By Steve Morris
Arlene is Garfield’s on-off girlfriend, and by “on-off” I mean that she once went missing for almost a decade and nobody mentioned it at all. As you can see above in today’s Field Theory strip, her design is a little bit on the nose – she’s pink and extremely skinny (it would later be revealed that she’s an alley-cat, which is why she’s so thin) and has lipstick so you know she’s female. Thankfully Davis didn’t decide to throw in any other indicators of gender identity, although you know he probably considered it.
Arlene’s main problem with Garfield is that his affection is short-lived, and she’s often replaced by food; sleep; or self-interest. As with any cat, Garfield’s chief interest is in looking after himself, and his needs flicker rapidly. Often, Arlene is just completely forgotten. Today, however, she’s in the good books, and her affection is returned in kind of Garfield. However, that happily fat cat leans a little too hard into the moment, and falls and crushes Arlene, if I’m reading the comic correctly.
Davis completely whiffs that last panel, honestly. The squashed Arlene isn’t conveyed as strongly as it could have been on that final panel, which switches the reader from “oh I get it” to “did I get it?” It’s an experience only really present in comic strips, where readers are preconditioned to build up anticipation over the course of a three-panel structure. We see Arlene instigate intimacy, we see Garfield return it, and then we see… is that Garfield falling over onto Arlene? Not quite clear, oh dear the moment is lost.
Readers go so quickly through a strip that the final panel absolutely has to be nailed if the comic is going to work. Any slight question it provokes for the reader ruin the momentum and anticipation, resulting in a sigh rather than a laugh. Oh well, we’ll see what tomorrow’s strip brings instead.
Garfield’s inability to reciprocate Arlene’s affection is made clear from the second panel, in which his “purr” is bigger and more pronounced within the word balloon, whilst he leans harder into her than she leaned into him. It shows an inexperience which is perhaps down to the fact that he doesn’t tend to experience equal and intimate emotional connection in his life: Jon usually stares at him, Odie is overbearing, and Nermal is a jerk. It’s only fair then that, when faced with some genuine connection with someone like Arlene, he goes too big too soon, and falls on her.
It’s a shame that we can’t see Arlene’s expression at the end as redrawing that final panel might have opened up the joke a little more – if she were angry, we’d see what Davis’ joke was, poor as it’d be. It might also suggest that his inability to commit to Arlene might be connected to his poor view of himself. If she were laughing along however (which would be nicer, let’s admit) then you get the joke and a sweet moment for the pair which strengthens their bond. As it is, all we’re left with is Garfield apologising, looking embarrassed.
No wonder he prioritises sleeping and eating over all else. He has complete control over those two aspects of his life, after all. Poor fella.
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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