Photograph by Kevin A. Roberts
When Tracy Butler comes home at night from her job as art director for a computer-gaming company Simutronics, she eats dinner, and then starts her second job: drawing and writing the internationally beloved web comic Lackadaisy (lackadaisycats.com). The serialized graphic tale, which follows the picaresque adventures of a group of anthropomorphic cats operating a speakeasy in 1920’s St. Louis, had at press time been nominated for the 2011 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, to be presented at Comic-Con in late July.
How did you get the idea for a comic about cats running a speakeasy in 1920’s St. Louis?
I’ve been living in the area for 11 yrs, and around ‘05 I purchased my home in the historic district of St. Charles, and I started researching it and got caught up in the whole history of the area. I discovered there were limestone caves throughout the city, used by bootleggers and Native Americans. I was listening to a lot of jazz at the time, and it all coalesced in my head into some sort of story, and I had to get it out, and I went with comic art.
Some of the characters are inspired by cats I know who have peculiar personalities, and I find them endearing. But moreover, I think that cats straddle a line between being a little bit sinister and having a certain charisma. All the characters are criminals in my story, and some of their activities are a bit unscrupulous, but you root for them anyway. Also, the cats are drawn with big, saucer-shaped eyes and tails and ears, and that emphasizes their expressiveness and brings them to life. It would have a bit if a dour feel it were humans.
And some of them are your cats?
I have four cats. Actually, Ivy and Calvin are two prominent characters in the comic, and they were inspired by two of my cats with the same names
Tell me about the characters and the plotlines
It’s about a bunch of shady characters trying to run a speakeasy in 1920’s St. Louis. The original owner has been killed, and his wife is trying to keep the establishment together after a major exodus of important figures, and it’s turning out to be a catastrophe, no pun intended. Volume one of the comic is about how they keep it together. Volume two is about halfway done now, that’s about the characters’ backstories, and what originally happened to the first owner, and how Lackadaisy gets itself back on its feet again after being dealt such a massive blow. In about a year I’m hoping to have that out.
Why is the speakeasy called “Lackadaisy”?
I have been a collector of strange, old-fashioned words, like “sockdolager” and “loggerhead.” I just like the way they sound. Also, the café that’s the cover for the speakeasy, with the secret entrance at the back, is called The Little Daisy. And “lackadaisical” could describe the attitude that the patrons of a speakeasy might have.
This may sound odd, but some of those lady cats are pretty sexy.
Well, the 1920’s was kind of a bawdy, sexy era.
How long have you been drawing this?
I started in ’06.
What mediums do you use to create it?
It’s a combination of pencil and digital.
What kind of feedback have you received from your readers?
Most of it has been positive. I feel very grateful that so many people enjoy it. Occasionally I do get criticism that there’s only cats in the comic, the readers want to see other animals (laughs).
And you’ve been a serious artist for a long time?
I have background in illustration; I’m a pathological sketcher. I spend hours drawing in my notebook. A lot of my teachers in school weren’t thrilled with me.
This really looks like it’s ready to be animated.
When I set out to do it, I didn’t have animation in mind. If I have the time on my hands I might do a short animation at some point. I grew up on Looney Toons and Disney movies, and that influenced me a lot. I used to watch Disney animated features in slow motion, in fact, which just tormented my parents. I was fascinated by the motion and expressions.
Do you work on this every day?
Yeah, it’s kind of a second full-time job. It quickly became obvious that to make any progress on it, I had to sacrifice my social life. I work during the day for the gaming company, eat dinner, and then work six to eight hours on the comic. Sometimes I work ‘til the sun comes up, but I enjoy it, I look forward to it.
Has publishing this on the Internet been a good idea?
It’s a great benefit — people have asked me why anyone would spend money to buy a book they can read online [Lackadaisy is available as a book, too. –BK], but actually it’s the biggest promotional tool I could possibly have. In the past 10 years web comics have grown from something that seems like amateur hour, to people making their living doing this, and getting movie deals and animated versions made and selling books. People are constantly reading it and passing links around, which has been big for sales.
You’ve received a number of awards for Lackadaisy, and now you’ve been nominated for a major award.
I’m a finalist for the 2011 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award, in the Digital Comics category. It’s like the Oscars of comics. They award them at Comic-Con in San Diego.
I understand you have fans all over the globe.
It’s been overwhelming and fantastic. The real-time feedback is marvelous. People respond after each page, and it motivates me to keep going, and it even has inspired some people to start their own comic. Some people draw the characters and send them to me. Somebody sculpted an entire chess set of the characters, and somebody made a quilt of them. People have done ingenious stuff. I actually have dolls that readers have sewn, sculptures they’ve made, paintings. Somebody recently did a beautiful pen and ink drawing of the whole cast in masquerade costumes, and I have to get it framed, it’s gorgeous.