This funny, action-packed graphic novel chronicles the adventures of the operators of a struggling speakeasy in 1927 St. Louis – or rather, a 1927 St. Louis where all the people are cats.
Rocky is a young fiddler, a new addition to the band that played for Lackadaisy customers during the bar’s glory days. He’s also head-over-heels for Mitzi, the widow of Lackadaisy’s former owner, who’s now scrambling to keep the joint afloat. Hoping to play the hero, Rocky volunteers for the dangerous job of meeting with suppliers – suppliers who currently have arrangements with Lackadaisy’s competitors, who just might have been involved in the murder of Mitzi’s husband.
Well-meaning and energetic, but somewhat lacking in common sense, Rocky doesn’t inspire great confidence. Still, Mitzi’s down to the loyal but ragtag remains of the bar’s staff. Without a lot of options, she gives Rocky the job. Meanwhile, she looks to another potential savior for Lackadaisy – a friend of her late husband, who’s just made it big and who always had a bit of a crush on Mitzi.
Rocky’s first meeting doesn’t go well – indeed, it ends with a rival establishment’s angry owners tying him to a train track. After a narrow escape, Rocky’s thinking payback. Needing assistance, he brings in his cousin, the shy and straight-laced Freckle. Freckle has no idea what he’s getting into – as far as he knows, his cousin is just a violin player.
Rocky’s revenge goes off without a hitch – except that Lackadaisy’s competitors are really mad now. Storming-the-bar-with-guns-blazing mad. Which is terrible timing, since Mitzi’s in there schmoozing her heart out with potential investors. If that’s not bad enough, Freckle’s there, too, still oblivious, on a date. But when the bullets start flying, Lackadaisy’s misfit crew must make a stand – and Freckle turns out to be a lot less mild-mannered than Rocky ever knew.
It’s oddly easy to forget the characters are cats. They walk upright, wear clothes, and don’t make any mention of the fact that they all have whiskers and tails. Certainly there’s nothing cutesy about these kitties; for one thing, most of them carry guns.
Talking cats aside, the setting is surprisingly genuine: clothing is drawn from the period, some real St. Louis locales appear, and the story sparkles with fun historical touches, as when Freckle’s flapper date tries to teach him the Lindy Hop. The crisp, detailed artwork, featuring wonderfully expressive characters, is done in sepia tones that give it the appearance of old photographs. It’s on display at the site of the original webcomic. (The story of Lackadaisy continues to play out in the webcomic, and may be collected in future bound volumes, but volume one stands alone surprisingly well.)
For all its violence, this isn’t a dark book. The murder-happy villains are balanced by an endearing cast of heroes and supporting characters, spouting hilarious quips and using authentic twenties slang. There’s a lot of shooting and a fair bit of blood, though mostly of the spatters-on-clothing variety – no gratuitous gore. Younger readers might balk at the violence; they’d likely also miss some of the book’s subtleties and references. Teens and adults, though, will love this smart, funny, fast-paced graphic novel.