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Somebody Let The Monkey Out The Cage

Nate kindly agreed to go to the cat archives so as to provide a proper counterbalance for all of you Comics Journal readers who consider yourselves anti-feline, as Tim O’Neil intends to take you far out of your comfort zone with his unparalleled exegesis on Garfield. That’s up first, and then we dive into the comics of the now, while Abhay Khosla plans to sing you to sleep with 2012′s most popular lullaby: shit that people say on Twitter.

Mr. O’Neil, if you wouldn’t mind.

Let me tell you a story about the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.

It is unfortunately not uncommon when driving to come across memorial road markers, erected for the purpose of commemorating automotive fatalities. Sometimes these markers are as simple as a plain white cross standing off the shoulder of the interstate, and sometimes the shrines become far more elaborate. It isn’t uncommon to find large piles of flowers and toys left on the side of the road for children who have been dead for decades. The highway patrol and road maintenance crews appear, as if by unspoken assent, to leave such shrines alone. It’s one thing if entropy takes over and the memorial naturally disappears, but based on my own observation no one will ever move to tear one down, and no one will ever remove a white cross.

Driving through the forest one day we came across another well-tended shrine. In contrast to the often ad hoc nature of these artifacts, there was actually a formal marker erected to commemorate the dead. The marker indicated that on that spot many years ago a little girl had died – really, no more than a toddler. I don’t think the girl had been more than three years old. There were fresh flowers and toys, teddy bears, and balloons. But there was one aspect of the shrine in particular that has stuck with me all these years later, that still lives on in my memory and imagination. It certainly wasn’t the tragedy of a dead child on the side of the road – no, as terrible as it may seem we are unquestionably inured to the spectacle of dead children. What lingers in my imagination was the fact that someone had placed at the shrine a brand-new Garfield balloon.

Garfield is universal. It makes a sad kind of sense that if Garfield is present at the beginning of our lives he should also be there at the end of our lives. And certainly, you will find more Garfield merchandise cluttering up the maternity ward than probably any other franchise. They even have a Garfield Baby line, which just seems monstrously superfluous – isn’t Garfield already the most kid-friendly concept in existence?

That’s the point: Garfield is for children. But he’s also for adults, for toddlers, for the very old, for the unborn and yes, even for the dead. Garfield surrounds us. He’s in the air we breathe and the food we eat. No one ever actually buys Garfield books, and yet Garfield books are always all around us, like sand in our clothes after a trip to the beach. We can’t escape Garfield, because Garfield is inside us all. In our hearts, where we go when we are left alone with ourselves, we turn a blind corner and come upon a vision of that sublime orange cat staring back at us.

We like to think we’re better than Garfield. We like to think we know better than that, that we can safely and smugly dismiss Garfield for a multitude of perceived sins – for being terrible, for being unfunny, for being repetitive, for being so god-damned simple. Is it even worth expending the breath to mock Garfield?

We like to think that we’re better parents because we give our children Hergé and Barks and Schulz, that we expose them to “good” cartoonists and quality comic strips. But kids will always prefer McDonalds to whatever home-cooked macrobiotic free-range feast you’ve been slaving over a hot stove for hours to prepare. Kids may like Tintin, but I guarantee you that no matter how hard you try to introduce your child to the best that the medium has to offer, a love of Garfield is hardwired into their brains from almost the first moment they draw breath. Cut that umbilical cord and they’re already living in Jim Davis’s world. It’s not something you can fight, so you might as well just accept it.

