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Comic Book / Billy the Cat

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Billy the Cat is a Franco-Belgian comic book series by the Belgian Stéphane Colman and Stephen Desberg. Also an animated cartoon version has been produced for broadcast and is ran through American Broadcasting Company, amongst others. Both comic and cartoon deal with the everyday and secret lives of urban animals, and while the characters are largely the same in both versions, the stories and situations are very different.

The Comic follows the story of Billy, a normal schoolboy who often pranks and bullies animals. However, early in the first comic album, he is killed when he carelessly runs out in the street and is hit by a car. Told that his chances of getting into Heaven are slim due to his misdeeds, he is given a second chance by being returned to earth as a young cat. The comic follows Billy's attempts to adapt to living as a cat and chronicle his misadventures while he interacts with other animals. The comic is notably darker and more dramatic than the serialized television show.

The television show, created in 1994, follows a similar premise with some major deviations. In the show the transformation is the revenge of an angry magician whose cat Billy had bullied, while the magician's cat assumes Billy's form and lives with his family. The cartoon is more episodic and lighthearted than the comic, though it is not completely unexpected.

Not to be confused with the UK comic strip of the same name, which ran in The Beano and was about a teenage superhero, or with Bill the Cat.

Shared tropes:

  • Accessory-Wearing Cartoon Animal: A number of cats wear bows or bowties — most notably Mr. Hubert, who despite being an alleycat is never seen without his green bowtie.
  • Animal Talk
  • Animorphism
  • Banana in the Tailpipe
  • Big Eater: Mr. Hubert, even more so in the animated series, where he seems to be unable to go for long without a big meal.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Mr. Hubert to Billy.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Billy as a human, with an equal measure of The Bully.
  • Carnivore Confusion: Given that all animals are sapient and can talk, it potentially causes a few issues. It comes up a lot more in the comic, where most of the cats (even otherwise sympathetic ones) have no qualms trying to eat talking mice or birds. In the cartoon, the cats eat mostly garbage or food fed to them by a kindly old lady, and not their pigeon friend.
  • Cats Are Mean: Averted. Cats have different temperaments and personalities, just like humans — in the cartoon, most of them are even implausibly friendly with other animals that real life cats consider food, or at least prey. A lot of Hubert's friends are Jerkasses to Billy to begin with, but come around eventually. The only cat who can really be considered mean is Sanctifer, who in the comic is Killed Off for Real while in the cartoon has been toned down and goes through quite a bit of Diminishing Villain Threat.
  • Cats Are Superior: Mr. Hubert firmly believes in this, especially in the comics. In the eight album, he even tells Billy that no other creature (not even humans) is as well adapted to this world as cats, and claims that, sometimes, he wonders if the entire universe was created just for cats.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Several characters, though none more prominent than Jumbo the pigeon, who thinks he's an airplane — or at least that he might become one if he acts enough like one.
    • Most of the animal characters also see Billy as this, as his claims of being a human trapped in the body of a cat aren't usually taken seriously.
  • Fantastic Racism: Between cats and dogs. This is more notable in the animated series. Cats and dogs absolutely despise each other and don't even seem to consider getting along. Also, Mr. Hubert in the series seems to be unable to consider pigeons as anything other than food, and takes a bit of time to accept the pigeon Jumbo as an ally.
    • In the animated series, there were also a group of purebred dogs, led by a Mister Muffykins, who had sworn to kill not only every cat they come across, but also any dog that isn't a purebred like themselves. Meaning that, yes, these dogs extend their racism to even their own kind.
  • Fish out of Water: Billy has no idea how to survive as a cat.
  • Gratuitous English: The original French title is "Billy the Cat" (an obvious pun on "Billy the Kid").
  • Heroic Canines, Villainous Felines: Inverted. As said above, other than the villain Sanctifer, the worst a cat can be is a Jerk with a Heart of Gold. Dogs, however, are not only shown as being dumb brutes, but also as very vicious and sometimes sadistic beasts who will try to eat or just kill a cat just for being a cat. While there are a number of sympathetic and even heroic dogs in both the comics and the series, this is one rare occasion where a (non-wildlife) dog is much more likely to be the villain.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Billy starts out as a jerk and a bully. Then he becomes a cat, and then he becomes kinder.
  • Karmic Transformation: After spending so much time tormenting animals, Billy ends up trapped in a cat's body.
  • Kick the Dog: As a human Billy would literally do this. Cats and other animals were not exempt from being kicked either.
  • Mister Muffykins: Several small dog characters appear as villains who like to torment the cats.
  • Motor Mouth: Mr. Hubert will go on at length if you let him.
  • Named After Someone Famous and Pun-Based Title: Refers to Billy the Kid.
  • Pink Is Feminine: Queenie wears a pink bow around her neck.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Mr. Hubert.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Billy is pretty much an insufferable jerk as a human, though mostly in a Children Are Cruel way. As a cat, after his initial freak-out and lashing out at the world, he quickly becomes a lot kinder and more considerate.
  • You Dirty Rat!: In the comics, the servants of Sanctifer are a nasty and vicious colony of rats. In the animated series we have the giant rat King and his group, who still serve as villains.
  • You Fight Like a Cow: Mr. Hubert, when chased by or fighting bigger, fiercer animals has a knack for make jokes and quips to rile them up even further as he jumps out of their reach.

