June 19, 2012

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Garfield Issues 1 and 2

Written by Mark Evanier
Illustrated by Gary Barker and Dan Davis
Boom! Studios

Garfield is too big to be contained only in the newspaper strips or cartoon shows.  Read on as his adventures continue with his owner Jon, loyal companion Odie, constant annoyance Nermal, and more in this new ongoing series from Boom! Studios.

Fresh off its success with creating new Peanuts comics, Boom! has enlisted long-time Garfield cartoon show writer (and comics historian) Mark Evanier to write an adaptation of the long-running newspaper strip from Jim Davis, which turns 34 today.  In honor of that birthday, I thought I'd sit down and talk about the first two issues of Garfield and explain why people who are dismissive of the property might want to give this a second look.

The first thing you need to know is that other than the characters and basic concepts, this book bears almost no resemblance to the daily cartoon that runs in the newspapers and lost its way probably about twenty years ago.   While the Davis-written stories are almost humorless and sometimes seemingly written just to make it into the next volume of "Garfield Minus Garfield" (and props to Davis for having the good sense to embrace the concept, rather than sue it!), these stories have all the things that make an Evanier humor comic sing.

If you are looking for a comparison, the best place is either in the Evanier-helmed "Garfield and Friends" cartoon show, which ran for many years on CBS on Saturday Mornings or even, to some degree, his work on Groo with Sergio Aragones.  In fact, the way the characters are drawn by Barker and Davis, along with the coloring by Braden Lamb and Lisa Moore, make this feel like it's a direct sequel to the original cartoon rather than the strip itself.  There is no real connection to the two movies, either, or even the visuals from Evanier's new Garfield show.

This makes me wonder just a bit if the target audience is more people like me, who grew up watching "Garfield and Friends" and who are now supposed to have kids that we share this comic with. If so, I have absolutely no problem with that, because the series was amazingly funny, showing that a cartoon show for children did not have to be juvenile to be a hit.  This comic, not unlike another Boom! title aimed at kids, Snarked!, demonstrates the same point as well.  The stories in these issues of Garfield are funny, but they are humor aimed high rather than low.  It's a trick that Evanier seems to be able to pull off with ease, whether his audience is 10 year olds or adults who can remember Epic Comics.

The stories themselves are textbook Mark Evanier.  In the first issue, Garfield fantasizes about being a superhero, allowing Barker to turn him into a Kirby-like character for a few panels while Evanier makes jokes about cape comics.  It's a set-up for the main plot, where Nermal finds a rare comic book and the whole cast dreams of riches.  While Evanier vamps about comic collectors and busts the 4th wall right open, Barker does a great job providing broad emotions and comical looks for those who might not get the sarcasm dripping from the pages and the topical political jokes.

The second story lightens up on the inside jokes and sticks to a simpler formula.  A mouse wants Garfield to eat him, but learns to be careful what he wishes for.  There's a ton of clever lines and it actually works a bit better for me because Evanier isn't trying to lay it on nearly so thick.  Things like a list of items Garfield won't eat are funny and knowing without needing to know what a Comic Con is.  Barker has some of his best Garfield expressions in this one as well, since a lot of the story revolves around food.

Gary Barker and Dan Davis are credited with the art on issue two, but I can't quite tell if they worked together or separately, because while there is a slight change in the art in this issue, my eyes aren't good enough to spot if it's pencils, inks, or both.  In the first story, Garfield acquires the means to have anything he wants, but in typical Evanier lesson-giving, finds that too much of a good thing can be hazardous to his health.  That's often a theme in Evanier's Garfield work, partly because Garfield's gluttony makes for such a perfect moral lesson.  The second story takes a similar theme but gives is a humorous approach, as we find Jon trying to win a jelly bean counting contest while Garfield tries to evade capture for raiding a hot dog vendor.
Evanier puts Garfield in an increasingly ridiculous position as he uses the old vaudeville trick of the slow burn to build to a climax that's probably the best joke in these two issues.  The Barker/Davis team, however it played out for this one, has to keep pace with the script, and I think they did a good job.  Garfield is everything from a Ben Grimm in public cosplayer to a cart racer in this fun romp.

Overall, while I'd never recommend the regular comics, Evanier's Garfield is a very different animal.  Like his previous work with the characters, this new series is witty, sarcastic, self-referencing, and most of all fun.  Anyone who has a soft spot for the character or loves Evanier's work needs to be reading this.  You'll be glad you did.