("stray dog") and "kurokichi" ("black luck"). 

Felix was briefly revived as a cartoon star in 1936 by the Van Beuren Studios, but failed to appeal to modern audiences. The character was revived during the early years of TV as the star of the children's series 'Felix the Cat' (1959-1961). The show gave him a magic bag and introduced a new cast of side characters, including his nemesis The Professor and his sidekick Poindexter. It also had a memorable theme song, sang by Ann Bennett and composed by Winston Sharples. Both Joseph Oriolo and Sullivan's brother William were closely involved in the making. In 1970 Oriolo obtained the rights to Felix. In 1989 'Felix the Cat' appeared in his first full-length animated feature film, 'Felix the Cat: The Movie' (1989), co-produced by Animation Film Cologne and Pannónia Filmstúdió and directed by Tibor Hernádi. However, the picture was a critical and financial box office flop. A reboot of the 'Felix the Cat' TV series was produced by Film Roman as 'The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat' (1995-1997), with Joe Murray as a character designer. It was broadcast on CBS. A short-lived junior spin-off of 'Felix the Cat', titled 'Baby Felix' (2000-2001), ran on the Japanese TV network NHK. Contrary to older cartoon characters, Felix is still used on merchandising today and remains recognizable to anyone with even a mild interest in animation. 

Pat Sullivan
Pat Sullivan. 

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