The Rant: 'Garfield': Nine Lives, but Are They Worth Living?
Some comic strips, like great music, have soul. And then there is Garfield.
"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.
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.
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.
| October 27, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
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