Once upon a midnight dreary,
Between the days of October 23rd and October 28th 1989, Jim Davis published a six-comic and eighteen-panel long grim arc titled, “Halloween 1989,” or “Garfield Alone” to newspapers. Davis wished to tackle the fears of “being” or “dying” alone, due to the results on his survey to create something truly scary The graphic-comic pictured Garfield in an unfamiliar light, striking polarization by comparison to what the series had been known for at the time.
For the sake of context, Garfield is an American comic strip canonically beginning in 1978, following the life of the titular character, Garfield, his caretaker, Jon, and their dog, Odie, in their attempt cover up their crass commercial marketing purpose with jokes aimed at casting light on the monotony of daily life. Garfield comic strips are typically bright, colorful, and charming, with recurring characterization of Garfield as a cruel, selfish, and “Monday-hating” cat that overbears the saturated market of dog figures within the comic landscape in 1978 and often lacks any true consequence for his actions.
Garfield Alone (1989) paints a Grimm’s Fairy Tales-esque rendition of the comic, oddly existential in its presentation and unwinding the typical predictable presentation and jokes. A sense of death and decay overwhelms the reader, as striking harsh lighting casts a shade over Garfield, who no longer blends in with a vibrant color-popping background. Garfield must tackle the concept of time for the first time, of decay and loss, all within an unconventional approach, all encompassing the idea that nothing is permanent. In the below panel, the comic for October 26th, these ideas are demonstrated, along with the inclusion of a final panel with no caption, simply a reaction without words, a different approach for the strip.
There is a sense of relief felt within the sequentially released comic strip for October 27th, picturing Jon and Odie returned after previously being absent, assumingly having had died or abandoned the now ghost Garfield. The overlapping of frames within the first panel is an interesting format, presenting Garfield’s reaction to the ominously looking Jon’s offering of kibble. However, the supporting characters and vibrant colors vanish, and narration appears — of which is uncommon for Garfield — interlocking the repeated theme of loneliness and despair. One might wonder if the narration is Davis himself, alertly talking to the reader.
The final comic strip of the arc details an up-close representation of a similarly existential Garfield, denying the inevitability of time. “Garfield Alone” seemingly tackles unconventional themes through a nightmare, being the reality Garfield wishes not to accept. That being, the typical Garfield comics are meant to thereby be a distraction from the harsh realities of daily life, as although we will age and eventually die, Garfield will remain the same, strikingly orange and lasagna-loving.
The structure compared to previous Garfield comics, being avant-garde in its approach, makes for a fantastic Halloween arc, putting aside jokes for the purpose of displaying an important message. I believe Davis is wishing to define to the reader the idea that one should appreciate the present and not focus on the grim realities that the future might have in store for us. While we should not deny the future, we should also not be consumed by it, such that of Garfield’s nightmare in “Garfield Alone.”
Pescovitz, David. “Death of Garfield mystery solved!” BoingBoing, 2006.