The 25 Best Comics and Graphic Novels of 2015

Every week, I write about the most interesting new comics, webcomics, and graphic novels. It’s now that time again to round up the ones I consider the best and most interesting of the year. Please feel free to agree, disagree, and recommend others in the comments below. 

25. The Omega Men

By Tom King, Barnaby Bagenda, Jose Marzan Jr. and Romulo Farjado Jr.
DC Comics

When DC Comics released sneak previews of this year’s new books, one that got a lot of attention was The Omega Men. The scene, made to look like a glitchy terrorist video, showed Green Lantern Kyle Rayner seemingly being beheaded by a group whose name bears the title of the comic. Eventually, this scene turned out to not be what it appeared, and it’s twists like this that make The Omega Men such an engaging read.

Writer Tom King is a former counter-terrorism officer for the CIA and he uses that experience to craft a story about insurgencies and religion set in the deep cosmos of the DC Universe. This has been a breakout year in comics for King, with not only this series but Grayson, The Sheriff of Babylon, and The Vision all receiving worthy acclaim. Critical praise doesn't always equal sales, however, and DC announced a premature cancelation of this 12-issue series until a vocal fan base rose up and demanded a stay of execution.

24. Sexcastle

By Kyle Starks
Image Comics

Sexcastle is one of the funniest books of the year and absolutely essential for anyone who grew up on ‘80s action films. It plays with every trope you can remember from that era, and sets its hero, Shane Sexcastle (an amalgam of Kurt Russell, Patrick Swayze, and David Carradine), against a cast of tough guys that look much like ‘80s mainstays Sylvester Stallone, Mr. T, Steven Seagal, and others.

23. Roller Girl

By Victoria Jamieson
Dial Books

There’s been an increase in the number of high-quality graphic novels aimed at tween-age girls since Raina Telgemeier proved to publishers that this audience was out there with her bestselling graphic novels Smile and Sisters. Victoria Jamieson’s first graphic novel, Roller Girl, is a welcome addition that at first may seem to be more niche than Telgemeier’s work. Roller derbies have been growing in popularity in recent years and seem to have a lot of crossover appeal with comics, but Jamieson’s story about a young girl who decides to pursue her newfound interest while drifting apart from her best friend is a pretty universal story about discovering who you are and what really makes you tick.

22. Wuvable Oaf

By Ed Luce
Fantagraphics

While the mainstream comics industry has made great strides this year to be more LGBT-inclusive, indie comics continue to show them how it's done with a wide array of comics coming from the web and various indie publishers. Still, you won’t find many out there that are quite like Ed Luce’s Wuvable Oaf. This is a book that is proud and confident in its depiction of a gay subculture that's made up of thrash metal, professional wrestling, and cats. Oaf is a shy, gentle “bear” who sells toy animals stuffed with his own body hair. When he falls for the diminutive Eiffel, the lead singer of the metal band The Ejaculoids, we get a sweet, hilarious, and surprising story of dating in a fictional version of San Francisco.

21. Girl in Dior

By Annie Goetzinger
NBM Publishing

Girl in Dior is perhaps the most beautiful book released this year. Written and drawn by French illustrator and costume designer Annie Goetzinger, it tells the true story of fashion designer Christian Dior’s rise to fame when he introduced his so-called “New Look” to an unsuspecting but welcoming public in 1947. Goetzinger fictionalizes the biography slightly by inserting her own character, a reporter-turned-model named Clara, to act as our eyes into this world of color that revolutionized the drab post-War fashion of that era. Goetzinger’s beautiful drawings of Dior’s models dressed in elegant and flowing gowns are resplendent. Girl in Dior made its English language debut this year after winning the prestigious Grand Prix Bd Boum award when it was first released in France in 2014.

20. Pope Hats #4

By Ethan Rilly
AdHouse Books

Ethan Rilly is one of the best cartoonists out there, and too many people aren’t aware of his work. His award-winning comic series Pope Hats often goes at least a year between issues, making him less visible in an increasingly social media-driven market. Still, the quality of his storytelling and production is something we don’t see enough of in “floppy” format comics.

