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Associated Press photos
Scottish fold Maru is a megastar in Japan with millions of views for nearly 300 videos since 2007 and has three books and a calendar, among other swag for sale.

More than LOLs for Web cats

Feline megastars celebrated during video film festivals

Ben Huh was key in launching the cat meme when he and a group of investors bought the I Can Has Cheezburger site in 2007. The brand is now an empire of cat-related sites.

– They frolic in empty boxes, dance on tippy toes and fly through the air with Pop-Tarts. They play piano wearing little frocks and get tickled to distraction to the delight of millions on YouTube.

I speak, of course, of the cat stars of the Internet, a place filled with felines and their wacky uploading humans since the dawn of bandwidth. Now, after years of viral viewing, they’re coming into their own in lucrative and altruistic ways.

The first Internet Cat Video Film Festival drew a crowd of more than 10,000 – people, that is – to a Minneapolis art museum in August for a free outdoor slate of 80 videos culled from 10,000 submissions.

Corporate kittydom is happy with the higher profile for the cat meme, which actually goes back to the ’70s, when swapping VHS tapes was big and the word meme was barely known. It means, by the way, all the crazy, viral themes that spread online faster than you can say nom, nom, nom (cat-vid speak for the sound of a cat eating.)

In addition to the Walker Art Center’s free night in cat video heaven, Fresh Step litter sponsored Catdance, an evening of felines on screen that coincided with January’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

In November, Friskies gave a lifetime achievement statue to the angst-filled, French-speaking Henri, le Chat Noir, at the brand’s own awards ceremony and donated 250,000 cans of cat food to shelters. A short film about Henri (www.henrilechatnoir.com) also won a statue in Minneapolis, and the existential commentator will soon begin a collaboration of food-focused videos with Friskies.

Oh, and Henri’s putting out his first book in April.

Roly poly Maru, the megastar in Japan with millions of views for nearly 300 videos since 2007, has three books and a calendar, among other swag for sale (www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uDuls5TyNE). The squishy-faced, often blissed-out Scottish fold who loves boxes and bags was used by Uniqlo when the Japanese brand launched its San Francisco store in October. Maru chose boxes, called “Lucky Cubes,” stuffed with giveaways for human contest winners.

Not to be outdone, Simon’s Cat, a funny feline in a series of line-drawn animated videos out of London, has a book and an online store (www.simonscat.com).

But nobody knows the cat meme better than Ben Huh, who with a group of investors bought the I Can Has Cheezburger site in September 2007. The site, now an empire of sites for Huh, allows users to generate captions on cat photos using LOLcat speak, a language with spelling and syntax all its own.

Henri, who doesn’t seem to have much of a heart, lends his fame and some of his dollars to cat charities. Believe it or not, even the funny faced Grumpy Cat coughs up some bucks to animal welfare groups, while captions for her still photos fly around the Internet and she sells T-shirts off her website.

So why cats?

“Cats are going to do what they want to do and that’s one of the reasons that we love them,” said David Kargas, a Fresh Step spokesman who worked on Catdance.

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