Thursday, April 03, 2008

NCCCCC: Perplexing Pet Playoff

The Perplexing Pet category has been the hardest bracket of the National Corniest Cliché Comic Character Countdown to seed. Many strips have pets, but they rarely have major roles except for getting sick at inopportune times and ruining planned Paris vacations. Most of the time if they aren’t the star, they are just visual background.

Some of the pet-oriented strips are among the best in print. Snoopy in his day, for better or for worse, became THE breakout Peanuts character and made Charles Schultz a very wealthy if rather troubled man. And speaking of For Better Or For Worse, the death of Farley affected a generation more than Ol’ Yeller. Last year Bucky Katt mopped the floor of the National Coolest Comics Character finals with the other contestants.

On the other hand, there are strips with pets that are among the most reviled characters on the funny pages. And others that just make you scratch your head in confusion. Let’s have a look at some of those.

One of the most hated yet inexplicably popular “talking” animal characters ever. The very young and the feeble-minded find him hilarious and Jim Davis has been trying to breathe some new life into the franchise, but the damage has been done. Garfield is arguably not even a cat. I’m not aware of too many Monday-hating, lasagna-loving, “bachelor-baby”ing real life cats out there. But he is a character in all senses of the word and a merchandising juggernaut.

Perhaps the best way to describe Heathcliff is as a mute, less funny Garfield. Seemingly slightly more cat-like than Garfield, Heathcliff is more of a delinquent alley cat with airs. The pantomime style doesn’t give him much personality to work with and he makes the least of it.

Earl and Mooch (Mutts)
Mutts is a comic strip loved by those pretentious snobs that lament the lost artistic glory days of the funny pages. The strip is beautifully drawn in a gorgeous retro style with lots of in-jokes that date back to The Yellow Kid. But have this cat and dog duo (without looking, tell me which is Earl and which is Mooch) ever done anything funny? Unless you count talking with a lisp as appropriate 21st century comedy material. They are loved as a concept but the strip lacks sound execution.

Dawg (Hi and Lois)
Even the name is completely generic (and highly offensive to those of us who despise the University of Georgia athletic program). Dawg is the Flagstone family pet that mostly interacts with pre-verbal Trixie, which makes him about as important as the sunbeam.

Marmaduke is a Really Big Dog.

Pick which pet belongs in the pound for crimes against comics. This category is tough to give firm direction on, so leave your thought process in the comments.

And if you haven’t voted yet in the Alarming Alcoholic or Dopey Dad category yet, make sure to visit those.


Anonymous said...

Face it, Marmaduke is going to run away with this one. But let's take a look:

Garfield: There is no question that Garfield has long overstayed his welcome, but once upon a time some of his gags were fresh, he lived in a world that had backgrounds, and he was occasionally nice. Besides, living with Jon Arbuckle is a far worse punishment than anything we could devise.

Heathcliff: You summed up Heathcliff pretty well. But the fact is that he is so lame, that he arouses absolutely no feeling whatsoever. This is one of those strips that the eye just runs over without ever really perceiving.

Mutts: OK, I like Earl and Mooch. They have become rather twee in the last few years, but once upon a time they were actually pretty funny. The art and the old comic references make up for a lot.

Dawg: Frankly, this is one of those visual background characters you mentioned in the intro. Before reading this entry, I couldn't even have told you there was a dog in Hi & Lois (a strip that is getting far more attention than it deserves in this year's competition). Bitsy from Marvin might have been a better choice here.

Marmaduke: Marmaduke is far more than a really big dog; he is an untrained really big dog. He is a hellhound that should have been put out of our misery decades ago. It's a wonder that his family can even afford to feed him, considering all the lawsuits they must have been involved in. They must have awesome liability insurance. This category is all his.

yellojkt said...

Yeah, I tried to sandbag Marmaduke as much as I could, but it's his category to lose. Ironically all the Great Danes I have known in real life (and my townhouse neighborhood is inexplicably full of them) are then nicest, gentlest dogs imaginable.

Several neighborhood German shepherds on the other hand are lawsuits waiting to happen.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

You're right, this was a tough one. Most of these characters are completely lame. I thought I was just throwing a dart by picking Marmaduke, but apparently everyone else agrees with me as well.

Anonymous said...

Garfield can be better appreciated in the Garfield Minus Garfield strips, which ask the question, "Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life?"

Anonymous said...

I went with Garfield because in my head (and perhaps in Davis' too), it was never intended to be a funny comic strip about a cat; it was intended to be a strip that supported a merchandising character. And that is the crime against comics.

Marmaduke sucks, no doubt about it, but at least there's an honest effort there. And demetriosx is right in that Mutts was pretty funny back in the day. Plus McDonnell gets mitigation points for his scholarly work on Krazy Kat and George Herrimann's artwork.

Mooselet said...

It's a toss up between Garfield and Marmaduke. Let's see why I've eliminated the other "contenders":

Heathcliff - it's still running??? That was really my first thought.

Earl and Mooch - fairly inoffensive and kinda cute. Nothing to see here, move along.

Dawg - like Demetroisx, I think Dawg is a background character and therefore ineligible. Otherwise the strip would be named "Hi & Lois & Dawg". And I would argue the sunbeam is more important - it's referenced much more than Dawg.

So that leaves Marmaduke and Garfield. I'm going with Marmaduke. I have fond memories of Garfield - named my first cat after him(a grey tabby, I was 8) and I loved that cat - whereas I can never remember Marmaduke being more than what it is today - a one panel strip about a HUGE great dane.

Simon said...

I voted for Marmaduke, mostly because I don't much like ill-behaved horsedogs.

I know I'm going to attract a certain amount of ire for saying this, but I was really tempted to vote for Bucky Katt. I can't stand him, and it's rare for me to like Satchel, either. To me, Get Fuzzy is just Bucky being an asshole or Satchel displaying some spectacular variety of social or mental disability. And that really doesn't strike me as funny.

Sherry Chiger said...

Must disagree with you re. Earl and Mooch (and Mooch is obviously the cat--he's a mooch, duh!). Mutts isn't always funny, but it is often sweet... and is that really such a horrible thing?

Unknown said...

I'm going to go with Bucky from Get Fuzzy. And I have five cats...he's just mean-spirited and cruel. A feline narcissist.

Anonymous said...

The cat in "Arlo and Janis." He doesn't so much, but Arlo feels the need to comment on it. He ties with that stupid "Family Circus" dog Barfy.

Anonymous said...

Hmm... I like Heathcliff, it's like an edgier, angrier version of Garfield. (Probably because it's British) While Garfield may scare the postman, Heathcliff will order a hit on him. He smokes, he gambles, he drinks, what's not to like?
Garfield used to be good and a lot more cynical than it's become today, with biting comment on the modern world, but now it's fallen far from grace.
Marmaduke also used to be fun, back when it was a four panel strip, he reminded me a lot of my own dogs, but in the single panel format there's not much room for a story and it's pretty repetitive these days.
Mutts is just boring and tries too hard to be cute.
Which is why I'll go with Dawg, simply because he has no defining characteristics and is shown so rarely that most people aren't even aware of him/her.

Propagatrix said...

I cannot believe nobody has nominated Howard Huge.

As my husband says every time he sees a Huge panel, "He's funny 'cause he's so large."