By Steve Morris
Ooh, it’s a Sunday strip, so it’s a big one! And very almost a nine-panel structure, lest you hear the sounds of Tom King’s fluttering heart in the background. First of all let’s celebrate the title card itself, with Garfield cheerleading through his own name, a different cheerleader’s outfit for each of the eight letters. That’s a lot of effort, and you can forgive him for being a little tired afterwards – still, a really cute and strong start to the strip, which throws in a lot of energy heading into the main story.
Perhaps the best part of the strip is that disconnect between the high-energy opening panel, split into nine (go take a cold shower, Tom), and the rest of the page space, which slows things right down. Typically when critics write about decompression in comics, they think of writers like Warren Ellis or Joss Whedon, who consistently slowed things right down whenever they really wanted to make a point/had a page count they needed to hit. But look right here: Garfield takes seven panels to eat his tea. Decompression in 1992, people!
It’s a great little strip for Davis as a cartoonist, who defied the laws of physics to show Garfield stretching out his bottom lip so he can swallow the entire meal in one go, Scooby Doo-style. Collecting it all in his outstretched mouth, he snaps his jaw back into place and swallows everything in one go, a smooth motion spread across two panels and two rows of the strip. The structure breaks up the only fast motion on the page, slowing down the action just enough to allow readers to view the motion “in real time”. As in: you can sense the cash register opening and then shutting closed because the comic forces you to pause for a second as you move down and to the left of the strip to see what happens next.
On top of that, Davis has a bit of fun with his lettering. I should’ve asked Hass if he’d write about this one, but I’ll do what I can here. The ‘background’ actions of the comic (throwing the food in the air, opening Garfield’s mouth, and catching it) are all shown in simple black SFX, which makes the reader aware of the over-the-top cartooning without making it seem out of the ordinary or strange. It normalises the actions, which means when Davis reaches the joke – schlup! gulp! ding! – he colours the font in bright, theatrical style to reinforce the connection for the reader of Garfield eating/the sound of a cash register.
It’s a clever and subtle use of lettering from Davis, which helps take a soundless medium like comics and make sure that most readers can grasp onto the very familiar cash register noise which punches home the final joke. Move over Dave Gibbons: Jim Davis is putting on a masterclass here.
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.
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