August 8, 2017

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #39 (Grumpy Cat/Garfield #1 by Mark Evanier, Steve Uy and Tom Napolitano)


See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as these, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

The suspension of disbelief is one of the most critical states of minds that a writer needs to evoke. Every story can be broken down into its constituent parts if you try hard enough, but when the creators are able to switch that part of your brain off just for a second, the experience becomes that much richer; the approach, however, is wholly dependent on the style of the story.

For dramatic pieces, the story and the motivations of the characters need to maintain a logical through-line from beginning to end. With comedic pieces, such as this one, there is very little that's off-limits as long it’s entertaining - a point that Evanier and Uy completely understand. The incredulity of this series smacks you in the face during the very first scene and you never want it to stop.

Grumpy Cat/Garfield follows both of the titular characters as they begin a collision course following a misbegotten scientific venture that plans to convert all of the impassive cats of the world into the most loyal of household pets: dogs. Joined by their respective partners in crime, Pokey the kitten and Odie the puppy, the two crotchety felines find themselves against insurmountable odds.

As that plot summary might imply, this is a comic that knows precisely what it is and what it’s trying to be. From the slimy villain ranting maniacally on national television about his cat-conversion ray to the far-too-appropriately named spies Slither and Snoop, there is no component of this issue that isn’t positively delightful. No worlds will be shattered and no secret wars will be fought, but we’re all going to have a jolly old time.

The two main characters themselves are given equal panel time, which will delight fans of both properties. The parallels between the two are drawn explicitly in the caption boxes that frame the story, but also implicitly in the layout of the pages. At the beginning of the issue, the pages are consistently split in half vertically and the character's respective story unfolds in real time with the other's. This gives both sets of fans the perfect way in to the other side of the crossover, making this an ideal jumping on point for anyone.

Although if you don’t know who Garfield is then I’m very worried for you.

While the ridiculousness is inherent to the story being told here, the book does well at maintaining its sense of internal consistency. Napolitano sets out the rules of the world from the very beginning, making it clear that the only times that we see words coming from these characters’ mouths are when the humans aren’t around and, otherwise, the monologues sit snugly within thought balloons. It’s a detail that a younger audience won’t pick up on, but will stand out like a sore thumb to an attentive reader.

Uy’s simple, yet expressive, style works well to set the tone of the story and completes the package to make this issue feel so resolutely like a cartoon. His depiction of Garfield leans into the character’s unsettlingly anthropomorphic side, giving us a few panels where, if you couldn’t see the face, you might think that you were looking at a round, very orange, human being which, we can all agree, we already get enough of. However, in this context, it only serves to make the character stand out from his quadrupedal counterpart.

The Grumpy Cat and Pokey in this issue are similarly recognisable, with Uy encouraging the dichotomy between the two characters; the all-consuming enthusiasm Uy writes all over Pokey’s face makes him the person who the reader immediately becomes the most concerned for. There are moments when Grumpy’s unrepentant rejection of Pokey’s admiration borders on the cruel, but there’s a resilience in both the art and the writing that you know that he’s never going to stay down for long.

There is a level of acceptance that you start with when you begin reading a story about two cartoon cats. By leaning into that in both the art and the writing, you come away from this issue ready for more. I might recommend waiting until the complete collection is released, as the overall plot progression has not been the most significant, but this is a book that I heartily recommend, if only to see what happens when the two titans finally clash.
Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at mcdickson101@gmail.com or head over to check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.