Comic-specific tropes:

  • A God Am I: Sanctifer slips into this — or rather, drops any pretense that he isn't like this — towards the end of the first comic after having beaten Mr. Hubert thoroughly and is about to leave him to die:
    "You see, the difference between us is that you're going to die, and I'm going to live! But that's not all: No one will mourn your passing! There are thousands of cats like you, so alike that they can't even tell one another apart. I am Sanctifer, the chosen one of the divine cats, the prime example of the ressurection of our immortal powers! I'm the prophet of the rebirth of our kind! I'm the purifier!
  • Animal Testing: In the Skin of a Cat has a dark, creepy underground lab in an old factory where animals are kept in cages and experimented upon. It's never made clear just what the experiments are for (nor do we see the actual experiments — just the imprisoned animals, some of whom have been driven insane by the experiments), but it seems to be a shady and most likely illegal business.
  • Art Evolution: The first three comics are drawn in a noticeably different style than the latter ones; it's most noticable with Hubert.
  • Ascended Extra: Jumbo, the pigeon who wants to be an airplane, appears just for a couple of short gags in the second album, and has no bearing on the story. It's not until the fourth album that he becomes a fully-fledged character with a proper role in the comic.
  • Bad Boss: Sanctifer towards the rats that serve and worship him. He is quite cruel towards them and doesn´t think twice about killing them should they fail him.
  • Bad Samaritan: Sanctifer in the first comic. He takes Billy in under his wing, but proves to be a Manipulative Bastard with megalomaniac tendencies.
  • Cassandra Truth: None of the other animals believe that Billy was ever human.
  • Darker and Edgier: The comic to the cartoon. There's some genuinely dark stuff here.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Billy, on occasion. Mostly when he's human, but he has a bit of a sarcastic edge to him as a cat as well.
  • Disney Villain Death: Sanctifer in Issue Six. He and another human fell from a tall building, not even landing on his feet helped Sanctifer escape death.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Sanctifer can be polite, helpful and friendly, but deep down, he is a very nasty and sociopathic individual, who will get quite aggressive if things don't go his way.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Saucisse the dog is the villain of his debut story, a tormentor of Billy and the terror of the neighborhood. In the following album he reluctantly (and mostly for selfish reasons) begins helping Billy out, and for the rest of the series he's a sort-of ally... if still a rather big Jerkass.
  • Karma: A big concept in the comic: Your deeds, good or evil, will come back to you sooner or later. One of the first things we see human Billy do is kick a cat — then he's killed in an accident and reincarnated as a cat.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Sanctifer is quite a frightening and dangerous villain. The comics in which he appears are noticeably darker than the others.
  • Loud of War: Hell in the pilot comic (even before "in the skin of a cat"). Eternal dance music that's really eternal. A party that never stops! Sounds great, huh? Not really according to Billy...
  • Mood Whiplash: Most notably in the pilot comic strip, though happens in the later comics as well.
  • Raise Him Right This Time: In a subversion, the wrongdoer in question is given a new life as a cat instead of a human.
  • Reincarnation: Oddly, it was bestowed upon Billy by an angel. His second chance is given to atone for all the animal cruelty he perpetrated in his former life.
  • Reincarnated as a Non-Humanoid: Unlike the cartoon where the plot is brought about by a magic spell, here Billy dies and is reborn as a cat.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Saucisse the dog. In the first three albums there's no hint that Billy's family ever had any pets, but in the fourth album, they have a dog named Saucisse ("Sausage") who remembers Billy the boy all too well.
  • Retcon/Continuity Reboot: The very first standalone story of Billy had him also getting crushed under a car, but he actually got into Heaven. Noticing that Heaven wasn't that great, he descended to Hell, where an eternal party with loud music was going on. Then, after noticing eternal was really eternal and the music would never stop, he asks a guru to reincarnate him, and as a fluke he's returned as a cat to Earth. This whole plot was scrapped when they started writing "dans la peau d'un chat" ("in the skin of a cat").
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Hubert has traces of this, mixed with a hint of Know-Nothing Know-It-All. While he is genuinely skilled and competent, he is nowhere near the cultured and intelligent globetrotter he thinks he is.
  • Transformation Comic