When a well-wisher places a Garfield balloon over a dead child’s memorial, it’s heartbreaking. Not because the well-wisher isn’t placing a vintage Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge balloon, or a hipster-friendly up-to-the-minute Adventure Time toy, but because Garfield is such a universal rite of childhood that it doesn’t even seem at all out of place. Garfield is one of those things that exists for no other reason to put a smile on people’s faces. We can accept Garfield as shorthand for childhood because everyone knows that Garfield is a part of childhood, just like Batman and Mickey Mouse. (And how many kids ever even read a Mickey Mouse comic book or see Mickey in a Disney cartoon? We just know who Mickey is because he’s everywhere.) Does it even matter that Garfield has so little content? Mickey fans can point to Floyd Gottfredson and a host of fantastic cartoons – which are now of interest only to scholars and aficionados. (What parent in their right mind would buy their young child a copy of Fantagraphics’ Mickey Mouse reprints? Probably the same parent who doesn’t let their kid have processed sugar and only lets their kid listens to the Beatles – you know, terrible people whose kids hate them because they have to go over to their friends house to watch Hanna Montana and eat Go-Gurt.) The best part about Garfield is that there is no lost Golden Age of “good” Garfield from before Davis sold out and hired ghost artists – there’s no great dispute about when Garfield dropped off and when it got good again – there’s no point in arguing with people who think Garfield is still relevant when it really isn’t, and who really should know better than to waste their time worrying about it in the first place. Garfield just is.

Garfield is now substantially the same as Garfield has ever been. Garfield hasn’t changed, hasn’t developed. There’s no “good cat artist” who works in obscurity just waiting to be discovered. The art is little more rounded now than it was in 1978. But you know what? None of this matters. We can criticize McDonalds all we want – and do you notice how the comparison of Garfield to McDonalds appears to come as naturally as breathing? –  but we know we love the fries. And sometimes you just get that craving and nothing else will do but a Big Mac. Sometimes it feels like there’s a big Garfield-shaped hole in my soul and nothing else will do the trick. The trick is to not be ashamed of what is as natural and inevitable as death and taxes. When I die, I am pretty sure that God will be voiced by Lorenzo Music.

My name is Tim and I’m not afraid to admit: I like Garfield. And if you don’t, well, you’re a liar. You can’t dislike Garfield. You just can’t.

 

 

AND ON THE EIGHTH DAY WE GOT COMIC BOOKS AMIRITE

2 ½ Days In Hell: A Private Kirby Adventure
By Jean Depelley & Tom Scioli
Published by Tom Scioli

Based off one of Jean Depelley’s stories of Jack Kirby at war, this short mini-comic sees Kirby superfan–that’s not a pejorative term–Tom Scioli turning out nine pages of ball-crusting military action, including a solid use of that “limit the color palette and then wow ‘em with red” trick alongside the expected “hey, I know that panel” treats. While the Kirby influence trumps all others, the bookended “letters to Roz” conceit reminded this columnist of the long-shelved hope that Gabrielle Bell will someday relaunch EC’s Two-Fisted Tales.

The Creep #0
By John Arcudi & Jonathan Case
Published by Dark Horse

Collecting stories that originally appeared in those new Dark Horse Presents comics that you probably thought you were going to care about, but didn’t, The Creep is the story of a guy with acromegaly who works as a private detective, a woman from his past, and the case that brings the two of them together. It’s written better than it needs to be, although neither Arcudi or Case hold back on the mystery cliches. (An understandable choice, when one acknowledges that this is a story originally told in 8-10 page segments in an eighty-page magazine–there’s no easier way to say “here be gumshoe” than touches like snail mail written in cursive, archaic hats, and a black rotary phone.) Mystery done straight–acromegaly aside, The Creep is as straight as it gets–has only been truly great in film and prose. But unlike super-heroes, romance and science fiction, it’s difficult for a genre like mystery to be completely unreadable. (Turgid and boring can still happen, but the desire to resolve the “who did it” question can defeat just about any flaw but length.) Potentiality: achieved.

Vanguard Ilustrated #6
By George Perez, Joey Cavaleri, Phil Phillipson
Published by Pacific, 1984

There’s other creators in this comic–Peter Milligan and Adam Kubert being the most familiar–but this comic belongs completely to George Perez and Joey Cavaleri, who deserve their own picnic table in Comics Valhalla for their silent four pager, “The Trains Belong To Us”, where the two men tell the tale of the multicultural eighties graffiti gang that uses their illegal spray-painting skills to call forth Satan himself, so that he can terrify a security guard, kill some dobermans, and (one has to assume) rule over the world. Move over, Big Questions: there’s a new unfinished masterpiece in town.

