The cartoon powerhouse first hit the streets of Japan in 1974. Now she's celebrating her birthday in style with a new book called Hello Kitty, Hello 40: A 40th Anniversary Tribute, put out by VIZ Media. It's filled with forty comics, plus one for good luck, featuring the pussycat going to parties, playing dress up, exploring outer space, hanging with dinosaurs and having adventures with her gang of friends.
The book is filled with a variety of different art styles and the artists include more traditional graphic novelist Gene Yang, picture book artist Lark Pien, toy designer and co-founder of Ugly Dolls David Horvath, and cartoonist Leslie Hung. Publisher at VIZ Media, Beth Kawasaki says the editors wanted a blend of styles for the book.
"We found people who work in all fields from illustrators to animators to fine artists who are, first and foremost, fans of Hello Kitty and who had a story to tell," Kawasaki says. "We wanted to have this eclectic mix of beautiful stories made by these artists from around the world. We really wanted to reach out and span the globe because Hello Kitty is so well known everywhere you go."
Forty years ago, Shintaro Tsuji, the creator of Hello Kitty's parent company Sanrio, set out to create a cartoon character that would be a friend to all. After a little market research, he found that dogs were the number one most appealing animal, followed closely by cats. He figured Snoopy had the dog market conquered so he asked Yuko Shimizu to create a cat-like creation. Shimizu came up with the design the world has come to know.
The first item the pussycat appeared on was a vinyl coin purse in 1974. Since then her face has been splattered on everything from the ordinary pencil case to high fashion runways to even a Hello Kitty themed maternity ward in Taiwan.
Famously, she doesn't have a mouth. According to Sanrio's FAQ, it's because "she speaks from her heart and isn't bound to any language." Maybe her lack of mouth is the reason it took forty years for her true identity to be realized. The kitty stirred up the presses a while ago when the whole world discovered that in fact, she's not a kitty at all.
When putting together a recent exhibit about Hello Kitty, anthropologist Christine R. Yano sent her notes to Sanrio for approval only to be told that Hello Kitty is not a cat. She's actually a little girl named Kitty White who lives in London. She's forever a third grader and has a twin sister named Mimmy. She's a Scorpio and loves apple pie.
When working on the 40th anniversary book, Kawasaki says she had to clarify this fact for a few of her artists. Some stories revolved too much on the idea of her being a cat, and Kawasaki had to break the news to them.
"When you step back, you realize she has all the characteristics of a sweet little girl with a nice group of friends who go on adventures," she says. "And she even has a pet cat."
But hold your horses, Sanrio has also said she's not a human. While the company confirms she's not a literal cat, she's still a personification of a cat. So... it's best to just not think about it too hard.
If the book's not enough to satiate die-hard Hello Kitty fans, she'll be heading to Denver on her Hello Kitty's Supercute Friendship Festival tour. There are four shows from June 5-7 at the Denver Coliseum. Tickets are $15-25 and can be bought at AXS.com.
Follow Amanda Moutinho on Twitter at @amandamoutinho.