Posts Tagged ‘Garfield’

Ever since a friend introduced me to Penny Arcade back in Year 10, I’ve been a devout gaming/geek webcomics fan. At one point, I was checking seventeen different strips on a daily basis; realising this was insane, I scaled back to fourteen, where I settled until my first year of college. Probably, this would’ve continued, except that the internet connection in my new room was mysteriously broken, and took three weeks, umpteen phonecalls and five consultations with university IT support to fix. By that time, the amount of banked strips had reached critical mass; I didn’t have enough time to catch them all up, and so I pared back to a bare ten, farewelling 8 Bit Theatre, GPF, Nodwick¬†and others with a heavy heart.

Since then,¬†different strips have come and gone – Machall¬†and Demonology 101 have run their course, while Dresden Codak is a new favourite – but my affection for the¬†genre has remained. As has my admiration for the creators of my favourite strips. After eight years of being exposed to their humour, social commentary and general musings, watching the changes in art style and hearing snippets of personal data, they somehow feel more like acquaintances than¬†anything else, people I could bump into and share a laugh with. This is, perhaps, the big difference between webcomics and traditional print media: connection to the creators. I grew up on Snoopy and Garfield, but couldn’t have picked Charles M. Schultz or Jim Davis out of a crowd; I knew nothing about them, their lives or interests beyond an intangible sense that it must somehow¬†influence what they drew and why they drew it.

Not so Fred Gallagher, Scott Kurtz, Jerry Holkins and¬†Michael Krahulik, Greg Dean, Randy Milholland and Tatsuya Ishida. Perhaps more consistently than any other¬†creators, these guys have been with¬†me¬†through the most formative years of my life. I’ve changed since I started reading them, and they’ve changed, too: since my readership began, two have been married and three have had their first children. I’ve left school, gone to university, moved states and tied the knot – but even on my honeymoon, I was still checking comics along with email.

It’s strange to think of¬†geeks grown up¬†– at least, so mainstream society would have us believe. There’s¬†still a strong bias against the idea that you can play video games, enjoy fantasy or sci-fi¬†and read comics as an adult without being just as immature as you were at¬†fourteen, because of the perception that these are childish persuits. As a kid, I¬†was a geekling born to normals; and¬†worse, I was a girl, which made¬†it harder for my parents to¬†notice. Had I been male, perhaps my compulsive interest in dinosaurs, Mario and Transformers would have fit a pattern, rather than seeming incongruous¬†compared a similar fixation on My Little Pony. The penny finally dropped when, after years of playing every console and computer game my friends possessed and¬†saving hundreds of dollars pocket money for a colour Gameboy, I woke up one Christmas to my very own PlayStation. Since then, I’ve never looked back – but had I not stumbled on a group of like-minded webcomic geeks, things might have turned out differently.

One of the greatest trials in growing up is figuring out who you are, not just in relation to other people, but on your own terms. Without friends who shared my interests, I never would have discovered webcomics; but without webcomics, I might have lost confidence in the idea that I could succeed that way, too. Because that’s the other thing I learned: that quirky, geeky, interesting, creative people can, with sufficient effort and support, earn a living through what they love. Although I read books, watch films and listen to music, I’m¬†not privy to the everyday struggle¬†and success of the creators. The end product just appears, disconnected from any personal genesis: like a magic trick, it entertains and inspires, but the mechanics¬†are¬†deliberately¬†concealed. Authors like Neil Gaiman lift the veil through individual blogs, but back then, it was webcomics that got the message through.

Unlike Peter Pan (or today’s lost boys), geeks can grow up. And if webcomics are anything to go by, they can be happy and creatively successful into the bargain.

Thanks, guys.  

I’m not quite sure what mindset leads an individual to¬†digitally erase the protagonist from one of the world’s most renowned comic strips, but damned if I don’t want in. ¬†

The resulting creation – Garfield Minus Garfield – is hilarious on several different levels: the absurdity of the idea, the knowledge of what (or who) is missing, and the fact that Jon Arbuckle is clearly¬†weirder than a bucket of mixed frogs. It’s this last point which really startled me: the idea that, once you remove Garfield from the picture, Jon’s comedic value switches from clowning to pathos. Maybe the presence of a sentient, anthropomorphised cat¬†distorts reality to the extent that Jon, by contrast, can only ever appear as a punchline – more akin to Odie than Garfield, who ends up the only ‘person’ we sympathise with.

But Jon hasn’t actually changed. Half the dialogue has been erased, but not half the conversation – because Garfield doesn’t talk. Instead, his internal commentary, often on Jon’s behaviour, has ceased to be the focal point of the strip, with the result that we now see Jon as he actually is: a bizarre, lonely man with a fetish for pairing socks. Which, in an odd way, should shame all those people – myself included – who laugh at normal Garfield strips. Jon Arbuckle clearly needs help, and what do we do? Mock him.

Thinking about it, there’s almost a Fight Club-esque¬†relationship between Jon and Garfield. Like Tyler Durden, Garfield lives the life that Jon – our story’s Ed Norton – only dreams of. He sleeps in, finds contentment in simple pleasures, breaks the rules, has luck with the ladies, picks on Jon, gets¬†along with the Arbuckle family, and generally has a good time. Sometimes, Garfield speaks for Jon. And, like Tyler Durden, when considered objectively, it seems more likely that Garfield doesn’t actually exist:¬†that all we’ve been watching¬†is the Jekyll/Hyde transformation of a deeply¬†unhappy man. Liz the¬†vet, Jon’s long-time almost-paramour, even looks like Helena Bonham-Carter. ¬†

Of course, Jim Davis and Chuck Palahniuk might disagree. But who asked them?