If imitation, as they say, is the Sincerest Form of Flattery, then Famous Studios' Herman and Katnip certainly flattered MGM's Tom and Jerry. Given that any mouse and cat cartoon is going to have some similarities with any other cat and mouse cartoon, the resemblances of the characters is still quite striking.
Herman the mouse in particular bears a strong resemblance to Jerry the mouse. Katnip the cat did not look quite so much like Tom the cat, but you would be forgiven if you thought you knew where the inspiration for the cartoon character came from.
Herman and Katnip did diverge from Tom and Jerry in two respects. The characters spoke: Katnip in a dopey Simpleton Voice, Herman in a Brooklyn twang. The standard episode setup was different, too: Herman's cousins Reuben, Dubin, and Louie (and other, unnamed mice) would be having fun at some activity; Katnip would arrive to persecute them; then Herman would arrive (often coming "from the city") to defend them.
Herman was voiced by Arnold Stang, who later supplied the voice for Top Cat. There is quite a similarity between the mouse's voice and that of Leo Gorcey of the Bowery Boys. Syd Raymond supplied the voice for Katnip. Raymond was also the voice of Baby Huey.
Herman and Katnip are not remembered like MGM's cat-and-mouse pair; not only, perhaps, because they appeared on cinema screens later than their more famous rivals, but also because the personalities of the pair were possibly not quite as engaging. Also, the Famous Studios' cat-and-mouse series did not receive as many later television airings as Tom and Jerry enjoyed.
If Herman and Katnip lacked anything in personality, they tried to make up for it with action. For "action" read blowing Katnip up; sending Katnip off a cliff; squashing Katnip with a 100-ton weight, and so on. With so much emphasis placed on violencealmost all of it delivered to the catit's no surprise that Mike Reiss, a writer on The Simpsons, confirmed that Herman and Katnip, not Tom and Jerry, were the real inspiration for Itchy and Scratchy.
Both Herman and Katnip also had several solo cartoons, where one would appear without the other. Before being paired up with Katnip, Herman had a few cartoons where he either appeared solo, or co-starred with Henry the Rooster, a Henpecked Husband who'd team up with Herman because his tyrannical wife Bertha was terrified of mice. Katnip on his side had a number of cartoons where he went up against Buzzy Crow. In these shorts, Katnip would have an ailment or a problem, and read in a book that it it would be cured with crow meat. Buzzy would talk his way out of getting killed and used as a cure by claiming he was an expert on this particular ailment, and spend most of the cartoon subjecting Katnip to "alternative" cures — most of which involved a generous dose of pain and torment.
When the series ended, it wasn't so much because the cartoons ran out of steam, as because the studio sold all its ongoing characters to Harvey Comics, which had licensed them for several years. But Herman and Katnip didn't go on to very great success at Harvey. They appeared in the back pages of a lot of comics during the 1950s and early 1960s, and were featured in an occasional issue of Harvey Hits (a later Harvey title with rotating stars), but never had their own comic book. When other Harvey characters were re-adapted into animated formeven some who, like Richie Rich and Wendy the Good Little Witch, had never been animated beforeHerman & Katnip weren't. note Eventually, they faded from view, and are now scarcely remembered.
With that said, in October 2011, a complete DVD set of all their adventures was releasednote . Universal Studios, through Harvey Comics parent DreamWorks Animation, now owns the rights to the characters and all shorts in the series, but so far there are no plans for any sort of revival.
Herman and Katnip, Herman and Henry and Buzzy and Katnip provides examples of the following tropes:
- Amusing Injuries: How else can we explain it?
- Anvil on Head
- Art Evolution: Katnip had a drastically different design in his early appearances before they settled on his dopier look and color scheme.
- Catchphrase: Katnip's "Hmmmm, that sounds logical."
- Cats Are Mean: Most of the time, Katnip is obviously more villainous, especially when it's compared to his inspiration.
- Cats Have Nine Lives: At the end of "Naughty But Mice," Herman thoroughly dispatches the cat that has been eating his cousins, only to be greeted by nine feline ghosts rising from the grave to chase him away.
- The Chew Toy: It's Katnip's designated role.
