Dharma The Cat - Philosophy With Fur
David Lourie, Ted Blackall &
the cartoons are about the the rocky path to nirvana, with a Buddhist
cat, a novice monk and a mouse hell-bent on cheese." There is a young
novice monk named Bodhi, who is stumbling earnestly along the Buddha’s
Noble Path, succumbing to every spiritual pitfall along the way, while
his cool cat Dharma observes it all with equanimity. The wise and
mischievous Dharma is able to outwit his guileless, unsuspecting young
master at will. And Siam, the House Mouse, always provides an extra
opportunity (ie, challenge) for Bodhi’s spiritual growth.
HOW I GAVE BIRTH TO DHARMA
The idea for "Dharma The
Cat -- Philosophy With Fur" came to me one day while I was
contemplating the deeper meaning of life . . . and unemployment. I was
a freelance writer and documentary filmmaker at the time, as I still
am. But back then I was ‘between jobs’ – way between.
I had long ago made the basic
decision that money was not what my life was about. Since then I had
been trying to make a living by creating projects I believed had value –
both personal and social.
I know what you’re thinking:
this decision may have had something to do with why I was between
jobs. . . . But that’s another issue.
Getting back to that fateful
day when I gave birth to Dharma The Cat: I was on the verge of
making a series of phone calls to potential clients, letting them know
that I was available for work – though doing it carefully, without
letting on that I actually needed the work. But just as I
picked up the phone to make the first call, I was suddenly distracted by
a different kind of call -- a soul-piercing plaintive wail from my cat,
Although he is lovingly cared
for and exceedingly well placed in life, Dharma’s dramatic vocal styling
could easily convince the neighbours that he is the most maligned
creature on Earth.
On this particular occasion,
as I was about to phone a potential client, Dharma insisted on
displaying his hungriness with more extreme vocal styling than usual.
So, pointing at the clock, I gently but firmly reminded him that he only
gets fed when the big hand is on 12 and the little hand is on 5.
Strangely, my clear and
patient explanation seemed to fall on deaf ears, and my attitude of
perfect reasonableness went unacknowledged..
Now, I am not going to try to
tell you that my cartoon strip is autobiographical. I will let you
figure that out. [see Episode 1 "Time"]
Suffice it to say that no
job-hunting phone calls were made on that day. Or the next. Instead, I
was overwhelmed by inspiration. Eight cartoon episodes exploded out of
me – and all of them produced in the short breaks between my frequent
mouse-rescuing sorties out to the compost bin. [see Episode 2 "The
And so it was born: "Dharma
The Cat – Philosophy With Fur." As the blurb goes, it all takes place
“on the rocky path to nirvana with a Buddhist Cat, and novice monk
and a mouse hell-bent on cheese.”
The young novice monk is named
Bodhi. It is he who provides the strip’s humour, by stumbling
over-earnestly along the Buddha’s Noble Path, succumbing to every
spiritual pitfall along the way, and demonstrating clearly how not
to do it. All the while, the cheeky and relentless Siam the Mouse
provides extra challenges to Bodhi’s efforts at maintaining inner
peace. And from the eye of the storm, Cool Cat Dharma observes it all
with wit and equanimity. Naturally, the wise and mischievous feline is
able to outwit the guileless young Bodhi at will, and this adds to
Bodhi’s amusing pitfalls (and pratfalls)along the path.
Although the idea for the
strip appeared to be born quickly and naturally, upon further reflection
I realised it was not an immaculate conception after all – the basic
content had actually been brewing below the surface for quite some time.
Several years before I had
written a couple of illustrated children's stories which were intended
to immortalise my extraordinary cat, the late great Mugsy – who, like
Dharma, was a furface with Buddhanature. He was the gentlest animal of
any species I had ever met. I never saw him even swipe at a fly. In
fact, when we found him he had been abandoned, and was starved almost to
death. He obviously had never learned to hunt. And having Mugsy in
the yard never kept the birds away. They would walk right past him
when he was lying around on the lawn – they had him figured out.
