If you have yet to discover Garfield Minus Garfield, get thee hence.
“Garfield Minus Garfield is a site dedicated to removing Garfield from the Garfield comic strips in order to reveal the existential angst of a certain young Mr. Jon Arbuckle. It is a journey deep into the mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness and depression in a quiet American suburb.”
Removing the comical cat from the strip reveals an underlying desperation that, if you think about it, has always been there. Whether Jon is talking to his cat or to himself, he is still having a one-sided conversation.
If you consider other comic strips, though, it becomes clear that this isn’t at all rare. A surprising number of them are about deeply unhappy characters fighting to keep themselves afloat. Peanuts springs immediately to mind: a depressed Charlie Brown, an obsessed Lucy, an insecure Schroeder, a hygiene-challenged Pig Pen, a Snoopy that escapes into a fantasy world. We might turn the same lens toward Cathy and her struggle with age and singlehood, or The Far Side with a world where even science is steeped with absurdity and unpredictability.
Why is this so common? Maybe it has to do with that old canard, “It’s funny because it’s true.” Surely we aren’t Jon Arbuckle, are we? Look at that potato shaped head, the huge bug eyes. He can’t be us, yet paradoxically that allows him to be exactly like us, because otherwise it would be too close for comfort. We laugh because it’s ridiculous, and the ridiculousness frees us laugh because it’s true.
Take away the cat silently cracking wise, and we’re just left with Jon, who is closer to our truth. Go check out Garfield Minus Garfield. You will laugh, you will cry, you will recognize yourself.