Over the humming summer fields of wild grasses, dandelion, ragweed, and corn, the cicadas sing. Hear the throbbing pulse of the distant interstate. Feel the morning dew clinging to the bent grass as your fingertips brush softly by. Closer now. The air takes on an expectant quality – there is vibrancy here. The breath comes quicker. Brothers and sisters join hands. We climb to the top of the hill. The view extends for miles and there is a palpable thrum of exultant mood as the collective reaches the summit. Mothers and fathers. We are all one. Cast your eyes downwards. Yes – the scene coming into focus. Clapboard roofs shimmering humidly in the August heat. The snarl of antennas and cellular errata crawling skyward, lazily reaching, still reaching. Almost human.
Fairmount, Indiana. Population 3,000. Elevation 863 ft. It is a good day.
The crowd descends the hill. A low chanting begins concurrent with their march. A semi drifts westward. These are the modern mammoths of the plains spurned on by a manifest destiny within their mechanical hearts, drawn ever westward, towards the flattened horizon where all souls terminate to a vanishing point. The chant begins to thunder through the elms, the sagebrush, the sycamores. A semicircle forms around a house on a corner lot. A modest one-story ranch. Post Eisenhower architecture. There it stands; a structure of muted yellow and cornflower shutters. From the air, the landscape appears as beige postage stamps. A mauve tapestry, endless in scope. The crowd, an indistinguishable swarming mass, have elevated their chanting to angelic levels. Hear them:
A man throws himself prostrate upon the lawn. His limbs contort ecstatically and his voice booms joyous and free:
Bear witness as the front door swings open coinciding with a prophetic blast of hot wind carried over the dry lawns. The crowd reduced to a gibbering howl now. The man on the lawn leaning forward, ever forward, his finger outstretched as the Creation of Adam. A man in a blue collared shirt steps solemnly out of the door. In his wake, an orange cat. To look upon them is to witness cosmic forces at play. The music of the spheres thrums. Arbuckle smiles softly and raises a palm in the midsummer breeze. Sons and daughters. A silence falls. The cat steps forward to address the crowd, several with silent tears flowing, unnoticed, grateful. They have prepared for this moment and it was they who were the chosen few to hear the wisdom of this deity on Earth. The cat steps forward once more, his haunches charged with power. An aura of authority pulsing. Ready now.
A collective voice erupts into their minds, utterly destroying all that they knew, all that they understood, all logic come to dust.
“I hate Mondays.”
The cicadas sing.
To truly begin to understand Garfield Snack Pack: Volume Two, one must examine the meaning of the number four. Four is a venerated number. It is a cornerstone of the Sacred Mysteries. Mind, body, spirit, and the physical world all unified. There are four seasons, four winds, and four elements. There is a nobility there; a strength. Thus, I suspect it is no accident that this particular Snack Pack (Volume 2: indeed the square root of 4) comes loaded with four robust tales: “Sandy Sandy”, “The Summer of the Lasagna Monster”, “The Fall Season”, and “Comedy of Terrors”. Though separately formidable, these stories each form a cornerstone to the pillars of the soul itself. There are tales of bravery and loss. Threads of love, passion, infidelity, deceit, and yes, some good old fashioned lasagna yuks, weave their way through the 115 pages of this manuscript.
The words of prophets burn on the pages like wildfire. A venerable who’s who of literary titans penned these works. The star power is almost dizzying. We have Mark Evanier, writer of Garfield and Friends and later, The Garfield Show. Scott Nickel (of Garfield: Search for Pooky fame) brings his caustic prose into the fray. As we scroll the contents, we are given no time to recover, for here is Gary Barker, an auxiliary limb of Jim Davis himself. All manner of PAWS INC artillery is on full military display. Blessed are we to tiptoe through these hallowed halls.
Before we examine the interlocking mysteries of the stories within, we must examine the cover. For what is a four walled home without a roof? Let’s take a look:
Reader, I will allot time for you to depart to the kitchen to refuel and rehydrate for I know from first-hand experience how arresting this image is. When I first clapped eyes upon this cover, I felt as though I were a man adrift at sea. It’s quite disorienting, isn’t it? Just look at it. Garfield approaches Odie, Arlene, and Nermal with a level of hubris rarely captured in visual media. A rude swagger. He approaches distinctly from the left side of the cover. This, of course, immediately brings the following to mind:
Matthew 25:33 “and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left”
What are the implications here? Is Garfield a Demogorgon? Chaos made flesh? Are Odie, Arlene, and Nermal arranged in such a way to bring to mind the Trinity? The pools of shadow beneath Garfield’s feet seem to suggest so. Perhaps Gary Barker is trying to tell us something here. This very well could be the scribblings of a man at his limit, screaming at the sun, denouncing all things holy and Orthodox. What dark entity quivers within the refrigerator? The lines of motion are very intentional here and clearly suggest a significant internal weight and inertia. Garfield’s latissimus dorsi muscles are clearly up to the task as seen by his casual, vacant smile, looking beyond the three companions, but at what? Seasoned readers will know Garfield’s penchant for *hot* foods (lasagnas/burgers/pizzas) and as such, the contents, as well as the implication, of the refrigerator present a Lynchian (Garfieldian) unknown here.
