I have something of a confession to make: I am a fan of Garfield. And to celebrate his 34th birthday today, I’m doing a little something different.
It’s an odd sort of confession to make, perhaps, but given the fact that many people seem to have taken a dislike to the flabby tabby, it was something I felt worth clarifying here. I basically grew up on Garfield, with his comic strip collections making up much of my reading, and more than that, it was Garfield which really drove me to put pencil to paper and start drawing… something I admittedly do little of today, but it was fun while it lasted.
The timing of my interest could not have been better, as it developed just before his rather significant rise in the late 80′s; he was big before that, but this was the point where you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting this one. Plush toys, magazines, bookmarks, t-shirts, posters, Happy Meals, the terrific Garfield and Friends Saturday morning cartoon show, and so much more. Granted, you still see a lot of that stuff today, but at the time, it felt like an explosion.
Through it all, I had to wonder to myself: “Why isn’t there a Garfield comic book?” After all, even Heathcliff had one, courtesy of Marvel’s “Star Comics” imprint. And in my mind, anything Heathcliff could do, Garfield could do better (I see them both as fun characters now, and they have their own distinctions).
Time went on, and things changed. The TV show ended, I grew up, and Lorenzo Music, even sadly passed away just over ten years ago. As the voice of Garfield, it felt very much like he was a voice– if not the voice– of my childhood. Reading the strips and still hearing his very distinct voice… would it ever be the same again?
It’s not as though the Paws, Inc. crew haven’t tried. But ever since Music died, it feels as though popular perception of the character has turned, particularly against the comic strip. Even then, two major motion pictures featuring Bill Murray (who himself had his role of Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters played by Music in The Real Ghostbusters cartoon, sort of bringing things full circle) were made, and a new French computer-animated cartoon, The Garfield Show, has taken to the airwaves and is already greenlit for a fourth season.
The Garfield Show, much like the comic strip these days, is rather hit and miss (I find the strip more entertaining when reading several in a row, rather than individually). The best moments seem to come from when Mark Evanier writes episodes, which makes sense: He was the man responsible for the writing in so many episodes of Garfield and Friends, which is one part of the franchise which still seems to hold fond memories among former and current fans alike.
And, as luck would have it, this man is the very person tapped to bring that creative energy to a brand new comic book series by Boom! Studios. Launching in May under their “Kaboom!” label, Garfield is charged with a rather hefty task for the company who lost the license to Disney not that long ago.
I am reviewing the first two issues together because, frankly, they are so consistent that there is really no need to separate them. When and if this comes out in trade, it will no doubt all flow together well.
Though the cover says “by Jim Davis” on it, this is actually something of a fallacy; besides having created the character and maybe creating some variant covers, Davis seems to have about as much to do with the creation of this book as Walt Disney did with those bearing his name so many years after his death. In fact, if they just squeezed his name into the logo between the “G” and the top of the “F,” it might work better.
For those with a fear of continuity and serialized storytelling, there is nothing to worry about here; these issues are told in a short-story style, with two per issue so far (and no U.S. Acres in between, sorry; maybe someday). This allows for more substantial storytelling than the comic strip provides, but nothing too heavy; it is much like seeing Garfield and Friends shorts on the printed page.
The first issue contains the stories “Collectors Classic,” wherein being booted from the Arbuckle residence by Garfield sees Nermal stumble upon the very rare first issue of a long-running comic book, and “Big Mouse Meal,” in which Squeak runs into a friend who refuses to believe that there could be a cat who won’t eat mice. The second issue’s story “Sticking Point” has Odie mistake an all-powerful alien power rod for his throwing stick, while “Down for the Count” sees Jon trying to win $500 in a jellybean-counting contest amidst constant interruptions from his cat’s hijinks.
Each story manages to be satisfying while fitting in a style of Garfield humor which is true to the character, yet feels like it could only come from Evanier’s pen (or perhaps keyboard, these days). There are different jokes and character beats which feel just like they were taken from the classic cartoon, lending to a nifty bit of humor and characterization which is at once nostalgic, yet timeless. Reading along, I could just hear Music, as well a Thom Huge, Gregg Berger, and everyone else reprising their roles in my head.
The cast draws mainly from the comic strips, with Garfield, Jon, and Odie, as well as Arlene, Nermal, Squeak, and Liz all accounted for in some way or another (Arlene has only been on a cover and in a dream sequence so far). There also seem to be some original characters thrown in (Big Mouse), as well as some from The Garfield Show, such as Vito the Italian pizza chef, seen above.
Our big question is whether we’ll see anyone from the old Garfield and Friends crew show up. Floyd the Mouse’s role may be made redundant by Squeak, but I’ve always wanted to see a love triangle form between Garfield, Penelope (who adores Garfield, and isn’t afraid to admit it), and Arlene (who also likes Garfield, but is less likely to fawn over him). And who could forget classics such as Al G. Swindler, Cactus Jake, the Buddy Bears, and of course, Binky the Clown?
(Actually, there are probably a few people who would like me to forget Binky; I use his Happy Birthday song on a five-minute loop to celebrate whenever someone I know has one.)
As noted, Evanier is the writer of these stories, and the art (including covers) is by Gary Barker (artist for the comic strip), with Dan Davis helping out in the second issue. Colors for issue #1 are by Braden Lamb, while Lisa Moore handles #2, and Steve Wands handles the lettering in both.
The art and stories are consistent throughout, save for the colors; Lamb’s seem almost as though they have a little more texture to them somehow, but most will probably not notice the difference. Nor would they likely notice the difference between the pencils/inks here and those on nearly any other piece of Garfield merchandise.
With the exception of the movies and more recent Garfield animations, there is a very distinct, standard look which is intact here. And honestly? I’m perfectly fine with that; while seeing how an artist interprets a character can sometimes be fun, I’ve had enough moments of Archie Sonic that I’m okay with the creators playing it safe. Sometimes getting creative works, but sometimes it doesn’t. And in this case, there is little to complain about.
Longtime fans of the comic strip, or at least those who study the art more intensely, have noted that while there used to be a lot of neat, detailed backgrounds and interesting perspectives, you just don’t see those very often these days. However, though he also illustrates the newspaper strip, Barker seems to bring that sort of living world and more interesting perspectives back with his pencils in these stories, as you can see in these examples:
The Garfield comic book is a solid offering, and perhaps one of the best to bear the fat cat’s likeness and name in years (and that’s coming from someone who enjoyed the first movie, by the way [I've not had a chance to see the second]). It’s suitable for all-ages, and kids will probably take to it especially well, though there is that pesky issue of it reaching their hands.
The book comes out monthly at $3.99, but only to comic book shops, as far as I know. When and if trades happen, those might be available more widely; until then, we’ll just have to see. In the meantime, there is internet shopping…
As for me, I’m definitely collecting this one for the foreseeable future. If you’ve ever liked Garfield, especially back in his prime, you owe it to yourself to at least give this book a look.
To get a peek at the book for yourself, check out the previews for issue #1 and issue #2 at Comic Book Resources, which I should add is where I got the panels seen throughout the article. You can also read this interview with Mark Evanier, who talks about his work with Garfield and moving from the television screen to the comic book page.
Finally, I just want to add a big “Happy Birthday, Garfield!” I really can’t think of a better way to celebrate than with the launch of this new book.