By Ritesh Babu

I’ve long hated my own birthdays.

Perhaps it was because we never had enough money, and I knew better than to ever want or ask for anything. Maybe it was the poor kid in me seeing all the rich kids’ grandiose celebrations and feeling a pang of pain. Maybe it’s the materialist expectations at the center of it all. Even at age 14, I came to dread birthdays. I didn’t want gifts. I didn’t want to make it A Thing. I just wanted to forget about it, pretend it wasn’t even a thing. 

If only every birthday of mine fell on a Sunday. Then I could just sleep through it to the next day.

They are days forever bound to sadness and sad memories for me. I resented them.

I’d get sad when a cake was presented, lamenting that it was a waste, and the money could’ve been used for something actually useful. That this was all unnecessary and pointless. What the hell is there to celebrate? One more year on this goddamn stupid Earth. Yay!

I’ve since been attempting to rapidly unlearn that mindset of youth. It’s not a terribly healthy or happy one. I’ve slowly gotten around to the idea of my own birthdays, even as I still maintain a Don’t Make It A Thing policy. I don’t like or wish for gifts, instead, I am just grateful. It’s a time of gratitude for me, for all that I have, all the people I know, and all I’ve been able to experience.

And I suppose I understand now, why people do make it into A Thing, which I previously never did. I get it, even as I still probably wouldn’t. The gratitude manifesting in material gifts and gestures, shows and displays of thought and care. A moment to share and soak in that gratitude, to feel utterly valued and adored for one day. One special day.

Which is another way of saying, I find Garfield’s reflections entirely hilarious.

Garfield starts off at a resolution, only to find that he’s immediately gone back on it in seconds, which feels deeply human and relatable. We’ve all been there. We all make commitments or self-promises, these vows, and then go right back to our comfort habits and mindsets. How many New Year Resolutions have we all collectively failed at?

But also Garfield’s a cat. Those li’l bastards love to be pampered and spoiled silly, so of course he wants that incredibly dramatic birthday, even as he tries to tell himself he doesn’t. But still, there’s something resonant there, isn’t there? In that stupid, silly, fantasy of grand gestures Garfield imagines. For, at the end of the day, we all want to feel like we are adored and loved deeply, beyond all measure. That the people in our lives care about us immensely, which is what underlies that fantasy. That, and also we all love cake. Who doesn’t?! Garfield’s desires feel entirely sympathetic here.

And the way Jim Davis executes this entire bit, I do adore. The strip is, if you’ll notice, largely static. The first two panels are pretty much the same, with a lettering alteration and an extra hand drawn for Garfield. Otherwise it’s the exact same drawing. And the final panel is the same as well, with just two minor alterations: a drop of drool added, and a small black dot added to show Jon Arbuckle’s open mouth as he speaks. Beyond that, it’s, again, the same exact shot, with Jim Davis just zooming in on the image, to make that final panel and its punchline land. The close-up is just enough of a shift from the prior two panels to make the beat hit better than it would otherwise.

In the end, it’s all centered around this one simple moment: Garfield drooling, and funny as it is, it’s also somehow deeply relatable and human. In every one of our stupid little gestures, our drooling or our breathing, Davis suggests an interiority that amuses and touches because of the fundamental truth it underlines. And that’s a truth even Ex-Birthday Haters like me must concede the essential nature of.

It’s lovely comics.

 

Ritesh Babu is a writer and critic whose work has been featured in publications including PanelXPanel, ComicsXF, and ComicBookHerald. To find more from Ritesh, you can follow him on Twitter here!

 

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