04. 08. 2015ARTICLE

Cat butts: the backstory


If you own a refrigerator, or know someone who owns a refrigerator, you’re probably familiar with the Cat Butts magnet set by Blue Q. In hindsight it ranks. As one of the most well-received American novelty products of the 90s. While provoking considerable mirth in the decades since they exploded onto the exteriors of chilled food storage devices, what’s often lost on the lay observer is the considerable research behind this modern classic.

Enter Junichi Tsuneoka, a Seattle graphic designer and illustrator originally from Tokyo, who describes his milieu as a “fusion of Japanese pop culture and American urban culture.” Tsuneoka arrived in the US at the tail end of the 20th Century and quickly pounced on opportunities where he saw them. Starting at the very bottom of the ladder as an intern for local design firm Modern Dog, he soon rose to the dizzying heights of staff designer. From this perch he snagged the perfect project, one that would push him to the dizzying edge of refrigerator fame.

Tasked with a sly concept and art direction from Modern Dog’s mighty Mike Strassburger, Junichi’s assignment was simple (yet profound when viewed from the right angle): illustrate a variety of cat butts. Tsuneoka, known for his resourcefulness, sniffed about on-line with the terms “cat butt” and “cat butt photo.” Alas, the sampling he found had the air of the amateur, the images were soulless, lacking in real bite. He decided then and there to detail for himself one of the animal kingdom’s most iconic, but least documented, poses, the full-frontal domesticated-feline rear.

Tsuneoka cautiously approached a local animal shelter with a request photograph the cats in their care—strictly for artistic research—and they agreed. Tsuneoka, however, remained tight-lipped about the catanatomy he intended to capture. In his first research epiphany, he discovered that “stroking a cat’s tail vertically” resulted in the perfect pose. From that point on, the photoshoot was pure pleasure for both parties. Later, back at Modern Dog HQ, with stacks of candid pics as his guide, he sharpened his colored pencils and never looked back.

Junichi Tsuneoka visited Tether as part of Tether Talks, an internal, lunchtime guest speaker series for Tetherites. #catanatomy

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