Guest Appearances in Heathcliff

By | Wednesday, September 08, 2021 Leave a Comment
Heathcliff has become an interesting comic in recent years. Not because it's really funny per se, it's more that it kind of has an absurdity to it. Beyond the basic framing of the idyllic white picket fence lifestyle lauded as the epitome of the Amercian DreamTM in the 1950s, the jokes mostly seem to focus around presenting the absurd in non-chalant fashion. As if the exceptional were mundane.

I'm reminded a little of the old Addams Family show. (Not the comics themselves, the TV show based on it.) A lot of the humor there was in how "outrageous" the Addams were while acting as if they were the most ordinary people imaginable. However, the show's humor laid in their neighbors' outsized reactions: overacted double-takes and spit-takes and such. Of course, what was presented as outrageous on broadcast television in 1964 was pretty tame even then, and positively dull by today's standards. Hell, I think if any of my friends visited someone with a giant taxidermied turtle with two heads, their reaction would be, "Oh, cool! Where can I get one of those?"

In Heathcliff, though, the humor is not in the reactions. The reactions are almost always understated, almost to the point of not being reactions at all. Peter Gallagher has created this entire alternate reality world where this 1950s asthetic is overlaid on top a surrealist painting. The comic strip asks things like, "What if garbage day were celebrated by all the animals who would cheer on Garbage Ape as he paraded down the street, usually swinging two steel garbage cans?" The strip almost bears more of a resemblance to Zippy the Pinhead in terms of content than George Gately's original iteration of Heathcliff. If you've read Heathcliff at all in the past several years, you know what I'm talking about.

Interestingly, so far this month, Gallagher seems to have taken up a less unusual theme for the comics pages: crossovers. What if Heathcliff lived in the same world with other cartoon figures. Here's three examples, the most recent from yesterday...
I think perhaps because most comics style crossovers tend to take a this-is-just-completely-normal approach, these don't feel as successful as many others. We've seen the Lockhorns hanging out with Blondie and Dagwood, Dennis the Menace hanging out with Curtis, Popeye playing tennis with Grimm, Dick Tracy teaming up with The Spirit, Lio playing with Billy and Jeffy... Geez, Beetle Baily shows up in Hi & Lois semi-regularly because they're literally family! So for Clifford or Mr. Magoo to show up in Heathcliff is almost to be expected.

I don't know really have a specific point here, other than finding it interesting one of the things that can make other comics feel special -- a guest appearance -- actually works against Heathcliff because of how the strip has been set up. Had these been gags Gately had tried back in the day, they probably would've gone over better because he had a different brand of humor that wasn't predicated on treating the extraordinary as ordinary.
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