(All strips are the property of original artist and the overall Heathcliff franchise including their newspaper syndicator. Some are presented here for journalistic purposes and review.)
Today I’m looking at five collections starring the other orange cat. Heathcliff (1980), Heathcliff at Home (1985), Heathcliff Triple Threat (1977), Heathcliff Smooth Sailing (1987), Heathcliff First Prize (1987).
George Galey created the Heathcliff comic strip in 1973, before Garfield. All of these collections are from Galey. He died in 2001 and Peter Gallagher took over the strip then until the present. Modern day Heathcliff is a crazy fever dream of a strip and has very little connection to the works seen in these books. Both are good, but they are two different strips. Which is a theme for the other orange comic feline.
For most children of the 80’s, Heathcliff is most remembered for his cartoon series. Heathcliff would have adventures in the first half then Riff Raff and the Cadillac Cats would have one. Much to all of our dismay, the two alpha cats would never crossover. Also, those characters weren’t in the strip. Nothing against the Nutmeg family, but this was one of our first times learning the lesson of differences in adaptations.
These five strips might be more streamlined but Heathcliff still has an abundance of adventures. Usually the same adventures though. Singing on the fence, entering cat shows, stealing fish, beating up dogs. The punchlines are different but the set up and situations are all the same. Part of that is the limit for a single panel comic. There’s only so much joke set up or character development that can be done in one picture. One of these books, Heathcliff at Home, collects Sunday strips and that gives a little more freedom but most of the final panel gags could be done in one panel. Ironically, the sparse weekday strips that play with the format and cut up that single panel into multiple to tell a story work better than the Sunday ones.
As I read through these I enjoyed the strips that showed other sides to Heathcliff. He has a fine line between food and play. Birds are to eat but he just wants to give mice a hard time. I was shocked to see the mouse trap strip. While he will chase mice all day, there is a line.
I also loved seeing the extended Heathcliff family. His dad has appeared frequently over the years, usually when out of jail. But this is the first time I remember seeing he had a son! And it is an adorable drawing. This implies Heathcliff’s relationship with Sonya has gone further than any of us knew.
Finally, when a strip has been around for near 50 years eventually the story has to go to places outside of the usual family and antagonists. I was thrilled to see comics and wrestling appear. Even though it was only once for each, these were two of my favorites in all five books.
Overall, Heathcliff works because it is a one panel comic about a cat. As long as humans have cats as pets there will always be stories and silliness happening. There will always be cat owners who enjoy seeing their own felines represented in pen and ink. And I still push to rename our orange cat.