Newspaper Comic Strips: are you a three panel addict?

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 12th July 2011.

Turn to the comics page of this paper. Go on, I can wait. Check out the Garfield strip for today. Did you notice today’s date, in American format, on the side of one of the panels? That’s right. That is today’s Garfield strip for the planet. Every paper worldwide that carries Garfield has exactly the same strip today. That’s pretty amazing. There wouldn’t be a story, let alone a reporter, writer or columnist with that level of coverage around the globe. It’s a good thing that Garfield has no political or religious agenda, unless you’re for the rights of lasagne.

Garfield is carried in over 2500 publications and holds the Guinness World Record for the most published syndicated strip. Created by Jim Davis in 1978, the strip had humble beginnings, initially being published in 41 newspapers. Three years later, it was being carried by 850 publications. It is estimated that Garfield now brings in up to a billion dollars of revenue a year in sales. Not bad for a lazy cat.

Imagine how difficult it must be to come up with something witty and different every single day of the year. After over thirty years of writing, how would you know if you had used the same scenario before? Would anyone care or even notice? Do you write a single strip a day, or do you produce months of content in one big creative spurt and then have some time off? My mind boggles.

Not surprisingly, Jim Davis is no longer the principal artist on Garfield although amazingly, he still authors the storylines and text. I assume he needs the extra time to count his money. That’s what I’d be doing.

My favourite Garfield strips are the ones without Garfield. In 2008, Dan Walsh created a website, Garfield Minus Garfield, where he digitally removed Garfield and all of the other characters, leaving Jim to speak to himself. The end result is a different but hilarious spin to the franchise, with Jim’s solo mutterings, reactions and twitches being laugh out loud funny and a little disturbing at the same time. In 2008, an officially endorsed Garfield Minus Garfield book was published. It is on my Christmas wish list.

I quite like The Phantom too. Unlike most humour-based strips, the adventures of The Ghost Who Walks are told in long arcs which are split into daily strips. The story is slowly revealed in a few panels per day. The funny thing about The Phantom is that you never know where you are in the storyline. Without the context of what has happened before, the daily strip usually makes no sense. Most days, the Guardian of the Eastern Dark punches someone in the first panel, we see the mark left by his skull ring on the villain’s face in the second, and he rides off on his horse, Hero, in the third. Compelling stuff, isn’t it?

Of course, with the short term memory of a goldfish, I can never remember what happened in yesterday’s instalment but that doesn’t stop me from dutifully reading The Phantom every day and loving it. I guess as long as The Man Who Cannot Die remembers what he did yesterday, the wheels of jungle justice will keep turning.

So enjoy your comics page in today’s paper knowing that the same couple of seconds enjoyment you are getting is being shared by millions of people worldwide.

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Published in: on July 12, 2011 at 12:59  Leave a Comment  
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