Long before the days of the interweb, my high school buddy Pete introduced me to an amusing book called The Adventures of Samurai Cat. It was by an artist named Mark E. Rogers, who paints fantasy art- sort of like Boris Vallejo and the like that adorned pulp magazine covers in the day. He's quite good, and he's really funny. He created his character Maiowara Tomokato, a gruff tomcat in full samurai armor and bearing a katana that could defuse RPG rounds in flight, to venture through hilarious pastiches of fellow nerds' beloved fantasy worlds. He's a feline Toshiro Mifune with his little nephew Shiro, maybe he's a bit more like Lone Wolf and Cub, the baby cart movies, you know.
When his master Nobunaga is murdered by a ragtag group of characters spanning the known universe, he vows vengeance, which sends him everywhere from Valhalla, Conan's Hyborean age to a galaxy far, far away, to World War 2 where SS Werewolf T.Rexes reign. He skewers every beloved character in fandom, from H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu (K'Chui, actually. Geshundheit) to Gandalf at the Bridge of Khazad-Dumb. Sure, it's loaded with bad puns and bizarre silliness, but we take this sort of humorous mash-up for granted today.
Rogers lavishly illustrated the books, creating amusing fake maps and insane tableaus of battles where Viking gods fought pirates and a little tomcat in samurai armor took on the Migdard Serpent, or Josef Stalin, or Darth Shatner. Now the original book commands a high price, and thankfully Peter reminded me that the standard hardcover version lacks the hilarious maps, with places like Delaware and "Author's house" in Middle Earth. When you look at them nowadays, and the sheer amount of artistic labor that went into them, they are unbelievable. Now they'd be a blog and some photoshops; they might never make it to print. And then we wouldn't get to read about how he defeated Al Capone, or how World War 2 was a bet between Stalin and Hitler over who could kill the most Russians.
Samurai Cat is also how Pete and I tell whippersnappers about the days before the internet for another reason. In one of the battles, someone rides in atop a Nash Rambler. Now you'd just enter "nash rambler" in your little Google search box and you'd get photos, a Wikipedia page, and classified ads of ones for sale. Back in '86, we had to dig up our library card, go to the Nutley Public Library and find books on classic cars, and pore over them looking for photos of Nash Ramblers. It took all friggin' day. But then, painting all the illustrations in The Adventures of Samurai Cat must have taken Mark Rogers months, maybe years.
I saw him at PhilCon back in the early '90s, and bought an original painting used in one of the books for $75. I didn't get to meet him; he was painting a scantily clad woman in a brass bikini. I regret selling the Tomokato painting to a fan for a meager profit now, but it reminded me too much of furries. I've gone looking for Rogers' other fantasy art, but haven't been able to find any. I wonder if he still paints, in that little house in Delaware, just west of the Shire. I've been sorely tempted to buy a copy of The Adventures of Samurai Cat again, and hunt down the books I missed. According to Mark E. Rogers official site he writes fiction now, and a movie was made of his novella called The Runestone, and I have a feeling you'll be seeing a review of that soon!