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Garfield vs. Heathcliff: Battle of the Felines
// article by Jeff

I feel a sort of unresolved rivalry between the two major orange cats of comic strips, Garfield and Heathcliff. This feud has never been formally discussed, especially within the strips themselves, but you can just feel the tension in the air, like when two people both want the last slice of a delicious tomato and feta pizza but are unwilling to say that they want it for fear of appearing too greedy or gluttonous. Some people are Garfield fans, others are Heathcliff addicts, but I suppose it's time to determine which is the superior Saturday staple.

The biggest question I have is what their "deals" are. How can I, and why should I, appreciate their characters? Why shouldn't I just gloss over both these cartoon cats and just enjoy my own cat instead? You see, I understand the motivation behind Garfield's actions. He's extremely lazy, something many individuals can openly relate to. He sleeps frequently throughout the day, a desire of mine that often remains unquenched. He hates Mondays, something which we, the modern working stiffs, are equally as guilty. He eats as much as he possibly can, a precursor to the obesity epidemic that continues to sweep the nation and its coronaries. He beats up on his dog pal, Odie — okay, that's just wrong. He hates going to see the vet, a mirroring of the disdain of many for seeing their own personal physician. And he sings and tap dances on a fence. I do that sometimes. Garfield is relatable to us as he is, at many times, simply a doppelganger of our own selves.

Heathcliff, on the other hand, is a jerk.

What exactly does Heathcliff do? Well, I've grabbed this book called "Heathcliff Play by Play", one of those short, wide comic strip books from the 1980s. This one's from 1984, and it gives me a good perspective on what this happy-looking cat is all about. Let's see... He competes in cat shows while demonstrating poor sportsmanship by declaring himself victorious and celebrating before the judging occurs. He enters the local fish market and tries to commit theft of trout. He tortures the local veterinarian and the patients in the waiting room with his antics. He knocks over garbage cans right in front of trash collectors, ticking them off in the process. He's a baseball team mascot for some reason who annoys the umpire constantly. He irritates the neighbour's dog. He spends quality time with homeless men looking grumpy and sporting a five o'clock shadow. He fails at catching mice. He pretends to be a statue in a birdbath. He gets pushed around in a baby carriage while actually wearing a bonnet. And for reasons completely unknown, in one strip, he's wearing sunglasses and a housecoat on the beach while a little girl without a swimsuit builds a sand castle as the owner's grandson quips, "He frowns on nude bathing." Really? Cats have nothing better to do?

Considering he never talks, we don't really have much of a perspective on his psyche. We only hear other people talk about what he's doing, and it's usually pretty obvious what he's up to. We don't need a secondary narration. With Garfield, we get it. Garfield is simply a plump orange curmudgeon. The jokes may not always resonate with us, but at least there's an all-around method to his madness. Heathcliff doesn't have that. His personality is all over the place and too unpredictable; and you never know quite what he is thinking or considering at any given moment. He's quite active in his community, but what motivates him to be such a notorious menace? Heathcliff is a free thinker, but clearly he doesn't think as much as he ought to. Does he know he's committing crimes around town? Does he realize how annoyed citizens are becoming due to his actions? If this were a reality, Heathcliff would likely be euthanized for his behaviours.

Also, do we really need TWO orange cats on the funny pages? This bipolar pair might be too much apricot feline in the morning. It could be argued that though they share similar physical traits, their very natures are so dissimilar that it is indeed as though I am reading two different strips. And it's true. Garfield is actually a somewhat pleasant read, while Heathcliff feels like the feline equivalent of "Family Circus". Let the shuddering commence. I know Heathcliff technically came first, arriving in papers in September 1973, almost five years before Garfield told Jon to feed him. But last hired shouldn't always equal first fired.

In the case of Garfield vs. Heathcliff, who would I rather have as a pet (and, through this question, which character do I simply like better)? I'll admit that Garfield would probably bankrupt me with his OLD — Obsessive Lasagna Disorder. And yes, he would probably show me about as little respect as possible without me suffering the urge to boot him out the front door. But at least Garfield stays put most of the time and doesn't cause excessive havoc downtown. How many times could I apologize to the police for my cat breaking and entering a fish market? I can deal with my own problems, but to have a family member ruining the lives of many prized inhabitants is not a mess I'd like to clean up.

Maybe I'll get a hamster instead. Or a stuffed turtle. Or a pie.


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