While previous issues of Pope Hats focused on telling the story of a young woman named Frances balancing career and life, issue four breaks from that format to compile a bunch of short stories unrelated to the previous narrative. These little slices are without true beginnings or endings, and the highlight is probably “The Nest,” which is about parents dealing with the return from college of their teenage daughter who appears to be suffering from a nervous breakdown.

19. Zero

By Ales Kot, Jordie Bellaire and various
Image Comics

Zero starts off as a compelling political-espionage comic set in the near future about a highly competent agent named Edward Zero. Then come the aliens. Then Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs show up. And then things really start to get trippy.

Each issue of Zero is drawn by a different artist, with Jordie Bellaire serving as the regular colorist to provide some visual continuity. This works really well, as each chapter acts as a stand-alone piece of a larger story. Besides the mind-bending weirdness and violence, Zero has some of the most genuinely heartbreaking character moments I’ve read in any comic this year.

18. Frontier # 7: SexCoven

By Jillian Tamaki
Youth in Decline

Indie comics anthology Frontier hit the (indie) big time this year with contributions from comics stars Michael DeForge and Jillian Tamaki. Frontier showcases up-and-coming talent by giving them an entire issue to show their stuff. In issue #7, Jillian Tamaki’s “SexCoven” tells in a documentary-style approach the story of an mp3 file that only teenagers can hear.

Tamaki is the artist behind last year’s award-winning This One Summer, and has had a great follow-up year with the print collection of her webcomic SuperMutant Magic Academy (a book that could easily be on this list as well) and this issue of Frontier, which shows her mastery of page design and layered, thematic storytelling.

17. Batgirl

By Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr
DC Comics

There is probably no more important or influential comic that DC has put out this year than Batgirl. When the new creative team of Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr took over in late 2014, their lighter, more fun approach to the title was a breath of fresh air among the increasingly dark and brutal superhero comics the company has been putting out.

Aimed at a female audience that DC never seemed to make comics for, the success of this title sparked an awakening for the publisher, leading to a new initiative in 2015 to introduce more books of a similar ilk (see Black Canary, Prez). The more “cartoony” visual style of this comic is also something DC has shied away from in the past, but it works great for this character. They took a chance by giving unknown young artist Babs Tarr a shot on this book, and she is now well on her way to becoming a superstar.

16. The Eternaut

By Héctor Germán Oesterhel and Francisco Solano Lopez
Fantagraphics

The Eternaut is revered in Argentina, but until Fantagraphics brought an elegantly designed hardcover collection to Stateside bookstores this year, it had been virtually unknown in North America. Originally serialized in Buenos Aires newspaper Hora Cero from 1957 to 1959, The Eternaut begins when a mysterious snowfall kills everyone it touches, and a group of friends smart enough to keep safe inside find that they may be among the last people alive in their city.

The backstory of The Eternaut is just as gripping as the comic. Both writer Héctor Germán Oesterhel and artist Francisco Solano Lopez were forced into hiding from the military powers that ran Argentina at the time because of leftist works like The Eternaut. Lopez escaped to Spain, but Oesterhel, who also wrote a biography of Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevera, was never seen again.

15. The Fade Out

By Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips
Image Comics

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's first book of their unprecedented carte blanche publishing deal with Image Comics seems like the sum of everything they’ve done since their hit series Criminal. The creative team gives us a noir story full of morally compromised characters, femme fatales and, of course, murder. Set around a troubled 1948 film production that is halted when its leading lady turns up dead, The Fade Out explores the seediness of the movie business and the pathos behind the types of films that inspired Brubaker and Philips’s entire body of work.

14. Black River

By Josh Simmons
Fantagraphics

Nihilistic apocalyptic comics were a-dime-a-dozen this year thanks, probably, to the success of The Walking Dead, but Josh Simmons’s Black River makes everything else seem like all-ages fluff. This short graphic novel follows a group of women (and one man) across a devastated countryside in search of a town they learned of from a found diary. Along the way they do some things that sound fun on the surface (taking a drug called “Gumdrops," having sex, and even going to a comedy club), but everything is imbued with Simmons’s sense of absurdist depravity and unsettling horror.

