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Emma Allen, cartoon editor for The New Yorker, knows funny. Unrelated, she also knows a sociopath (her words) a.k.a., Dante the cat. As Allen tells it, the two met serendipitously on Garfield Street in the Bronx (unfortunately, no lasagna was involved), and it’s been love/tolerate ever since. Their connection is ironic considering Dante’s macabre sense of humor — as anyone who has seen a New Yorker cartoon knows, they tend to lean a little more high-brow. But after talking with Allen, it became clear that she and Dante could make it to hell and back, as long as they’re together.
Allen shares her insight on the power couple and the difference between dog/cat/turtle humor with The Wildest.
How did you and Dante meet?
He and I were both reaching for the last bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape at the local wine shop, and his paw grazed my hand, and our eyes met, and the rest is history. (He knocked the bottle off the shelf, smashing it on the floor; I paid for the damage.) OK, seriously — my husband and I drank a bottle of wine and were tipsy-cruising PetFinder and stumbled upon a striking headshot of Dante, who had been rescued by an organization called PupStarz (clearly where one goes to get a cat).
Clearly. Aside from his photo, did anything else about his profile draw you in?
In the listing, Dante was described as being “medium-sized” and also as taking “great care in keeping himself and his bathroom area neat and clean,” which cracked me up. So, we went to visit him at his foster’s apartment (portentously, on Garfield Street), and encountered the beast that is Dante. It was deep pandemic, and neither of us had seen a cat in a long time, but this creature definitely seemed, um, larger than the average baby tiger. We had been told to bring a hard cat carrier to ferry him home if it was a love connection, which it was, and we basically had to whack-a-mole this enormous animal into the crate, all while promising to take great care of him. His fur stuck out of the holes in the side of the carrier.
How have you been able to integrate cat parenthood into your busy schedule as an editor for The New Yorker?
Anyone who’s ever said that cats are “low-maintenance” has never had a Dante in their life. I have managed, but there have been Zoom meetings during which I have had to lurch out of frame to stop Dante from trying to leap from the top of the fridge to a windowsill 15 feet away. And you’d better believe that if I get stuck at the office and am five minutes late to feed Dante dinner, there’s Inferno-inspired hell to pay.
But his existence always improves my mood, so the cartoonists should probably all be grateful that I am able to take revivifying breaks from sorting through their thousands of weekly submissions to pet this giant, soft, snoring furball, who only occasionally slashes me with his tiny little hand-knives. He’s a terrible assistant, but then again, he’s paid in meat glop. And he works whatever hours he likes — specifically, all of the hours in which I’d rather be asleep. To summarize, yes, you can have it all.
Do you and Dante have similar senses of humor?
I want to say that Dante doesn’t have a sense of humor, being a sociopath and all. But that’s not quite right. Dante isn’t a big laugher, though we both chuckle when he destroys my husband’s belongings. I feel like you know that a joke has landed with him when he stops scowling fiendishly at you and just sort of blankly stares.
He definitely thinks it’s funny when I try to dance. And when I fall over while attempting to put on a shoe. And when a pigeon flies smack into the window. I guess he’s more of a physical comedy guy, which I can relate to. (I also think it’s funny when I try to dance.) I’ve tried to put two cartoons in front of him, to see if he’ll pick the better one, but he honestly prefers to just sit on top of the paper, especially if it’s at all crinkly.
If Dante were a drawing, who would he be drawn by?
Henri Rousseau? Some good, gentle tigers there. Fernando Botero? Dante is no [Alberto] Giacometti cat, that’s for sure. [Garfield cartoonist] Jim Davis? Dante is not uninterested in lasagna.
If Dante could draw, what would his art look like?
I can see him being a Richard Tuttle-esque minimalist sculptor — lots of little strings and scraps of paper. Or else more of a Carolee Schneemann, rubbing raw fish and chicken on himself as performance art. But if we’re talking cartoonists? James Thurber, all the way. Loose lines, lots of jokes about dogs.
In terms of sense of humor, what do you think the difference is between dog people and cat people?
Dog people’s humor drools, and cat people’s humor rules! Just kidding — stand down, dog people. Maybe dog humor is all about laughing with you, while cat humor is all about laughing at you? Regardless, turtle people’s humor is f*cking bananas.
Favorite cat joke — go!
Meow, meow, meow, meow, meow? Meow, meow, meow, meow, meow!
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Rebecca Caplan is a writer based in Brooklyn whose work has been featured in The New Yorker, Reductress, and Vulture. She lives in Brooklyn with her perfect, toothless dog Moose.