Scrolling through digital artist Saba Moeel's Pink Cat Daily comics on Instagram is a bit like mainlining meme and hip-hop culture directly into one's veins.
Pink Cat, the plucky feline star of the Bay Area native's 5-year-old series, is covered in tattoos, balances her spiritual practice with occasional drug use and speaks in the punchline-heavy parlance of the internet. With panels exploring tarot and astrology, party culture and polyamory, Pink's exploits have endeared her to a stable of (mostly) young social media users. "Pink Cat is an experience on Earth," explained Moeel over drinks in Hollywood. "It is the document of how the spiritual and physical are a journey of transcendence with regard to the expansion of consciousness."
The mélange of quippy one-liners, internet-inspired dialogue and bright illustrations has attracted more than 250,000 followers, with individual posts routinely racking up more than 10,000 likes. With her peculiar tastes and relatably dark wit, Pink Cat has the makings of a Gen Z Garfield — a comparison Moeel welcomes. "This is my dream come true," she said. "I grew up on 'Garfield.' I grew up reading 'Calvin and Hobbes.' So yes, please do that to me."
Her chosen species of avatar is no accident and surely contributes to her success; from ancient Egypt to viral cat memes, the allure of the feline may be our one cultural constant. So Moeel hopes to attract more readers who are willing to buy into the cult of the cat — and also to induct them into her own idiosyncratic brand of mysticism.
"More than ever, the relationship between us and animals is being tested, and the survival of our species depends on us understanding that we are no longer Homo sapiens, that we are transhuman," she writes in the foreword to "Don't Care Didn't Ask Plus I'm Baby," her recent book collecting more than 1,400 Pink Cat panels. "We have crossed the threshold of being defined by our physical bodies. We exist online, in the ether. And we must understand that we are connected to other species ... as much as we are connected to the technology that is propelling our evolution forward."
For all the parallels between Pink Cat and its creator, to Moeel the character feels like an invented alter ego. "I really think of it like I'm an artist that's channeling a spirit and a zeitgeist," she said. "Sometimes I say she's got a collar or a chokehold around me because I'm like, 'I just want to get a job, I don't want to do this anymore!' There's so much uncertainty when you have to eat what you kill."
Pink, whom Moeel describes as the "godhead of the internet," is influenced by the "pan-Middle Eastern" culture the artist was reared in: She was born in Iran but raised in the Bay Area by her Turkish mother and Arab Iranian father. She speaks Farsi, Turkish, Spanish and French, plus some Arabic words. Before creating the comic, Moeel graduated from Parsons School of Design, made fashion and digital art and released a rap album under the moniker Cult Days.
"I'm the first artist in my entire family," she said. "And for us as Middle Eastern people, we're not encouraged to pursue the arts. So Pink Cat has pushed through despite all these things."
Her background makes it especially interesting that Pink Cat is, well, pink. "The whole point of making her a pink cat is it's not about me and my race or my ethnicity because my experience as a human is way more than my shell," she added. "This is our chance to suspend reality and just go through those human experiences that we all go through."
Pink was born in 2016 in Baja California, where Moeel was vacationing with a Korean American friend from art school and her siblings. Her friend "had this comic book paper, and I started drawing Pink Cat and Blue Cat," Moeel recalled. "I used Google Translate in Korean [for the captions], and they laughed because Google Translate is so awkward. It was just for me to talk about stuff and show my family and friends, and then when more and more people started to follow it, that's when I was like, 'Oh, this is like a thing.'"
Once her following hit 6,000 people, "I was like, 'Oh, I made it!'" said Moeel with a laugh. "My parents were like, 'Get a job!'" In June, Moeel published her book, a 236-page, 13-inch-tall compendium of the first four years of Pink Cat. (The book's cover and title come from one of the account's most popular posts, a January 2020 illustration of a toddler Pink riding a skateboard that garnered more than 16,500 likes.)
"We were just trying to get it off [of] Instagram and into print because you're relying on a third party, Facebook, to keep your content safe," she said. "So I really wanted to get it into the physical space for two reasons: one, to protect my work and two, to get people to read a comic book."
The book came together in about three months and was published locally in Berkeley. Rather than seek a distributor, Moeel and her team decided to sell through social media. She's also working on an animated series about the characters, rolling out 10-second-long clips to Instagram before eventually pitching a sizzle reel to platforms like Netflix.
Pink's relationship drama is as juicy as any reality show, rotating through four partners named for various shades of blue — Aqua, Electric, Navy and Sky — all based on real people in Moeel's life. "It's a conversation between me and myself about them," she said.
The artist has long felt a special affinity toward cats, particularly an ancient Egyptian deity that has fascinated her since middle school. "To me, the goddess Bastet is an embodiment of an animistic force that is feline," Moeel said. "Besides all the things that feminine energy represents, Bastet was the protector of the grain in ancient Egypt and, within that, balanced the ecosystem of the society and civilization. So I think Bastet represents this symbiotic relationship between humans in a civilization and animals loving and protecting us."
She points to Pope Gregory IX’s linkage of cats with satanism and witchcraft, which led medieval Europe to murder the animals en masse, eventually leading to the proliferation of rats and mice carrying the bubonic plague. "Most viruses come from animals, abuse of their territory or [consuming them]," she said. "Societies that respect and love cats are societies that respect and love people. In Turkey, it's a cat culture. There are cats everywhere. Cats get on the news! So I think it's an indication of a society how well they take care of the animals around them."
She also sees Pink Cat, in a way, as a role model. "'BoJack Horseman' and Pink Cat are like the two cartoons of our generation that show substance abuse," said Moeel. "We wrote weed into the show [through the character] Smokey [a cloud of smoke]. The whole thing is about destigmatization of plant medicine and psychedelic and psychoactive plants. So many people are still sitting in jail because of plants! This is a social justice issue. I think a large part of what I do with Pink Cat is cultural propaganda, but it's positive propaganda."
Asked where she hopes to take the Pink Cat brand, Moeel details a three-step plan for world domination. First up are physical and 3D shopping experiences. "What I would like is for people to be able to put on the Oculus and go into Pink Cat's room or the café that she goes to," she said. "And then, of course, a [physical] retail experience where we could maybe have a pop-up or music festival and involve other artists."
"A step closer is a theme park," she added. "Imagine a Pink Cat Disneyland that is a spiritual theme park, so instead of bull— fairy tale rides, there are different iterations of spiritual experiences." And finally, she said, "I want to be a designer on Mars."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.