Manfried the Man OGN
Written by Caitlin Major
Art by Kelly Bastow
Published by Quirk Books
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Manfried the Man is a totally adorable look at the struggles of adulthood and pet ownership, set in a world where cats own humans - or rather, human-sized cats own humans, since most cat owners would argue their cats already think they’re the head of the household. Written by Caitlin Major and illustrated by Kelly Bastow, Manfried follows slacker call center worker Steve Catson’s pride and joy is the titular Manfried, the scruffy young stray man who drives Steve crazy. But when Manfried goes missing, Steve is forced to confront his own bad habits and step up to the plate to conduct a Catlanta-wide search that will bring his beloved Manfried back home for good.
Though the premise is simple - what if cats and their owners swapped places? - the end result is a startlingly emotional look not just at what it means to own a pet, but what it means to grow up in the weird, newly-minted adult years of post-college life for all walks of life (no degree, advanced degrees, too ambitious, no ambition). Steve, an art-school dropout, works a totally unsatisfying job in a call center and, unlike his coworkers, can’t reconcile himself with the idea that just because you don’t like doing something it doesn’t mean you can just not do it. His only bond with his friend Chelsea is their shared love of the little men who share their homes, or so it seems; who among us doesn’t have one of those friends who inspires envy with how completely put together they seem? (Who among us is the put-together friend, trying to hide how tough it is to maintain that delicate balance of “looking together” and “not falling apart”?)
I thought, going into Manfried the Man, that it would be a cute, quirky comedy, and was surprised to find myself genuinely tearing up several times, not just over what I would do if any of my family’s pets wound up missing, but over how deeply relatable Major and Bastow manage to make Steve Catson. He is deeply annoying in a way that feels intentional, and will probably be very familiar to many a millenial (myself included): the sense of listlessness, post-college, the frustration with not immediately being able to find the work you know you deserve, and the struggle of not knowing how to maintain healthy relationships with all these other put-together adults you can’t help but be a little jealous of.
There’s no good that comes out of a missing pet, but during a trying emotional time, both Steve and Manfried grow and learn what it takes to really be part of a community, how to ask for help and how to accept it graciously. Bastow’s art is sweet and emotive; the sequences where Manfried finds himself taking refuge at the house of an older cat who tends to local strays are particularly endearing. Bastow’s simple style is perfectly suited to the premise - tiny, cat-sized humans is definitely a weird visual for the first few panels, but Bastow’s bold lines and round designs quickly make them cute rather than off-putting.
Manfried the Man is a delightfully weird graphic novel with charming art and an engaging story that will be relatable to anyone trying to find their way as a young adult, and a tale of pet ownership that’s both heartbreaking and heart-warming in equal measure. Major and Bastow do a great job building a cast of characters and a community around the cute, troublesome men of Atlanta that could easily be revisited time and again. There’s something in this story that can resonate with everyone - even if you’re more of a dog person.