Godzilla The Half-Century War #1
By James Stokoe
Published by IDW

Although this isn’t the long-awaited Stokoe comic–that would be either new Orc Stain or his absurdly detailed Spider-Man in Vietnam comic known as “Spider-Nam”–it’s new Stokoe nonetheless. Tracing the giant lizard (depicted by Stokoe with the requisite knee-pads) through an introductory path of destruction, this is the sort of entertainment that depicts the apparent death of millions as backdrop, a choice that might alienate more sensitive readers, but will come as a delightful tonic to those comics fans exhausted with the moral exhortations from Marvel comics featuring a bunch of X-Men characters who just finished reading Maus for the first time.  It’s a comic book featuring Godzilla: your first step is always gonna be to ignore the screams.

The New Avengers #29
By Brian Michael Bendis, Mike Deodato, Rain Beredo
Published by Marvel Comics

This is one of those Marvel Illumaniti comics, where certain major Marvel characters get together in a room to have secret discussions on the fate of the world, and how that fate could best be shaped and changed. There’s been a few of these over the last few years, including one mini-series, and the stories have all been pretty much the same, disregarding the immediate references that indicate when the story takes place. They’re extremely serious super-hero comic books–every character in these stories struggles, and not the old school Marvel Pick Up That Machine kind of struggle, but the serious adult decision kind of struggle, like “are we ready for a baby” and “is it time for dad to go to a home.” It’s Captain America talking about the definition of friendship with Iron Man while Professor X reveals how upset he is about his performance as a father. It’s a strange thing, these comics, because they’re essentially the contemporary version of those moments in old Marvel comics Kirby and Lee would show up and argue about Forbush Man while coming up with new ideas for Fantastic Four villains–people, sitting in a room, talking about absurdities with undeserved gravity, ignoring the inherent silliness of the enterprise.

Spider-Men #4
By Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli, Justin Ponsor
Published by Marvel Comics

Cross-over comics used to be a bit more heavily weighted on the make-’em-fight end than they were on shaking hands, but this issue of Spider-Men threatens to throw the curve off entirely. From start almost all the way to finish, this comic consists of Peter Parker (the original one) sitting on the floor being told about the Ultimate Universe. That’s the entirety of the comic: characters like Ultimate Gwen Stacy and Ultimate Aunt May saying, “Here, Uncle Ben had a ponytail,” and Peter Parker saying, “In my world, Nick Fury is white.” There’s a ton of crying, the villain appears in a photograph, and that’s it. It would be disappointing, except that it’s impossible to imagine what else this comic was ever going to be about.

——————-——————-——————-——————-
CLOSE IT OUT WITH THE 36 CHAMBERS OF ABHAY KHOSLA

But wait then Rob Liefeld used technology to say unto Twitter, “Testament to Deadpool’s appeal and durability is that he thrives regardless of being regulated to D-list talent. Marvel’s A-list never touches. The flip of my statement is that Marvel doesn’t feature their prize talent on Deadpool and the character does well– Mostly newbies, hence D-list. So are we all going to pretend that the heavy contract players at Marvel work on Deadpool monthly. Yu? McNiven? Art Adams? Coipel? Point was and remains, lots of new talent cut their teeth on Deadpool. No Heavy hitters. Point being– DP would soar…”

Unswayed by the emotion of pity, comicdom didn’t react kindly. Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso tweeted: “Welcome to the D-list, @GerryDuggan @thebrianposehn @tonymoore! Howdy Doody just put your name on the list.” X-Comic author Rick Remender: “Lot of talented people you just called out as D-list. Might be a better way to congratulate yourself?” And Marvel Architect Brian Michael Bendis may have tweeted “Shame on you,” perhaps to Liefeld’s amusement.

Liefeld then apologized (“I meant it as a classification of so much talent that is unknown to me and I am unfamiliar with… Often publishers regulate talents to ‘lists’, A list, B list, etc. I broke the good ol’ boy club by using the ‘list’ description”). After apologizing, Liefeld shifted his attention to promoting the next phase in his career: ”I’ve been itching to tell more adult stories… More gore, blood, sex, violence, like any good cable show.” Liefeld’s “good cable show” will be a relaunch of Bloodstrike.

