Sunday, November 2, 2014

What if 'Heathcliff' were written by Charles Manson? I think it would go SOMETHING like this...

If you don't know what this is referencing, then congratulations on being young and well-adjusted.

"Heathcliff, Heathcliff, no one should terrorize the neighborhood."
-lyrics to the Heathcliff theme song from the 1980s

Typical Heathcliff nonsense.
Heathcliff is often dismissed as an off-brand, downmarket Garfield wannabe, but this comparison is unfair for a couple of reasons. First, George Gately's orange striped cat debuted in American newspapers five years before Jim Davis' finicky feline followed suit. Secondly and more importantly, the strip, which is now carried on by Gately's nephew Peter Gallagher, is one of the most insane, proudly meaningless, and defiantly absurd things you'll find on the funny pages.

Quite simply, Heathcliff makes The Far Side at its most opaque look like The Family Circus at its most obvious. While Garfield is about the relationship between cats and their owners and has some basis in real-life observation, Heathcliff is about pure dadaist lunacy and has its apparent basis in three-day-long peyote trips. The central narrative which emerges from the daily panels of Gatley's strip is that of a casually dictatorial cat who has both a family and an entire suburban community under his sway. Heathcliff is basically a totalitarian conceptual artist who routinely dons elaborate costumes, raises various custom-made banners, and creates large-scale outdoor sculptures, often out of garbage, as a means of personal expression. He is devoted to chaos for its own sake and will gladly cause massive public disruptions with his inscrutable behavior, even if it means bringing dangerous wild animals into his suburban environment.

Like the kowtowed residents of Peaksville, Ohio from the "It's a Good Life" episode of The Twilight Zone, the humans in Heathcliff have simply built their lives around the nonsensical whims of one all-powerful, mad deity. At most, they will flatly acknowledge or describe what the capricious cat is doing, but they will not attempt to stop him or alter his behavior. While Garfield noodges Jon Arbuckle for more lasagna, Heathcliff would be more apt to turn a swimming pool into a giant lasagna pan and then dive in headfirst, surrounding himself with the delectable noodles, cheese, and sauce therein.

Since Heathcliff can be described as a kind of cult leader whose authority extends to both humans and animals, I only thought it fitting that his comic strip should be authored by one of the most terrifying Svengali figures of the 20th Century, Tate-LaBianca mastermind Charles Manson. Toward that end, I have taken some representative Heathcliff panels and paired them with quotes from the notoriously verbose Manson himself. Please do enjoy.