Today David at Boingboing pointed out this series of Garfield comic strips from 1989. It’s remarkable for a Garfield story because it’s dark and depressing, and it’s not trying to be funny.
Here’s why this strip blew me away: Jim Davis clearly took the idea from one of my favorite cartoons, a magnificent Italian short from 1977 called “Valse Triste.” There are just way too many strong similarities. (It’s just 7 minutes long and I highly recommend viewing it: see the YouTube box at the bottom of this post.)
In the cartoon a cat awakens to find himself abandoned in his vacant, dilapidated ruin of a house. The starving feline sees visions of the people he loved offering him food, but the hallucinations disappear whenever he approaches them. That’s precisely what happens to Garfield, and Davis uses the same visual past/present layering technique used in the 1977 cartoon. (“Feline Fantasies” appears in Bruno Bozzetto’s film “Allegro Non Troppo“, a decidedly un-Disney homage to Disney’s “Fantasia.”)
This is not the darkest Garfield story. When I was little I found what are still two of the most disturbing comic strips I’ve ever read. They appear in the 1984 book “Garfield: His 9 Lives” which tells stories of Garfield’s past and future. In “Primal Self,” Garfield appears to viciously murder a doddering old lady. The other is a photorealistic strip entitled “Lab Animal.” (I wish I still had this book! If you know where I can find these strips online please point me to them.)