Show-specific tropes:

  • Adaptational Heroism: While Sanctifer is still an asshole, he is no way near as evil as the megalomaniac sociopath he was in the comic.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Sanctifer was also far more formidable and dangerous in the comics. In his debut appearance, Billy manages to beat him up (albeit through the use of the shadow boxing skills he developed as a human).
  • Artistic License – Space: In the episode Happy Starday, astronomers seem to look for an individual star, visible to the naked eye, in order to name it, so it has not been seen before. (How do they know what they're looking for?) Besides, Mr. Hubert has to move to be in the light of his star, which he already sees. (If he sees it, its light falls on his eyes so he's already in its light.)
  • Cassandra Truth: Most characters dismiss Billy's claims of having once been human. Queenie is the only one who believes him.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The wizard's cat that was transformed into Billy's doppelganger is shown in the opening episode and never seen or mentioned again. It wasn't even present in the episode when Billy visits his former home, where the cat should logically be.
  • Enemy Mine: While usually an enemy, Sanctifer at least once teamed up with Billy when they were both captured in one episode.
  • Expository Theme Tune: The theme song pretty much lays out the entirety of the main plot.
  • Forced Transformation: Unlike his comic self, who was reincarnated into a cat's body, Billy is transformed into his feline state by an angry wizard.
  • "Freaky Friday" Flip: An unusual example; Instead of swapping bodies, the magician's cat, Dandelion, is transformed into a duplicate of Billy's human form, so his family don't realize anything is amiss.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: At first Billy has difficulties with his new cat body and doesn't know how to use his retractable claws or even meow.
  • Humanity Ensues: The magician's cat is transformed into a human to pretend to be Billy while he is being a cat.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: Queenie has these in the series, as opposed to the green eyes her comic self had.
  • Left Hanging: The viewer never finds out what happens to Billy in the end. Does he stay a cat forever? Does he get turned back into a human?
  • Lighter and Softer: And how. All the darkness and horror of the comics has been exchanged with cartoony slapstick.
  • Magicians Are Wizards: The wizard who turned Billy into a cat is dressed like a stage magician.
  • My Instincts Are Showing: Billy, by virtue of his human beginnings. He often displays human-like actions, like standing on two legs (though his feline body structure means he can't keep it up for long).
  • Mundane Solution: In "The Cat Who Couldn't Miaow", Mr. Hubert and Queenie go to help Billy, who is inside a criminal's house. Mr. Hubert suggests scaling the drainpipe, or breaking down the door. Queenie... simply goes through the catflap.
  • Nice Mice: Completely averted in the second episode, where a group of mice torment Billy. They are no better than the rat villains who appear later in the series.
  • Race Lift: The second friend of Billy with whom he used to taunt cats with is white in the cartoon. In the comic, he's black, and in original French can't even pronounce the "R" letter.
  • Ship Tease: Some episodes imply that Queenie has a crush on Billy.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Billy, due to his cat transformation being the result of an angry wizard rather than of an untimely death and reincarnation.
  • Status Quo Is God: Every episode ends with things going to back to the way they were when it started.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: So egregious that it borders into Plot Hole territory. In one episode Billy revisits his human home and the magician's cat that took his place is no longer there. And what happened to the magician?

Alternative Title(s): Billy The Cat