Other questions arise. The school district policies of bringing appliances, HVAC equipment, and general industrial bric-a-brac are an unknown in this instance. The school crossing sign depicts two humans, yet none are to be found here. Beyond the borders of this cover, are there only ashes? Do we gaze upon the Four(!) Horseman of Death, Pestilence, Famine, and War in this very image? Is Gary Barker really just illustrating the surreal aspect and general absurdity of Garfield bringing a lunch to school that is simply too large and beyond the pale w/r/t the societal norm of a typical sack lunch (though in modern times of Favor, Square readers, and Alexa, this seems to be a heavy handed nod to bucolic Boomer-era cafeteria staples)?
A cover such as this is a Monet. It is an impressionistic piece to digest during the quiet hours. As the sun dips below the tree line, spilling wan trapezoidal light onto your coffee table and thusly this cover, perhaps more clandestine meanings will be unearthed. A cover such as this moves fathers to hug their sons.
But a cover is only a façade. For without the contents within, would not “The Brothers Karamazov” be only a mere cover? Deeper still. We open the cover and proceed past the copyright pages. We find the first story:
“Though I walk through the valley in the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil”
“Sandy Sandy” opens the fray and hits you with both barrels right out the gate. Garfield and Odie are stranded in the desert. A blistering sun at its zenith. Writer Mark Evanier wastes no time appealing to the reader’s empathy for Garfield’s situation. It is truly desperate.
Garfield is truly plumbing the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs here. If only he had a drink of water! But wait. Through lexical dexterity, we shortly find that this is just a family friendly trip to the beach:
A troubling aspect stuck in my craw regarding Garfdom has been the seldom yet reliably occurring “beach episode.” We’re no fools. We know that the Arbuckle clan has been fully vested in Midwestern corn country for generations (see: Garfield and Friends and predominately the 80-83 era Garfield for back history of the Arbuckle farm). A sneering cynic would suggest the Great Lakes, scoffing at my general lack of geography. Au contraire! The waves depicted in “Sandy Sandy” clearly support mid to large recreational craft and sport a healthy population of Great White sharks. Perhaps most damningly, palm trees dot the shore along with rock formations which would not be out of place in a French Polynesian setting. At risk of falling down a rabbit hole of socio-economic discussion regarding Jon’s salary (never mind the logistics and practicality of bringing glassware on a long distance trip), I will curtail my locational grievances. Long story short, whether it’s the Atlantic or Pacific, we’re at the utter mercy of our imaginations here. Besides, Liz has that veterinarian salary.
Liz is indeed here as Jon’s post-2000s era perpetual beau (there’s just something about the raw sexual tension of ’90s Jon/Liz interactions that will never be replicated in print moving forward) and she’s a firecracker right out the gate. The “B story” here pulls the thread of infidelity taut as relational tensions run high between the lovers. Let’s take a look at a scene, the framing of which would make Kubrick pause:
Sobering. So many layers here. Where is the lemonade? The lemonade is all in the pussycat. The unspoken message here being: our hopes are all in the pussycat, our dreams are all in the pussycat, our fiscal foundation is threatened by the pussycat, and our future will be submarined by the pussycat. It’s the pussycat or me Jon, hell or high water. Just look at these examples of the frailty of love on display:
These passions ebb and flow as Garfield and Odie continue on their Apocalypse Now-inspired hallucinations. Evanier masterfully builds tension. The Human Experience is putty in his hands here. Will Jon and Liz fall for their shallow counterparts? Will Garfield and Odie truly fall to one of Mother Nature’s apex predators? Or perhaps, something more tender will emerge and we will see the fallacy of consumerism and shallow endeavors laid bare to witness. The temperature of the themes rise to a fever pitch as we are visually assaulted with high-gloss pop-art commentary on the trials and tribulations of modern fashion (we see Sandy wearing 3-inch red heels in soft sand). In the end, a classic Garf food gag settles everything down, leaving the reader with an uneasy chuckle. But I would not fault the reader for possessing a slight tremor of hand when reaching for his morning OJ after that wild ride.
