Mama Cass Comes To Life In This Graphic Novel

by Erika W. Smith

If you don’t know much about Mama Cass, you probably still know a few of her songs — that’s her voice leading the Mamas and the Papas in the classic song “California Dreamin,’” and she’s the artist behind “Make Your Own Kind Of Music,” aka that song from the hatch in Lost.

But those who love Mama Cass — me included — love her for a lot more than her voice. She was a fat woman in the spotlight in a time when very few fat women were in the spotlight — and she looked amazing doing it. Her sense of humor, her confidence, and her sense of style make her instantly loveable — and that’s not even mentioning her incredible voice. I would happily wear any of these outfits:


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She was doing the naked-posing-with-daisies thing long before Drew Barrymore did in the ‘90s.

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She also faced down constant shit about her size, both from the people close to her and from society at large. Her bandmate John Phillips fought to keep her from joining the group because of her size. The media put a lot more attention on the thin, conventionally pretty bandmate Michelle Phillips — despite the fact that Cass had the better voice by far. And then there’s that persistent rumor that her sudden death at age 32 was caused by choking on a ham sandwich — instead of heart failure, brought on by a lifetime of crash dieting.

This is all to say that I love Mama Cass, and I want you to, too. And if you’re not yet familiar with her, I’ve got a quick catch-up for you.

1) Put on the Mamas and the Papas on Spotify, or YouTube, and then progress to Cass’ solo career

2) Read the new book California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas And The Papas by Penelope Bagieu, out on March 7


Arriving just in time for International Women’s Day 2017, California’ Dreamin’ tells the story of Cass’s early life, from her birth to the Mamas and the Papas breakthrough hit, “California Dreamin’.” Bagieu’s drawings bring Cass brilliantly to life, making her look full of energy and life — and incredibly fashionable as well.


Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different person in Cass’s life — her sister, her parents, her childhood friends, her bandmates — which makes for an entertaining, often funny read.

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Bagieu depicts Cass as struggling with binge eating and crash dieting, as well as facing plenty of insults because of her size, plus demands to crash diet from her label. But Bagieu shows Cass as so much more than her size, as well. She’s fashionable, sexy, funny, confident, determined, creative, loyal, romantic, and beyond all, incredibly talented.


The graphic novel ends with the Mamas and the Papas on the verge of breaking up, thanks to a love rectangle between the four bandmates — Cass was in unrequited love with bandmate Denny Doherty, who was sleeping with Michelle Phillips, who was married to John Phillips.



But as Cass and Denny fight in the car, “California Dreamin’” comes on the radio – along with an interview from a fan who loves the group, and particularly Cass. “We all want to be like Cass,” the fan says on the radio as Cass sobs. “She’s self-confident. She’s beautiful. She lives in a house with her friends. They’re a like a family!” And the book ends, as the song plays — leaving me wanting a sequel.

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