- Clever Crows: Buzzy, whose way of dealing with Katnip usually involves tricking him into willingly taking punishment, or even inflicting it on himself, under the guise that this would cure his ailment or solve his problem.
- Clip Show: The very last Herman and Katnip cartoon, Katnip's Big Day took the form of a "This Is Your Life" show for Katnip, where Herman's antagonists, most notably Herman and Buzzy, arrived to reminisce about "old times." Said old times were always represented by a clip from a previous cartoon where Katnip was hurt and humiliated... though the cartoon did end on a very slight positive note for Katnip, as everyone joins in with singing "For He's A Jolly Good Katnip" and showing that in the end, they did appreciate him.
- Comedic Sociopathy: Most of the humour in these cartoons revolve around Katnip suffering in some way.
- Darker and Edgier: Than Tom and Jerry—not really bloodier but even more violent and mean-spirited in tone.
- Designated Victim: Katnip.
- Determinator: Katnip.
- Early-Bird Cameo: A prototype of Herman briefly appears in the first Casper the Friendly Ghost short "The Friendly Ghost".
- The 50's short "Of Mice and Magic" had a very blatant stand-in for Betty Boop called "Louise" who was a mouse. Her design and mannerisms were basically the same as Betty's, but adjusted to have bits of a cartoon mouse — also, there was the fact that she was voiced by Mae Questel, Betty's voice actress, who used her Betty voice for Louise.
- Herman and Katnip themselves are based heavily off of Tom and Jerry.
- Eye Pop: Played with at the end of "Mouseum".
- Eye Scream: In "Sock-a-Bye Kitty", Buzzy smashes through Katnip's eye with a hammer after getting eaten alive.
- Family-Unfriendly Death: Many of the cartoons end with Katnip being brutally killed, and the mice playing around with his dead body. (For example, using Katnip's corpse as a Christmas tree in "Mice Meeting You").
- Family-Unfriendly Violence: These cartoons are mean and they hurt, enough to make Tom & Jerry look tame by comparison.
- Check out the "wheel of knives" gag from "Mouseum". Katnip throws knives at Herman, hitting a wheel instead. Herman hops on top of it and rolls it after Katnip, slicing off segments of his back until he falls flat. Ouch!
- G-Rated Drug: The use of a catnip dipped flower by Herman, used on Katnip to get him dazed in "Naughty But Mice".
- Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal: Herman from the start, but Katnip picked up a pair of trousers in later cartoons.
- Have a Gay Old Time: The theme song says "All the mice are feeling gay".
- Heart Beats out of Chest: A melancholy instance occurs in the cartoon "Of Mice and Magic", when Herman hears that Katnip has caught his beloved. A Let's Get Dangerous! moment follows.
- Human Popsicle: Happens to Katnip at the end of "Northwest Mousie".
- Inflating Body Gag: In "Rail Rodents", Katnip gets his head stuck in a water tower's output pipe and inflates like a balloon. In "Mouse Trapeze", Herman tricks Katnip into drinking from a hose connected to a fire hydrant, swelling several times larger before he pops off and flies across the room.
- Made of Bologna: The cartoon "Mouseum" shows Herman powering a bladed wheel behind Katnip that shears off successive layers from the cat from back to front. Each layer seems composed of reddish bologna.
- Name and Name
- Nice Hat: Herman occasionally wears a snappy looking boater hat when he appears.
- Off with His Head!: Herman decapitates Katnip with a pair of scissors in "Herman The Catoonist".
- Panty Shot: From Henry's wife Bertha in "The Henpecked Rooster".
- Road Runner vs. Coyote: Mouse versus cat.
- Sadist Show
- Stay in the Kitchen: Henry says this to his wife Bertha (aka "Chicken Pie") after Herman was took away by his own wife in "The Henpecked Rooster".
- Talking Animal: Herman and Katnip.
- Taken for Granite: In "Cat Tamale", Katnip gets trapped in a starch cocoon. He is only able to move his eyes.
- A Taste of Defeat: Herman never 'lost' to Katnip outright, though some cases had his victory tainted in some way. One case had him take out a similar cat nemesis, only to be tormented by his nine angels.
- They Killed Kenny Again: Katnip died at the end of many shorts.
- Too Dumb to Live: Katnip.