Feline Friday: Salem (Sabrina the Teenage Witch)

Feline Friday is my chance to celebrate famous cats across the arts, whether their origins are in gaming, film, anime, literature or anywhere else.

If you have a request for a future feline, please let me know on Twitter.

Salem Saberhagen

First Appearance: Archie’s Mad House #22 (1962)

Before we begin to investigate today’s pussycat, let’s give a shout out to Archie Comics.

The eponymous do-gooder and his Riverdale brethren have been a deeply entrenched piece of the American zeitgeist for over 80 years, and the brand has also contributed to some of my most beloved licenses, such as the Ninja Turtles and Sonic the Hedgehog.

One of the more recognisable tentacles of the Archie kraken is Sabrina the Teenage Witch. As its title implies, it chronicles the daily adventures of a young girl trying to navigate through the rigours of high school, who also happens to be a witch.

It’s relatable. We’ve all been to high school, and many of us are also witches.

Archie Comic Publications, Inc.

Among her allies is her familiar, Salem. Previously a witch himself, he was cursed to spend 100 years as a domestic cat for his machinations on world domination. Initially, he took the form of an orange tabby who never spoke. Perhaps, like Garfield, he was always thinking of pithy comments and yearning for rich Italian dishes, but we’ll never know for sure.

His defining moment would come in 1996, when the comic was adapted for television and he would, somewhat inexplicably, be paired with the talented Nick Bakay as a voice actor.

I say inexplicably because, for a hitherto mute character to be gifted such an invigorating voice seems like a real stretch. As it turns out, it was a match made in heaven, with Salem’s newfound biting wit and self aware puns redefining the character entirely.

That isn’t even hyperbole, as this take on the character became so popular, the comics would retcon its own lore to bring its interpretation of Salem more in line with his onscreen counterpart.

Anyone who watched the show perhaps wouldn’t be quite so surprised, with Salem’s quips proving to be one of the definite highlights (alongside Caroline Rhea and Martin Mull, of course). He would win the Kids’ Choice Awards honours for favourite animal star on three occasions.

Paramount Domestic Television

Me personally, I’ll always have time for Nick Bakay for his turn as Norbert in The Angry Beavers, and his sage fantasy football wisdom that nearly won me a championship in my very first season.

It’s truly fascinating to me when long-standing characters have such wholesale changes made to them, and with the sixty-year anniversary of Sabrina the Teenage Witch taking place this month, he has spent almost half of his life as a loudmouthed farceur.

There are some exceptions to this rule, such as in the recent Netflix series, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, wherein Salem was toned down to be a dependable ally. Obviously, this suits the darker tone much better than wacky costumes and cheesy one-liners, though it proves nowhere near as iconic a portrayal.

The true test will be four decades from now, when his century-long sentence has run dry and he should, by all accounts, return to his original form. Whether Archie would dare pull the trigger on that — perhaps as a tongue-in-cheek dream sequence — or if Sabrina will even be in publication by that time is another matter entirely.

Lord knows I won’t be around to see it, I’m hoping to die within the next three years, tops.

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