13. Joan Cornellà’s Comics

By Joan Cornellà

If you have friends on Facebook with a twisted sense of humor, then you’ve probably seen them share one of Joan Cornellà’s comics. His wordless one-page strips took social media by storm this year, with 2.8 million people liking his Facebook page (so far). The Spanish cartoonist is not afraid to be disturbing and gory, nor does he shy away from controversial topics. Sometimes you have to spend a little time on each one to get what he’s doing, and sometimes you laugh even when you don’t want to. This year, Fantagraphics released a hardcover collection of some of his comics called Mox Nox.

12. The Story of My Tits

By Jennifer Hayden
Top Shelf

Jennifer Hayden’s frank and quirky memoir about breast cancer begins by painting a portrait of her lifelong relationship with her own breasts. It isn’t until the last third of the book that we see Hayden get her first mammogram, but along the way we see how the specter of cancer hangs over her and how it affects the women in her life. It’s not easy to make a book about the death of family members and her own brush with mortality something enjoyable and fun to read, but Hayden's sense of humor and clever cartooning does just that. It is an impressive debut.

11. The Multiversity

By Grant Morrison and various
DC Comics

The top slot on my list from last year went to an issue of Grant Morrison’s mini-series The Multiversity. The series as a whole, now collected by DC Comics in a large hardcover deluxe edition, is in many ways the epitome of the Grant Morrison superhero comic. Layered with subtext and references to forgotten comics of old, these are crammed with unbelievably cool ideas and are about as meta as a comic can get.

As the existence of the multiverse faces an unstoppable threat, Morrison checks in on various parallel DC universes, like one in which Superman was adopted by Hitler and another where the spoiled grown children of the Justice League avoid paparazzi and party like a bunch of super-powered Kardashians. Each is so good that you wish he’d write stories about them forever.

10. Deep Dark Fears

By Fran Krause
Ten Speed Press

Fran Krause had a great idea a few years back: encourage readers to anonymously submit their deepest, darkest fears and he would turn them into a comic strip. Deep Dark Fears instantly became a popular Tumblr comic, and now Krause has compiled them into a hardcover. It’s a fine example of how, deep down, we’re all scared to death of the same stupid stuff.

9. Step Aside, Pops

By Kate Beaton
Drawn & Quarterly

Kate Beaton is arguably the best cartoonist of the past decade, and maybe the greatest to come out of the webcomic scene so far. Her wildly popular webcomic Hark! A Vagrant is known for its smart and cheeky retellings of moments from history and literature, but she branches out into other areas as well, such as autobio, parodies of vintage book covers, and even superheroes. Her new collection, Step Aside, Pops, showcases this variety of material and has some of her funniest moments to date. (Her belligerent, fed-up Wonder Woman and her intrepid Lois Lane who doesn’t have time for Superman’s secret identity shenanigans are great.) Rest assured, this collection also has strips about Chopin, Wuthering Heights, and Civil Rights activist Ida B. Wells among many other subjects.

8. Star Wars/ Darth Vader

By Jason Aaron, John Cassady, Laura Martin, Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger, Justin Ponsor, Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larocca
Marvel Comics

It seems like all media in 2015 has been mobilized to get us excited for December’s release of the new Star Wars film. In comics, we saw Marvel launch their new Star Wars line, spearheaded by two ongoing titles: Star Wars and Darth Vader. By putting superstar creators like Jason Aaron, John Cassady, Stuart Immonen, Kieron Gillen, and Salvador Larocca on the books and working with input from Lucasfilm, these are the first Star Wars comics that truly feel like they belong in the franchise, and the promise from Lucasfilm that they are “in canon” makes them seem essential.

Both stories take place immediately after the events of Episode IV, and there are some great fanboy moments like a battle between Luke Skywalker and Boba Fett, and a meeting between Vader and Jabba the Hutt. Still, there are some new character developments that will truly take you by surprise.