But meanwhile, almost simultaneously to the foregoing, Mark Waid spoke thus onto Twitter: “Really?  Really? Hey, @newsarama, how’s it feel to be the new Wizard Magazine? F’ing idiots. Lose my number. Seriously. They don’t have the first clue. Really. I know it’s dumb to let this get under my skin, but I just find this so Wizard-ly. Just dropped @newsarama from the list of sites I visit, however seldom. Who’s with me?”

What set Waid off? A button-pushing article on the Newsarama website listing the “10 Worst Comic Book-Based Movie Performances of All Time,” naturally. Luckily, as tempers flared over 10-Worst-Gate, Marvel Writer Dan Slott was there to long-tweet that “threats of any kind against anyone at @Newsarama over a 10 Best/10 Worst list is insane and uncalled for.” Slott continued, “But insults? [...] Seriously, what were you EXPECTING? [...] On the death threats– I’m right there with you. NOTHING merits that. But the insults? Sorry, you don’t get to pull out the wagging finger on those.”

And then at about the same time, there was… I’m sorry– I can’t keep this going with a straight face. APRIL FOOLS. None of this happened. These are actual, working professionals– you think they’re running around tweeting crazy nonsense all day? Marvel people are busy hitting deadlines, struggling with their craft, putting out finely crafted stories accessible to wide audiences into stores– not overreacting to barely-English tweets about DEADPOOL comics because they’re oversensitive to the fact that a black hole of craft has created more successful characters than they have, or how his ongoing success speaks to a stupidity of the entire enterprise that makes the paltry value of their own success unavoidable to cogitate upon. Of course, that’s not how they’re spending their time!

I just thought it’d be a funny sketch’em’up to put all these wackadoodle words into people’s mouths, just to lighten the mood. Half of these Twitter feeds aren’t even real– most of what gets said on Twitter about comics is just me trying to lighten the mood. This has all been a Dick Clark’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes I’ve been playing on all you guys, the entire internet.

And in conclusion, I just want to admit that… I am not Emily Kimberly, the daughter of Dwayne and Alma Kimberly. No, I’m not. I’m Edward Kimberly, the recluse brother of my sister Anthea. Edward Kimberly, who has finally vindicated his sister’s good name. I am Edward Kimberly. Edward Kimberly. And I’m not mentally ill, but proud, and lucky, and strong enough to be the woman that was the best part of my manhood. The best part of myself.

Very truly yours,

Howard Mackie, Esq.


18 Responses to Somebody Let The Monkey Out The Cage

  1. mateor says:

    Good! Too many cat jokes.

    This Jack Kirby stuff is starting to go off the rails. They’re putting out war comics w/love letter bookends and shit?

    There’s not gonna be no person left, just an aura of unappreciated-contributions-to-children’s-merchandising and a halo.

    Although I reserve the right to upgrade the condition to hilarious if all of his dialog is in red or some shit.

  2. The Creep was a really good book, and expressing that through a list of caveats is detrimental toward recognizing and pointing people toward one of the best recent mainstream comics currently on the shelves.

  3. I guess what I’m saying is that you missed the forest for the trees. Like, great, you found a bunch of minor quibbles. But if that’s what you walked away with after reading this book, you failed to notice the pleasure in Arcudi’s silky smooth dialogue or effortless emotional communication.

  4. Andrew Taylor says:

    It only took until the 10-Worst thing for Mark Waid to realize Newsarama is a terrible site? Now I feel a bit more justified in dropping Daredevil.

  5. Chris Jones says:

    “For a comic you didn’t seem to like all that much this sure was a negative review.”

  6. Christopher M says:

    “I like Garfield. And if you don’t, well, you’re a liar. You can’t dislike Garfield. You just can’t.”

    Naaaaaah… sorry, not only do I not like Garfield, I simply don’t care about Garfield, and in fact find it hard to conceive of a scenario in which I could. Garfield isn’t a character, it’s a product, and one focus-tested to be perfectly bland – to elicit neither love nor hatred, nor any other passion of any kind… but rather to simply exist, as a kind of ubiquitous cartoon background radiation.