Anyway, those Mugsy adventure
stories never got published, partly because it happened to be bad timing
in the marketplace, as times were too tough then to get a reputable
company to publish new material from an unknown author.
So the Adventures Of Mugsy The
Cat is still sitting on my shelf, for the time being, but the spirit of
Mugsy has now taken rebirth as Dharma The Cat .
So why the name "Dharma"
instead of "Mugsy?" That comes from the other part of the brewing
process: my own practice of the dharma (the teachings of the
I have been meditating and
exploring religions and philosophies for over 30 years, and have also
been making the odd documentary film on those subjects. I am not a
religious person by inclination, but I do have a philosophical nature.
So I would describe myself as a philosophical Buddhist, as opposed to a
religious one. And because I have friends who have chosen to don the
robe and go down the religious path, I can write about some of the
situations they encounter. And of course, I use myself as a model for
Bodhi, the spiritually-challenged novice monk who suffers from
The cartoon’s humour is based
on the “How Not To” approach to learning, and I have plenty of personal,
long-term expertise in that area.
So it's not hard to see how
the idea for this strip emerged from those two strands of my life.
The reason I am writing a
strip that popularises the dharma, instead of producing a "household
humour" strip with Mugsy's name, is out of appreciation of what the
dharma has done for me. I have had some difficult passages in my own
life, and in those times the wisdom and insight of the Buddha's
philosophy empowered me to handle things with clarity and good
judgment. And so, as a freelancer over the past 10 years, most of the
ideas I've come up with for my own projects, whether it be a book,
video, CD or whatever, has been related directly or indirectly to the
"Dharma The Cat" is designed
to popularise an awareness of the teachings of the Buddha, but without
specifically preaching any of them (which I would be unqualified to
do). In fact, the strip does not directly present the dharma at all.
It only presents the context and general subject of spiritual life in an
engaging way, with humour that is universally accessible and independent
of any familiarity with the dharma. But the humour is designed so it
can be spoken about and analysed in terms of spiritual and religious
issues, which is useful for educators and academics.
The web site (www.DharmaTheCat.com)
features an Inter-Faith forum, in which spokespeople of ten major and
minor religions comment on each episode of the strip in terms of their
own ideology. It's a unique exercise in Comparative Religions which is
personalised and quite revealing. The cartoons, in combination with
this multi-faith religious commentary, are now forming the basis of
classroom studies in Australia and American schools, religious
organizations and discussion groups in several countries worldwide.
THE METHOD: I have often been
asked about the approach I take to producing the cartoon strip. My
method is to first write all the dialogue, since for me the ideas emerge
as philosophical issues, not necessarily as visual gags. I then make
stick figure drawings to crudely illustrate the dialogue. Then I test
this very rough presentation on a variety of people of diverse
mentalities, to get a good public cross section, including some people
for whom this strip is ‘not intended’ -- I learn a lot from them! I
then take most of their comments on board, and continue to revise and
re-test the rough episodes until people will laugh out loud at the idea
even despite my primitive stick figure drawings. When this happens, I
know that the raw idea itself is now strong enough to produce.
So when an episode finally
gets laughs of approval, I then hand it over to my extremely talented
illustrator, Ted Blackall. We collaborate and workshop the idea
further. He works in black and white, so I scan his final line drawings
into the computer, and colour them in.
However, after producing 20
episodes that people liked, Ted and I felt sure-handed enough to proceed
with the rest without the market testing stage any more.
But, having said all that,
after episode 56 (the last cartoon in the book)Ted moved on, and now
it’s Dave Heinrich from Adelaide who is creating the beautiful drawings
for Dharma The Cat. Dave is a freelance illustrator and graphic
designer in publishing and advertising, as well as a cartoonist in his
own right. We are currently working on a sequel book, called “The Silk
Road Adventures Of Dharma The Cat,” which spans four continents and
2,000 years of history.
And that's the end of the
story . . . so far. – David Lourie
is the original illustrator and collaborator on
"Dharma The Cat." He is a commercial artist,
storyboard artist and oil painter. He, too, lives on Sydney's
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Dharma, Bodhi and Siam at
winner of the 10 Best On The Web Award."