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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 10/27/2008

The Rant: 'Garfield': Nine Lives, but Are They Worth Living?

By Michael Cavna

Some comic strips, like great music, have soul. And then there is Garfield.

Does anybody really know what time it is? (UPS) Enlarge Comic

"Garfield" is the huge bubblegum pop hit that is catchy, that understandably appeals to kids -- and that has the feel of having been meticulously engineered by a room of producers to within an inch of its nine lives. It is not without smart design that "Garfield" achieves mass appeal.

Part of that design, however, is one wrinkle that, for us, is a dividing line between the soulful and the soulless:

Most of the time, "Garfield" skirts any hint of seasonal change. Too often, nary a blown leaf or snowflake. We are entering a hermetically sealed void in which -- like the confines of a clockless casino -- time seems to go unmarked. Were it not for the occasional holiday joke (Halloween mask, anyone?), "Garfield" would be utterly timeless in all the wrong ways.

For reassurance that even comic seasons pass, we look today to "Blondie," where -- despite a few hints of being "Pleasantville" -- the leaves fall and the weather changes, even if Blondie's figure and Dagwood's clothes never do.

A scene to fall for. (KFS) Enlarge Comic

There is a reason that in comics polls, "Blondie" is often spared by the torch-bearers who call for other old "legacy strips" or "zombie strips" to be dumped. Because at its center, through countless repeated stock situations, "Blondie" has retained some soul.

All the colors of (human) nature. (UPS)Enlarge Comic

Which brings us inevitably to "Calvin and Hobbes," which still tops various Comic Riffs polls. Bill Watterson created Sunday strips, especially, that practically let you breathe the frosty January air, or cannonball into the Skittles-colored leaf piles of fall.

In the collection "Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages 1985-1995," Watterson's accompanying commentary conveys this extreme care. He writes beneath his cartoon's cool-but-not-cold tones: "In November strips, I always tried to capture the austere, gray, brambly look that Ohio gets."

And that sums it up right there. The frozen-in-amber "Garfield" does not answer to Father Time, while "Calvin and Hobbes" positively embraced Mother Nature.

By Michael Cavna  | October 27, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Rants  
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Don't neglect some of the other aspects of a good strip. So many are all "talking heads" with no action at all. Blondie has lots of action and visual gags, even if it's the beyond-trite mailman slam. And Blondie often at least has outdoor scenes. Some have no outdoor scenes at all, or extremely rarely. Begin to examine strips for actual action scenes and you'll see them in a new way.

Secondly, Blondie is very well drawn. Details are usually well rendered.

Posted by: Jumper1 | October 27, 2008 3:21 PM | Report abuse

I rarely read Garfield anymore, for the same reason Marvel comics no longer interest me: their creators have sold the souls of the comics for cheap: a few million kiddie books, mugs, gift cards, school supplies, corporate licensing, a cartoon show, a couple of movies, toys, and the promise that Jim Davis will never ever have to draw an actual strip again.

Posted by: phoste20 | October 27, 2008 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Don't underestimate the value of Garfield as a gateway drug though. My 10-year old daughter just started picking up the collections at this fall's library sales and she's blowing through them.

Actually I kind of liked the jalapeno gag today too.

What's up with the new UserID anyway? The Post feeling a little paranoid along with the rest of Washington?

Posted by: Mrhode | October 27, 2008 10:07 PM | Report abuse

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