    Jim Davis, always the marketing man, understands this better than anyone: in order for Garfield to succeed as a brand, it has to provoke, on average, no emotions greater than bland acceptability – the function Garfield performs, on greeting cards, balloons, school binders, and thousands of other products, is less the function of a comic strip and more akin to the function of a desktop background, or even the function of a decent font. Like Arial or Times New Roman, Garfield is popular because he’s doing his job when he’s not being noticed.

    This is why Davis spent years honing the most generic cartoon creation he possibly could, picking and choosing newspaper strip cliches and boiling them down to an easy, predictable formula. That was a task that took some time – while it was hardly a “golden age,” there was certainly a weird, accidentally experimental period during which Davis and Paws, Inc. turned out curiosities like the “death of Garfield” strips and the truly bizarre “Nine Lives” book and special – but the end result speaks for itself: a comic so lifeless, so utterly bereft of heart that it can be used to sell almost anything.

    (As to why children end up with Garfield stuff – they end up with Garfield stuff because adults give them Garfield stuff, and adults give them Garfield stuff because there’s a million Garfield products for children out there that adults are told to give their children. I mean, shit, you don’t think kids read newspaper comics, do you? Kids stopped reading newspaper strips before they stopped reading comic books.)

  7. Tex says:

    Has Tucker Stone got a new job or something?

  8. Andrew says:

    I do not disagree. And oddly, the only Garfield stuff that I truly adored as a kid WAS the incredibly odd ‘Nine Lives.’

  9. David Groenewegen says:

    I have a house full of the sort of comics Tim mentions, and a teenage son, and I can affirm that at one point he was a hell of a lot more interested in Garfield than anything I own. No idea how he got onto it (he never read any part of the newspaper except the sport section, back when we used to buy a paper newspaper), but for a while there he was very keen to borrow the books from the library. Thankfully, this seems to have passed.

    I note that Garfield is the 15th most held library book IN THE WORLD http://www.oclc.org/research/top1000/complete.htm , in case you were wondering. Take THAT Will Shakespeare!

  10. TimR says:

    You sure know a lot about Garfield for someone who doesn’t care about it in the slightest…

    I’m super curious about this 9 Lives/Death of Garfield stuff now though. I remember I always liked looking at the early unrefined Garfield strips. Not sure if that’s when this stuff occurred…

  11. Joe McCulloch says:

    Ah yes, His Nine Lives: the only Garfield book in which he murders an elderly woman. That was ’84, so it was a little ways past the strip’s rough period; they cut that part out when they did the tv version in ’88, but they kept the homage to The Plague Dogs(!!) and added a nod to Krazy Kat

  12. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    Garfield is the Krazy Kat of the younger comix generation and 9 Lives of Garfield is its Tale of Tiger Tea.

  13. nfpendleton says:

    My daughter found Garfield comics all on her own and read the books voraciously. I used them as a “gateway drug” to introduce her to Peanuts and Little Orphan Annie reprints. Now she loves all three.

  14. Christopher M says:

    I don’t care about Garfield. I do care about comics – hence, why I read something called The Comics Journal – and it would be as hard to avoid Garfield in the world of newspaper strips as it would be to avoid WalMart in the world of retail.

  15. Christopher M says:

    Also, like a lot of people my age, I read a bunch of Garfield comics as a kid – not because I was particularly a fan of Garfield, but because I read anything I could get my hands on, and particularly any comics – basically the whole comic section of the newspaper every day, including the worst shit imaginable. I never remember feeling disgust for Garfield like I felt for, say, The Amazing Spider-Man, which I just thought was offensively lame, or for Family Circus or Beetle Bailey, which had both clearly fallen into the modern day from some distant time and place where their jokes and references might have made some kind of sense – I just remember it sort of being there, with its regular, predictable jokes about depression, eating disorders and animal abuse.

  16. Chris Jones says:

    Am I the only person on earth who read Tintin AND Garfield when I was a kid and liked both of them?

  17. I didn’t say he didn’t like the book, and he didn’t either. He mentions broad issues, like how the comic is written well and is as good as something on that subject could be, but spends most of the review sniping at small issues like how the hats are cliche.

  18. Jesse Post says:

    @Chris — there’s a chance you may have missed the socially critical point in Tim’s sarcasm.

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