7. Two Brothers

By Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon
Dark Horse Comics

Twin brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá are used to collaborating closely on comics, and with Two Brothers, Moon writes while Bá draws. Their subject matter is the antagonistic relationship between twins whose conflicts tear their entire family apart. Adapted from Milton Hatoum’s The Brothers, one of the most popular novels in Brazil, it is Moon and Bá’s most sophisticated and mature work to date. Bá’s stylized lines and fluid sense of storytelling capture the setting of mid-century Manaus, where the dark, sexy, and tragic conflict bubbles up in a city where two rivers (one dark and one light) converge.

6. Borb

By Jason Little
Uncivilized Books

Borb tells the story of a down-on-his-luck homeless man, playing it for laughs by using the punchline format of a newspaper comic strip. That may seem insensitive and offensive, but Jason Little is aiming for a visceral reaction from his readers. By presenting his story in a style derived from classic Depression era strips like Little Orphan Annie, Little calls to mind the lovable, hapless hobo archetype of that period, but pairs it with the horrific situations that real homeless people actually experience today. While it will make you laugh at times, it is sure to disturb you even more.

5. Killing and Dying

By Adrian Tomine
Drawn & Quarterly 

Adrian Tomine rose to prominence in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s at a very early age with his contemplative short stories about troubled 20- and 30-somethings. Now in his early 40s, Tomine's work has taken on the wisdom of middle age. In his latest collection of stories, Killing and Dying, we even see him reaching out of his comfort zone a little. The opening story, “Hortisculpture,” is formatted like a newspaper strip and examines the risks of making art by telling the story of a landscaper who puts his career on the line to pursue his passion of making unsightly horticultural sculptures.

This sublime collection of stories showcases his immaculate drawing and perfectly realized characters, like the self-conscious teenager who decides to try stand-up comedy or the young woman continuously plagued by her uncanny resemblance to an online porn star

4.Southern Bastards

By Jason Aaron and Jason Latour
Image Comics

Southern Bastards seems to begin as a “southern fried” crime comic about a guy with a big stick ready to kick some ass, but then, a few issues in, it takes a shockingly unexpected turn and becomes a larger story about family, football, and southern life. Created by two good ol' boys themselves, Jason Aaron and Jason Latour, the comic steps carefully between honoring, poking fun at, and eviscerating the culture the creators grew up around. The two Jasons have had a big year outside of this book—Aaron as the writer of Marvel’s Star Wars and the excellent new female Thor comic, and Latour as the writer of the surprise hit Spider-Gwen—but Southern Bastards may become their biggest success yet.

3. Nanjing: The Burning City

By Ethan Young
Dark Horse Comics

Cartoonist Ethan Young seemed to come out of nowhere this year with this brilliant and accomplished fictional graphic novel about two Chinese soldiers trying to escape the fallen city of Nanjing during the second Sino-Japanese war. Along the way they are confronted by the atrocities committed by the conquering Japanese soldiers, some of the most horrific committed in the history of modern warfare. It is a war that is not depicted often in Western media, and Young, who is the son of Chinese immigrants, pours a lot of emotion into it. His bold brushwork and dramatic chiaroscuro lighting evoke some of the great creators of wartime comics like Harvey Kurtzman and Joe Kubert, and this story stands right up there with the best war comics of all time.

2. March Book Two

By Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
Top Shelf

Like any great trilogy, the middle volume of Congressman John Lewis’s graphic novel memoir March is where things get grim and hope seems almost out of reach. Working with congressional aide and writer Andrew Aydin and the award-winning artist Nate Powell, Lewis tells his story of being a key figure in the Civil Rights movement. Reading it at this moment in post-Ferguson America gives the comic an even sharper relevance. Where book one focuses on Lewis’s childhood and ends with his first experiences as an activist, this volume sees him become a leader of the movement, participating in many forms of non-violent protest.

