Comic Strip Characters from the Clavicle Up

Posted by on August 20th, 2010 at 8:47 AM

Here’s a picture we almost never see.

Garfield’s Jon Arbuckle at full height. Usually, he appears from the chest up, he and his forever orange feline positioned at a “counter” or some other horizontal surface, and we see them as if they were hand puppets.

(If the image is too small to read—which, for most of us, it is—the recommended procedure is to click on the image and it enlarges. For some inexplicable and presumably temporary reason, when you do that here, you and the picture are merely transported to another plane, where the picture resides more-or-less alone, same size; but if you click on it again, there, it’ll get much larger—large enough, usually, to read. Try it: you’ll like it.)

In the last panel of the first strip, cartooner Jim Davis manages to preserve the illusion that Garfield is not actually talking to Jon. Because we “see” what Garfield is thinking/saying, we usually forget that Jon cannot, that the verbal relationship between the cat and his master is a “normal” one: Garfield is not, in the broadest sense, a “talking animal.” He merely thinks in words; and Jon can only guess at what he’s thinking.

The pictures in the second strip threw me at first. I thought Garfield had somehow changed into a two-legged head and was standing at his usual countertop like a pair of calipers. Nope: not so.

Another strip of hand puppets is Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine.

The final panel in the first of this pair is unusual in that it depicts characters away from their hand-puppet stage.

Why do Davis and Pastis feel compelled to incorporate into their panel compositions a horizontal line running exactly parallel to the horizontal line that delineates the bottom of the panel? Isn’t one horizontal line enough to set the scene? Do they really need to create the illusion that their characters are seated at or standing next to some sort of counter? Why can’t they just be standing at the edge of the panel in which they appear? Or wouldn’t that be “realistic” enough?

“Realistic”? In strips about thinking cats and talking hors d’oeuvres on toothpicks? Where’s the realism?

And speaking of hand-puppets brings me to our last visual aid.

Wherein Robb Armstrong is clearly having fun. And so are we.

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3 Responses to “Comic Strip Characters from the Clavicle Up”

  1. WLLilly says:

    …R.C. , one possible reason for that ” stage ” bottom line that occurs to me is ” having a space at the bottom that editors who wanttosquuezemorestripsin could cut off ” .
    If even Milton Caniff in his day had to design his strips that way…

  2. R.C. Harvey says:

    Yes, WLLilly, that’s true–but it was during World War II that strip cartooners devised their strips so editors could lop off the bottom section. I ton’t believe it continued much after the end of the War.

  3. WLLilly says:

    …Sure , but maybe the vestigel(Sp??)/appendix-style impulse to do so kept with artists ?
    The thought that it was more something of the past* occurred to me as I wrote my first comment but I thought I’d try not to load down my comment too much with too many ” but then again ” and ” maybe “s…
    *-You mean there’s a possible way to squeeze/chop up , like Hormel canned ham , modern-day strips that to-day’s newspaper editors HAVEN”T seized upon ?
    Faith and begorrah !!!!!!!!!!!