“Summer of the Lasagna Monster” / “The Summer of the Lasagna Monster”
“Time flows like a river….and history repeats.” – Secret of Mana
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the beach we discover this blockbuster of a tale positioned squarely in the center of the Snack Pack. Already, we balance on an uneasy axis as the contents page includes the aforementioned “The” in the title. This is curiously omitted on the comic’s intro page itself. What twisted game is writer Scott Nickel playing with the reader here? Regardless, Nickel pairs with artist David DeGrand to craft a true homage to R.L Stine, “Friday the 13th“, and brings to mind the humid summer slasher hits such as “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” Make no mistake; astute readers will immediately pick up on the generous nod to the Dadaism movement within pages. Let’s absorb the following image together. The Arbuckle clan has again arrived on an anonymous beach:
Dizzying. The eyes dance across the page drawing in the colors, the dialogue, the contextual double meanings. One can almost smell this page — an acrid stench of antagonistic behavior from the title feline. All pretense of master/pet dynamics have been cast aside here.
“Thanks for the update, exposition boy.”
McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and The Road are lauded for their atmosphere of hollow despair and I would argue that this dialogue from Garfield stands upon that pantheon. This is a knife to the heart. A lost child. Jon averts his eyes here, staring forward, his body a mess of tension and crossed nerves. Notice his paunch. In this timeline, Jon has evidently been driven to a lifestyle consisting of trans fats and general apathy. Right away, Nickel is telling us that he’s not a man to be trifled with and that the reader should buckle in for this Hamlet/Claudius dynamic of caustic relations.
Let’s not mince words with the plot here. Garfield is hungry. Jon finds a robot. Mere moments of page flipping later, we are presented with this image:
Themes of sexual frustration and emotional repression aside, Nickel and DeGrand are in symphonic harmony here. I see a pure joy ebbing from the line work. Children at play. I hear a dog bark distantly and the hum of a neighborhood lawnmower on Saturday morning. Notice the outright chaos juxtaposed with the banal cumulous clouds drifting overhead. There is a certain peace to be associated with this image and perhaps we are best reminded here that there is indeed so much beauty in dirt. A tension so profound, rising, ever rising, until on that last final moment, when the eyes are squeezed shut, the pulse throbbing in your ears, the full cacophony of the universe communicating to you and directly you, we find the sweet release:
A form of Dadaism so pure it renders one speechless.
Beethoven’s 5th thunders over this image.
Mothers and sons.
This give and take of agony and euphoria swings lazily, nauseatingly, through the rest of the comic. While I’m completely confident that you, reader, like myself, will immediately make the allegorical connections to Swat Kats, Global Guts, Street Sharks, and other forms of slop-related violence so joyously rendered in the mid-’90s, I want to stress the tenderness here. Beneath the slop is just two boys playing in a sandbox building sandcastles.
“The Fall Season”
“Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.” ― Marilyn Monroe
Evanier is back with David Alvarez in tow as illustrator (that’s right *THE* Alvarez of Space Jam fame). This offering is Evanier’s Inland Empire, if you will forgive the repeated illusions to filmmaker David Lynch. The truth is, the parallel to Lynch’s themes of spiritual descent into the subterranean are too glaring to ignore. “The Fall Season” peels back the rotting veneer of Hollywood and dares the reader to dive into the slimy depths with our faithful Arbuckles.
The plot: A Hollywood exec wants to make wants to make some cash by luring Garfield and co. through a Truman Show-esque labyrinth of horrors.
Alvarez begins his stinging commentary on Tinsel Town using the bold tradition of recycling one’s art; a clear commentary on the throwaway culture of the glitterati. Reminded of Mulholland Drive yet? I sure am. Who is who? What can be constituted as real? Are we arbiters of our own destinies or do a select few at the top pull the strings attached to our blissfully unaware limbs?
To illustrate this, let’s look no further than the following image. A low drone plays disturbingly out of pitch over this image. Haunting. Orwellian.
And let’s compare to Lynch’s web series Rabbits:
I, for one, cannot tell the two images apart. Evanier hands the reader a kaleidoscope just out of reach and drops it on the concrete with a derisive smirk. All bets are off. We understand here that our arms ARE too short to box with God. There is no going back.
America’s love for voyeurism is nothing new. Again, The Truman Show rather brilliantly illustrates the concept of watching a rat in a cage. Does our desire for continual dopamine outweigh our empathy for the well-being of our species? For the answer, look no further than the Saw and Hostel series. Evanier is taking our sippy cups and filling them with oil, instructing us eagerly to drink. Oh, how we gorge!