As Lewis and others non-aggressively attempt to ride buses and go to movie theaters in segregated areas of the South, they are met with extreme and shocking violence not only from the KKK, but from average white citizens as well. It is a vivid and disturbing depiction of an ugly time in American history. Lewis frames his story with flashes forward to President Obama’s inauguration in 2008 which is meant to show how far we’ve come, but it can’t help but also remind readers of how today’s divisiveness is an extension of yesterday’s struggle.

1. Sacred Heart

By Liz Suburbia
Fantagraphics

The amazing thing about Liz Suburbia’s webcomic-turned-graphic-novel Sacred Heart is how the underlying plot just creeps up on you. At first, it seems to be a series of vignettes about high school parties, drinking, sex, and adolescent angst, but then kids start showing up dead and no one seems too preoccupied by it. The landscape starts to become littered with decadent graffiti, and you begin to notice the total absence of adults anywhere in the story. It’s a mystery that intrigues the reader much more than the characters within the story itself.

When Fantagraphics picked up Suburbia’s webcomic, she redrew the entire 300+ pages to make it a more consistent reading experience, and it was worth the effort. Her drawings are bold and confident and her characters are full of life and unique personality.

Honorable Mentions

It’s so hard to narrow down a list like this, so here are a few more comics I thought were pretty amazing:

Shigeru Mizuki’s Hitler
93-year-old manga master Shigeru Mizuki passed away just weeks after the English translation release of this biography of Adolf Hitler, told from a rare, non-Western viewpoint.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Webcomic veteran Ryan North and newcomer Erica Henderson bring the humor and self-referential sensibilities of the Internet to Marvel Comics in one of the few true all-ages comics in the publisher’s lineup.

Our Expanding Universe
Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison was a seminal graphic novel for 20-somethings in the 1990s, and his latest is made for those same readers, who are now parents in their 40s.

The Divine
Twin brothers Tomer and Asaf Hanuka tell a fictionalized account of the two twelve-year-old boys who led an army of guerrillas in Myanmar.

Kaijumax
A prison comedy about Kaijus in a remote island Supermax. What more do you need to know?

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Comic: Hake's. Background: iStock.
When Superman Fought Xenophobia in a 1949 Comic
Comic: Hake's. Background: iStock.
Comic: Hake's. Background: iStock.

A vintage comic book-style illustration that shows Superman lecturing a group of students on the values of tolerance has circulated widely on social media. “And remember, boys and girls, your school—like our country—is made up of Americans of many different races, religions and national origins,” Superman says with a wag of his finger, “So… If YOU hear anybody talk against a schoolmate or anyone else because of his religion, race or national origin—don’t wait: tell him THAT KIND OF TALK IS UN-AMERICAN. Help keep your school All American!”

The illustration is authentic. It was drawn by Superman comic book artist Wayne Boring around 1949, and it was stamped on a protective schoolbook cover (one of which recently sold at auction for $805) and a poster. But the comic is more than a quaint piece of Americana; it’s a relic from a largely forgotten nationwide tolerance movement that swept the country for more than a decade. Powerful people in government also suspected Superman’s brand of patriotism was ... anti-American propaganda.

THE TOLERANCE MOVEMENT

During the 1940s, America basically underwent a nationwide sensitivity training program. Zoe Burkholder, a historian of education, writes in the Harvard Educational Review that a “forced tolerance” movement had begun frothing a decade earlier as educators feared that scientific racism—the pseudoscientific “Master Race” theories brewing in Germany—could waft overseas.

Educators deliberated how, and if, they should teach students to accept racial, cultural, and religious differences. After all, the ethnic makeup of America was quickly changing. The first wave of the Great Migration saw nearly 2 million African Americans move north and west to cities. While most classrooms remained segregated, even the whitest schools were increasingly mixed with the children of different immigrant groups.

