This past weekend saw the debut of CatConLA, first ever convention for all things cats. Celebrity cats like Lil Bub and Pudge were in attendance, along with cat-themed panels, vendors selling their cat-inspired wares, and artists with cat-centric pieces. One of the most sought-after artists in attendance was Jenny Parks, known for her geek-centric cat mash-ups. She first came on everyone's radar with her "Doctor Mew" piece, and her booth covered with cat illustrations can always be seen at artist alleys throughout conventions everywhere. Parks was kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few of my cat questions.
Cameron Hatheway: Your illustrations first gained internet fame when "Doctor Mew" went viral. What sort of illustrations were you doing before the cat/nerdy mash-ups?
Jenny Parks: I actually have a Bachelor's Degree in Illustration, and a graduate degree in Scientific Illustration, so when I first graduated my aim was to do freelance science illustration full time. I was mostly drawing wildlife like big cats and fruit bats and birds, those kinds of things, as well as dinosaurs, plants and insects. You can see some examples of this work on my website under Science and Wildlife. I still enjoy doing this work when I can, but the cats have definitely taken over most of my time. I can't say I'm complaining!
CH: You've definitely seemed to have embraced the geeky mash-ups. What's the process like pairing a franchise or character with a certain breed of cat?
JP: It really depends on the character and if I already have an idea in my head as to what breed would fit. Sometimes it's really obvious to me, like I knew Scotty from the original Star Trek series would have to be a Scottish Fold, and I knew Picard from the Next Generation would be a Sphynx. I actually had some trouble with figuring out the Hulk, as at first I was wondering if he would be some kind of prehistoric cat… but once I realized how angry Persian cats look all the time, I knew that was the one.
A lot of the time I don't have the perfect breed in mind, so I have to do a bit of searching. I'll comb through images of cats using Google Image Search, or I'll flip through a cat breed book looking for a look that compliments the character I'm transforming. Sometimes it will be based on hair color, or length of fur, but sometimes it's just a gut feeling. I try to at least match the shape of the face, like using a long Siamese face for Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock.
JP: My best seller is still the "Catvengers," but "Star Trek" is a close second. I am also finding that people want to see more Star Wars characters, as "Cat Solo" is also very popular. I get people requesting Darth Vader, Storm Troopers, and more DC super heroes like Superman. I also get a lot of people asking if I have a Deadpool.
CH: You're also open to doing commissions of people's own pets as various characters. What's the weirdest or greatest request that you've received?
JP: I don't know if any of them have been super weird, but it is a little odd when people ask me to turn themselves or their friends into cats. I am also working on a commission now of someone's cat as Toothless, the dragon from How to Train Your Dragon, and that is kind of a strange experience and a bit of a challenge. As for fun commissions, I worked on a couple John Hodgman cats for his official fan page, and I also did a personal sketch of the Dr. Crusher cat for Gates McFadden herself, which she commissioned me to do before I had finished the Next Generation piece.
JP: I have one cat (so far); a female black domestic shorthair named Mab. I have always had cats in my life, and I couldn't live without them. Mab likes to "help" me in the studio by sitting on my lap and laying her head on my hands while I try to type, or grab my fingers while I try to draw. She is very helpful. A lot of people ask if I have used her in any of my works, but I admit that I haven't yet! I am still trying to figure out which character would fit her best, but I will definitely use her someday.
CH: What famous cats, dead or alive, would you like to share a saucer of milk with?
JP: I am definitely a fan of Lil Bub. She is adorable and admire that she (and her owner) have used her fame to raise money for animals in need. I got to see her from afar during CatCon LA, and that was very exciting! She's even cuter in person. I would like to know if she would like to be dressed up like any characters or heroes, and if so, what she would want to be.