Either you earn respect or you demand it”-Jadakiss
You know when you listening to a hip-hop track and hear a bar so gutta it makes you release a lil’ involuntarily growl? That visceral “grhmmmmmmm” from the back of your throat’s basement and shit. A bar that’s so meaty and hardy that you drop your knife and fork in disgust cause you don’t even wanna eat no more cause you full now. You were about to enjoy a 20-ounce prime cut steak but that bar done went and fucked up your appetite. That feeling of hearing something so solid, so raw, that you couldn’t possibly want for more? It’s a rare feeling that doesn’t come often but can frequently be achieved from the perfect body of work. I’ve read a lot of comics, and heard a lot of poetry, and seen many performances that evoked that emotion but I never saw a body of work encompass it page after page until I read Ronald Wimberly’s Prince of Cats.
Wimberly dropped Prince of Cats on us back in 2012. All we knew is that this story would be a retelling of Romeo and Juliet from the perspective of Tybalt, that it’d take place in New York, that the characters would be Black, and that muh fuckas would be rocking swords with the flyest kicks. I was like, “nuff said.” I like poetry, this shit goin’ be in iambic pentameter, I’m fucking with it. Listen, maaaaaan. I read that opening scene and saw Wimberly having these kids bending this “high brow” era language to fit the mold of their environment and their slang and I knew this shit was ’bout to be flames. It opened up with a scene I refuse to call anything less than iconic:
Fam, this muh fucka said, “I hear aerosol’s whisper.” To describe the sound of graffiti man. Then proceed with “Redeem thy kicks.” Translation, run the fucking jewels man. Arghh-hhhh! You don’t understand what this scene did for me. I’ma a fuckin connoisseur, what do I indulge in, you ask? What do I consume? What wakes me up in a cold sweat at night? Bars. Iron born bars, that’s what. I read one line where homie said,“The lessons may not be cheap but street tuition is steep, and often students graduate to a coffin.” I dropped the book, got the fuck up off my bed, went to the other side of the room and dropped down into a squat while staring back at the book laying there on my bed, all the while nodding, saying, ” Okay. N**** you real. You’s a real one.” That on my momma’s mac and cheese, I promise you. Prince of Cats is riddled with fucking hard ass bars that just get better as the story continues. Ronald Wimberly created a body of work that will stand the test of time. Why, because the content is fucking real.
Wimberly creates this dystopian picture of New York; trains are depicted Iron horses, everyone is versed in the sword, and I’m not sure what the cost of living is in this New York but what I can tell you is that the price of life out here is cheap, real cheap (Ten Dollars and a hoagie). Cats out here gettin’ clapped and Samurai Showdown’d on the block. There’s a top ten lists of swordsmen in the city that plays an intricate part in the story as well as a showcasing the mortality of those on it.
As we come to know Tybalt, we see the weight that comes with his surname, how far he goes to make sure respeck is placed upon it, as well as how he upholds that respeck. I love this series for that, as it shows just how purely confident and invincible one can feel when they’re just that damn good, as well as the point of view of those on the outside (via Roslyn) knowing how fleeting life can and will always be.
Wimberly’s work not only updated the tale of Romeo and Juliet but made it consumable for this era. You may scoff (do muh fuckas still scoff?) as I say that but as revered as Shakespeare is (was since Marlowe now gettin’ ghost-writer credit?) I’ma paraphrase Robbie Q. Telfer here and say,“Often people in modern audiences laugh extra loud at Shakespeare’s jokes not necessarily laughing with them, they’re laughing loudly to signify getting the subtext of the joke displaying their intelligence. Much like in slam [poetry] when people are mad loud in the audience of slam to show everyone they’re in the cool kids club.” Wimberly doesn’t do that here, you get the gist of what he’s saying through a straight path to every metaphor’s or analogy’s detail. Ain’t nobody left out of this brilliance, these are bars for everybody.
Not only is there bars, but we’re getting social commentary on gentrification as well through these characters. Wimberly gives us a Brooklyn house party vibe one scene, muh fuckas taggin’ then jumping from rooftops and fire escapes, and then amongst this mural of grit and real talk we still see gentrification as a character of sorts coming into play. *visceral growl* “Grhmmmmmmmmm” That’s that hardy shit I’m talking bout, don’t even get me started on Wimberly giving us a look the graffiti master Pertruchio bombing these buildings, the throwback nerd references as we see Tybalt killing a “Streets of Blades” arcade game. We even get the most genius sex education talk that literature game done ever seen. There’s a lot of stuff I’m purposefully leaving out of this, you’ll discover them as you read through the book and come upon all these gems, man. It’s hard for me to call Prince of Cats a graphic novel because it’s more of a treasure trove.
This is a book that stands the test of time since as of right now it’s four years later, the print and digital copy came back and blessed us out of nowhere, and we still here talkin’ about it as if it just came out. The fandom and cult following of this book has not died down at all. Now, *takes off Chuck Taylors* I’ve been real cordial and non-bias up into this point, *puts on Timberlands* all of which is to say *finishes tying Timbs up halfway* ,
Fuck. The. Frail. Shit. If we talkin’ bars par none then we talkin’ Prince of Cats. Don’t @ me unless you wanna fight me. Don’t play yourself with that shit. I don’t care what your favorite graphic novel is. I don’t care what your favorite book of poetry is (unless we talkin’ Missing You, Metropolis). I ain’t tryin’ to hear that shit cause Price of Cats bodied all that shit. Ronald Wimberly said, “Oh. Oh. Yall want that Black Boy fly? Bong. You got that with interest. You want that academic highbrow on the track with that gutta-gutta? Bong. Bong. It’s here.
You want that body of work by a Black creator with a story filled with people of color reflecting a city filled with people of color, no stereotypes, no tropes, just swordplay, bars, and art so Bast damn clean you’ll wanna flip through the pages wearing latex gloves? *makes obligatory hip-hop ad libs* Then you only talkin’ bout Prince of Cats!” If we talkin’ money then we talkin’ Prince of Cats. If we talkin’ “and the Oscar goes toooo” then we talkin’ Prince of Cats as far as I’m concerned. That’s facts. An’ for those of you readin’ this saying to yourself “Deadass?”, You want the deadass? You want the Deadass? *Jack Nicholson voice* YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE DEAD ASS!
“YOU’RE BAST DAMN RIGHT I DID!”