In 1938, the New York City Board of Education began requiring students to learn about how multiple groups contributed to American history. When World War II erupted one year later, the demand for tolerance education spiked. The New York Times reported in 1939 that "Instances were cited of teachers in New York City and elsewhere being 'ridiculed, harassed and otherwise impeded' by pupils under the influence of, and stimulated by, Nazi doctrine." To nip foreign propaganda in the bud, schools across the country joined the tolerance movement. Military leaders encouraged it, too. They knew that American troops, many of them fresh out of school, would fight their best if they learned to set aside their differences.

Countless non-profit groups, many of them interreligious, led the charge. Burkholder writes that “Religious leaders, educators, and politicians stressed tolerance as a central tenet of democracy." They provided prejudice-fighting materials to schools, from teachers’ manuals to comic books to textbooks.

Outside of school, short pro-tolerance films played at the beginning of movies. People held tolerance rallies. The National Conference of Christians and Jews distributed 10 million “Badge of Tolerance” buttons. Groups such as the Council Against Intolerance in America distributed maps showing the breadth of diversity in America’s cultural landscape. Even Superboy stepped in, telling a bunch of his schoolmates that “No single land, race or nationality can claim this country as its own.” At the end, Superboy and his pals celebrate by eating Swedish meatballs.

The Superman comic that went viral was the handiwork of one tolerance organization: the Institute for American Democracy. Led by an Episcopalian priest, the Institute’s lineup of leaders resembled a walk-into-the-bar joke: Among its officers were a Catholic bishop, a rabbi presiding over the Synagogue Council of America, and labor movement honchos. The Institute’s goal was to “blanket the nation with poster, billboard, cartoon, and blotter advertising—expertly planned to ‘sell’ the American public a greater appreciation of the American Creed.”

And it did. Al Segal, a columnist for the Indiana-based Jewish Post, wrote in 1947 that the Institute was “hitting anti-Semitism and allied hates between the eyes in street cars, buses and newspapers all around the country.” In 1953, The New York Times called the Institute’s work “Do-Good advertising” that proved “mass media advertising can sell an idea, just as it can sell soap or chewing gum.”

ADL/Institute for American Democracy

ADL/Institute for American Democracy

ADL/Institute for American Democracy

Messages we can all agree on, right? Nope. This was the McCarthy era. Even the most pro-American advertisements couldn’t help being called un-American.

AN INTOLERABLE CONSPIRACY?

In 1948, California's Joint Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities—a group of lawmakers charged with investigating disloyal and subversive citizens and groups—listed the Institute for American Democracy as a potential communist front. It claimed that the Institute had “numerous known Communists” on its governing body.

The committee complained that a truly American organization would speak explicitly against communism. Since the Institute didn’t scold communists, it was complicit with them. The committee further argued that the Institute, and other pro-tolerance organizations like it, had exaggerated America’s discrimination problems: “There is an attempt to spread the idea that forces of fascism are everywhere entrenched,” it stated.

A bigger problem was that the Institute was mostly subsidized by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, or ADL. The House Un-American Activities Committee was not a fan of the ADL.

The Anti-Defamation League formed in 1913 to combat prejudice against Jewish people. Between 1880 and World War I, approximately 2 million Jews had emigrated to America. By the early 20th century, restaurants, hotels, and clubs regularly barred Jews from entering their premises. Medical schools at Cornell and Yale placed limits on the number of Jewish students they would accept. (Yale’s medical school dean, Milton Winternitz—who was Jewish—reportedly told the school’s admissions officers, “Never admit more than five Jews, take only two Italian Catholics, and take no blacks at all.”) Even the U.S. military's medical advisory board casually stated that “the foreign born, especially the Jews, are more apt to malinger than the native born.”

By World War II, the ADL had joined the tolerance movement. It helped found and fund [PDF] organizations like the Institute for Democratic Education and the Institute for American Democracy, soaking citizens in calls for brotherhood. The groups aired radio shows telling the stories of famous Americans, such as George Washington Carver, and played them on more than 700 radio stations. It even lobbied the producers of the Superman radio show to insert democratic themes into its broadcasts. The group reached 63,000 schools, veterans groups, and private businesses.