For our younger readers, I will skip the startling depictions of ultraviolence but be aware that even Wile E. Coyote would be raising an eyebrow at the treatment given to our protagonists. Typically, of course, Garfield prevails with a combination of cool wit and cynicism (the increase of cynicism w/r/t Garfield’s behavior is worthy of its own topic. Indeed it is an affliction plaguing our middle class since the Nixon administration) and defies Evanier almost despite himself. We are left with this image:
Look familiar? Yes, perhaps this is simply another tongue-in-cheek art recycling instance. However, four enter (Nermal rather exhaustingly along for the ride here) and four leave. But are these the same four? Do not forget the delicate house of cards established by the Snack Pack: Vol. 2‘s cover image. Our collective is walking towards the left now: towards the abyss — towards the dark chasms of the spirit where devils fear to tread.
Almost there….deeper still….
Fathers and sons…
“Comedy of Terrors”
“I’ll cry when I’m done killin'” -GTA Vice City advert (Rockstar Games)
The final pillar of the Snack Pack is authored by Nickel and confidently illustrated by Antonio Alfaro (of “Sandy Sandy” fame). No Garfield collection is complete without the Dukes of Hazzard-inspired hijinks of a Halloween episode. Garfield gets to gorge. Check. Garfield gets to wear silly costumes. Check. Jon navigates a turbulent sea of social dynamics. Check. Garfield and co. interact with an abyssal horror straight from Hideo Nakata’s Ringu. Wait one moment.
Before we explore a world that could have been penned by Murakami (Kafka on the Shore), there’s no bones about it. This is a Garfield story and we’re not getting out alive without encountering his typical snark, no way, no style.
Notice Jon’s indecision. We’ve encountered the concept of duality and doublethink in this Snack Pack before have we not? Echoes of “It’s him or me, Jon” from a tearful Liz float now to us from the “Sandy Sandy” narrative. The heart is quickening now. All things coalesce. Threads tie together. Garfield stands outside the panel here completely divorced from law and reason. Do I choose the Cool Cowboy or the Gritty Pirate? Do I divorce her or stay together for this kids? Do I take the job offer from Amazon or Apple? All things are a butterfly effect. Speaking of Apple, we see that Jon sports what appears to be an iPhone 6 in this comic. Truly, we are dragged heedlessly into the future.
The plot? Garfield wants candy. Garfield is going to get his candy whether through Jon or through the more traditional method of Trick-or-Treating. Things quickly take a rude turn:
Alfaro goes for the same emotional punch delivered years ago by the “Return the Slab” incident found within Courage the Cowardly Dog. At this point, readers have surely realized that within this Snack Pack, the following entities have craved the flesh of Garfield:
- Great White Shark
- Mutant Lasagna
There’s that four again. Throughout these adventures, our heroes display the characteristics of “The Fool” tarot card, hayseeds adrift in the winds of fate, nearly invincible in their qualities. As if Garfield were dipped into a vat of lasagna at birth ensuring his immortality. His Achilles Heel has yet to be discovered.
This is a strong showing and harkens back to a time when Davis was truly the Hemingway of his generation. Reading the following, one could almost imagine Davis whispering “sing to me, you bastard”, cig dangling precariously from chapped lips:
Once again, not all is as it seems. By the end, we are forced to ask: are we the monsters? Do our snap judgements rock the cradle of insanity? In the end, Garfield is merely a codex to the deeper mysteries we encounter. “Comedy of Terrors” ends on an optimistic major note; a cavalcade of singing woodwinds. Yet there is ever the advancing undertow. At journey’s end, we are left with this image:
“And I wonder, still I wonder, who’ll stop the rain?” -Creedence Clearwater Revival
The seasons pass. The crowd departs. The sons have grown to be fathers. The fathers have grown to be grandfathers. Moss grows up the sycamores. Our steps are slower now. Labored. Noble. Arbuckle stands in the tall grass, Garfield at his side.
“Truly, we are the test of ages.” Jon murmurs.
“Infinite.” Garfield replies.
A cloud of starlings flies overhead. The world seems to be sighing, settling down into some nostalgic notion of the past.
“Do you expect we shall ever grow old?”
A farmer passes by with a wooden wheelbarrow laden with potatoes. He nods affably at the two and continues on, a plaid mirage on the plain. Soon it will be Christmas again.
“No Jon, I expect we shall never die.”
A whiff of lasagna on the air. The crows sing.
“I am never going to die.”