Contropussy, written by Emma Caulfield (Buffy’s own Anya) and Camilla Outzen Rantsen and with art by Christian Meesey, is a very weird and incredibly fun read. Contropussy follows the life of a cat: a housecat called Sonnet by day and a femme fatale by the name of Contropussy at night. Make no mistake, Contropussy is a contemporary embodiment of the attitude of exploitation films and underground comix of the ‘60s and 70s. Double O, a dog and the main love interest of Contropussy, appears exactly like the Kangaroo Men in the exploitation-style comic Tank Girl, and this homage brings to the forefront the controversy surrounding sexuality and sexual partners inherent in both comics.
Contropussy is brazen in its talk of sexuality. The first introduction to the titular heroine involves her monologue about masturbation, having a one-night stand with a stray cat, and reminiscing about her break up with her partner, Double O. True to any spy-thriller, the story itself focuses on Contropussy’s own adventures and mishaps, involving rescuing her friend from a cat brothel, international abductions, and the thrills and dangers of falling in love.
While Contropussy is very true to form in imitating the comix style of unapologetic “what can I get away with?”, it is taking place in 2013 and not 1970. The cultural implications of the gender dynamics and overt sexuality are still at the forefront. There is no escaping the reverberations of inverting and playing with typical gender dynamics, especially when using the James Bond spy-thriller genre as a framing device.
The punning name “Contropussy” is a clear homage to the most famous Bond Girl names, such as Pussygalore and Octopussy. She is the hero of this tale, oozing sex appeal and commanding respect, while Double O is relegated to the position of sex object. Sadly, the Double O character doesn’t receive any in-depth characterization to flesh out this parody: throughout the narrative he remains the sex object and love interest for Contropossy. Despite this, towards the end of the graphic novel, Double O does provide one of the best laugh-out-loud situations when he attacks Todd Akin, ultimately aligning him on the feminist side of the sexuality debate.
Contropussy achieves a sexually empowering effect throughout the narrative. Caulfield offers Contropussy, a very sexualized character, as a way to illustrate that sexual liberation is entirely different from sexual exploitation. Early on in the novel, Contropussy saves her friends from a cat brothel (by defeating her arch-nemesis Evil Rabbit in a in-your-face-kung-fu battle), showing that there is a difference between embodying sexuality and having that sexuality controlled, used and exploited (as further cemented through Double O’s attacking of Todd Akin for his “legitimate rape” comments). Contropussy is very smart and works the exploitation/homage to the comix scene incredibly well.
Beyond the politics, Contropussy is a fun read. The narrative style reads like an old-school film noir. For example, Contropussy describes a character who “walks across the street like a slow, slow drag off a cigarette after a really long day.” As well James Bond, Contropussy parodies other typical spy-thrillers like Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, offering a narrative that shifts the power from women in spy-thrillers as fetishized sex object to main protagonist. By inverting typical dynamics found in spy genres and by using the exploitation style of the underground comix scene, Contropussy is designed to shock and delight. And if the name itself isn’t a giveaway, there are plenty of shocks and boundaries being pushed. The use of animals works on an allegorical level, illustrating tensions found in the sexual relationships being exhibited, but it also provides shocks and laughs on a basic, literal level.
The stylized art is pitch-perfect for all of the intents of the narrative. Both realistic and exaggerated, Meesey’s art evokes the glamour of thriller movies, while presenting raw, unapologetic visuals at home in comix. Rather than offering a structured narrative that centres around one achievable goal, Contropussy reads episodical, due to its origins as webcomic, where we get scenes and stories that are bound together through the reader’s devotion to the characters, rather than a defining storyline. Contropussy is funny, exciting, action-packed, and so much more in-depth than just a cat behaving badly; it is a story you just can’t help but cheer for.