Some legislators, especially State Senator Jack B. Tenney, chairman of California’s Un-American Activities Committee, believed this was a nefarious facade. Tenney, who was once nominated as a candidate for Vice President of the Christian Nationalist Party (which advocated racial segregation) and who equated [PDF] McCarthyism with “Americanism,” had once visited an ADL office and returned convinced their anti-prejudice campaigns were a Trojan Horse designed to brainwash Americans with Zionist propaganda. He believed the ADL was a gestapo-like cabal with communist sympathies.

LIFE magazine minced no words when it called Tenney a “notorious anti-Semite.” But his paranoia didn’t stop there. He didn’t trust Shintoism and used similar “Trojan Horse” arguments to justify the internment of Japanese-Americans. He wasn’t keen on Italians either. During World War II, the Tenney committee’s misgivings would help force 10,000 Italian immigrants in California to relocate.

As for the Institute for American Democracy, their ties to the ADL convinced Tenney that their loyalties existed outside of the United States. For that reason alone, an organization with the sole mission of touting American values was suspected of ... lacking American values. 

Thankfully, that attitude didn’t last for long. In 1949, Tenney was on his way out of the fact-finding committee, which soon gave the Institute for American Democracy a clean bill of health, offering this mea culpa:

The committee’s 1948 report, under its general designation of Communist-front organizations, listed the Institute for American Democracy and the Institute for Democratic Education. The continuing investigation of these organizations reveals that both are sponsored by responsible individuals and groups of unquestioned loyalty. The programs … are in full keeping with the best American traditions and ideals and it is the design of the sponsoring individuals and groups to inculcate and preserve in the hearts and consciences of the American people love and loyalty for and to our country and the great principles of American liberty and democracy.

When you consider this historical context, the Superman comic becomes far more badass. The illustration appeared in 1949, one year after the Tenney Committee suggested the Institute for American Democracy was a communist front. Superman’s response? He steals the committee’s favorite accusation and slings it back in their direction: “That kind of talk is Un-American.”

As for Tenney, he’d later run for Senate in Los Angeles under the slogan “The Jews won’t take Jack Tenney,” a prediction that applied to Jewish people and, apparently, everybody else. Despite a plot to confuse voters by putting a mental patient who shared the same last name as his opponent on the ballot, Tenney still lost the Republican primary to 33-year-old Mildred Younger, a political activist who had never before held government office.

This piece originally ran in 2017.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
20 Things You Might Not Know About Garfield
iStock
iStock

Everyone’s favorite lazy, lasagna-loving cat made his debut 40 years ago, but Garfield is still just as popular today. The comic strip spawned a TV show plus a number of video games, feature films, books, and, of course, holiday specials—not to mention one very memorable car window craze. We sat down with Garfield creator Jim Davis to nail down a solid list of 20 things you might not know about the wisecracking feline.

1. JIM DAVIS ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO FOCUS THE STRIP ON JON.


Courtesy of Jim Davis

“I ran some early ideas at a local paper,” Jim Davis tells Mental Floss, “to see how I felt about it and I called the strip Jon. It was about him, but he had this wise cat who, every time, came back zinging him. He always had the great payoff. At the time, I worked for T.K. Ryan—the cartoonist for Tumbleweeds—and I showed it to him and told him how every time I got to the punch line the cat zings him. And T.K. said, 'Well, what does that tell you, Jim?'" he laughs. “The strip must be about the cat. Go with it.”

2. JON WAS A CARTOONIST IN THE VERY FIRST COMIC STRIP, BUT IT WAS NEVER REALLY MENTIONED AGAIN.

“I didn’t want to tread on the fact that Jon’s a cartoonist because my biggest fear was getting a little too inside," Davis says. "That it would be a little too easy for me to write. I didn’t want to lose the readers just for my own enjoyment, or for a handful of peers. Also, I purposely gave him a job right off the top for the reason that The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet never explained what Ozzie did for a living. Nobody ever knew because he was always in the house with Harriet and Ricky and David. Just hanging around. So I thought I would give Jon a job right off the top to avoid being asked what he does for a living in interviews.”

