Thursday, December 28, 2006

Heathcliff #11

Heathcliff #11, October 1986, Star Comics/Marvel Comics
writer: Michael Gallagher
penciller: Warren Kremer, Michael Knight
inker: Jacqueline Roettcher, Jon D'Agostinq
letterer: Grace Kremer
colorist: George Roussos
editor: Sid Jacobson
executive editor: Tom DeFalco
EIC: Jim Shooter

For the past few years, my older cousin has given me a small stack of comics for Christmas, presumably from his personal collection, which I suspect hasn't seen the light of day in quite some time. My cousin does have a son in the fifth grade, but I bet I appreciate his dad's generosity more -- especially in the context of today's contribution.

Now, if I were to ask you to think of a famous, smart-mouthed, orange comic strip cat, I'd bet good money that Garfield would be the first to come to mind. Not for me. When I was a kid, I devoured Heathcliff books, which were usually pocket-sized soft cover collections of his single panel daily strip, which can usually be found alongside the likes of Marmaduke and Family Circus. (On Sundays, Heathcliff stars in a tradition strip, but I'm speaking more of Geo Gately's daily work.) Something about the round, single panel's visual-gag-meets-punchline appealed to me more that the Jim Davis three panel punch; it seemed like more of an effort to evoke a chuckle from you audience with one image than with the luxury of a (albeit brief) set-up. I'm not saying Garfield isn't funny, but it's a different kind of funny than Heathcliff, both of whom have stood the test of time, which speaks to their respective and distinctive success.

Aside from the logistics of their individual strips, Heathcliff and Garfield are different on a personality level, as well, which may have attributed to my youthful preference for the former. Jim Davis made a conscious decision to keep Garfield domesticated, exploiting and translating the every-cat's laziness into a dry sarcasm. Heathcliff, on the other hand, is an adventurous creature, often leaving the comfort of his home to gallivant throughout the neighborhood, either bellowing a "meowpra" on a fence (I just made that term up) or romping with other cats through alleyways and garbage cans. Remember Heathcliff's cartoon series? His strips inspired those adventures, supporting cast not withstanding.

In Marvel's '80s for-kids imprint, Star Comics, which brought us such classics as Peter Porker and Hugga Bunch, Heathcliff finds himself in a wide variety of trouble. In just this issue, 'Cliff teams up with the Vice Mice to break up a ring of rat thieves, he experiences a re-interpretation of Gulliver's Travels to better understand the plight of smaller animals, and he ingests a bottle of disappearing ink and runs invisibly rampant around town for a spell. In the amount of time it takes Garfield to get out of bed, kick Odey off the counter, and eat some lasagna, Heathcliff has darn near saved the world. It's a different kind of humor, if you're into cat humor at all.

I mentioned the Star imprint to describe a phenomenon I've experienced with nearly every series from this line that I've read: Spider-man always pops his webbed head in there somewhere. In this issue, Iggy draws a picture of Spidey with his disappearing ink. In an ad for an upcoming issue of Top Dog, Spider-man actually teams up with the comical K-9. And let's not forget those Captain Crunch/Spider-man one-page ads I found remember from the Masters of the Universe issues I've collected over the years. I wonder, was Marvel trying to slowly but surely graduate its younger audience into its mainstream titles? Spider-man is the perfect bridge among all the characters in their canon, but if this was their intent, I've wasted nearly twenty-seven years figuring it out.

I can understand why. After all, sharing comics with kids is something I've grown to appreciate over the years. If it weren't for that, I wouldn't have my hands on this copy of Heathcliff tonight. What a different take on the "sequential" part of "sequential art," eh?

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