3. GARFIELD WAS NAMED AFTER DAVIS'S GRANDFATHER, JAMES A. GARFIELD DAVIS ...

... who was named after President James A. Garfield. That’s quite a connection. Now just imagine a fat, wisecracking, lasagna-eating cat as the President of the United States of America. (Sounds like a dead-ringer for William Howard Taft!)

4. GARFIELD IS SET IN DAVIS'S HOMETOWN OF MUNCIE, INDIANA, BUT THAT'S ALSO MOSTLY LEFT UNSAID.


Courtesy of Jim Davis

“I would like for readers in Sydney, Australia to think that Garfield lives next door,” Davis says. “Dealing with eating and sleeping, being a cat, Garfield is very universal. By virtue of being a cat, really, he’s not really male or female or any particular race or nationality, young or old. It gives me a lot more latitude for the humor for the situations.” The farm that Davis grew up on reportedly had 25 cats, several of which he based the Garfield character on.

5. DAVIS MAINTAINS COMPLETE CONTROL OVER GARFIELD'S FINAL PRODUCT, BUT HE NO LONGER DRAWS THE DAILY COMIC STRIP.

“I’m sitting here working on the writing right now,” he says. “I see gags and I work with assistants on the strip and stuff like that. We do roughs and it all filters through me so that it has one voice. We all get together occasionally in the same room and draw and work on shapes of fingers and gestures and expressions and things like that so that if any one of us draws it, you can’t tell which one did it.”

6. HE REGRETS AT LEAST ONE LICENSED GARFIELD ITEM.

According to Slate, Garfield merchandise brings in $750 million to $1 billion annually. Davis’s creation has been adapted and licensed more times than anyone could probably count, and of all of those items, there's one that Davis isn't thrilled with. “A few years ago there was a Zombie Garfield,” he says. “It was really gnarly and I thought, 'Oh, this will be fun.' So I did it and it sold okay. It was really interesting. But then I looked at it later and I go, ‘It did nothing for the character’s advancement.’ I figured I just did it because it was cool and everybody was doing it at the time. I just didn’t have a warm, fuzzy feeling after doing it. But those T-shirts go away," he laughs.

7. GARFIELD HOLDS THE GUINNESS WORLD RECORD FOR BEING THE WORLD'S MOST WIDELY SYNDICATED COMIC STRIP.

Garfield is syndicated in more than 2500 newspapers and journals. The cat also has more than 16 million fans on Facebook. That’s one seriously popular feline.

8. GARFIELD'S CHARACTER DESIGN HAS CHANGED MANY TIMES OVER THE YEARS.

There's one constant, though: The fat cat has always been—and will always be—fat. “If he lost weight, that would effectively end Garfield as we know it,” Davis says. “Garfield sends a healthy message in that he’s not perfect. He knows that and he’s cool with that. He’s happy with himself. If everybody were, there would probably be fewer disorders of all natures. He’s not perfect. In fact, he’s the imperfection in all of us underneath. I think that makes him probably easier to identify with than a slim, athletic character in the comics.”

9. DAVIS REALLY ENJOYED SCARING KIDS WITH GARFIELD'S HALLOWEEN ADVENTURE.

"It was such a challenge to try to think of something that could be scary, but fortunately we got to work with animation—we could marry scary sounds with scary music and scary images, and set the stage for a scary experience," Davis says. "Even down to the use of the actor’s voice. C. Lindsay Workman [who voices the old man that tells Garfield and Odie about the vengeful ghost pirates] was just a great character actor. I think we took our time to build to a scary scene where the ghost pirates invaded the house to look for the buried treasure. We tried to throw as many elements together as possible to create a situation where, at least for a few minutes, it could create a scary situation for the young viewers."

10. CREATING THE GHOST PIRATES IN THE HALLOWEEN TV SPECIAL WAS MUCH MORE DIFFICULT THAN YOU MIGHT THINK.

“We did it in our own art department (here at Paws, Inc.) because we wanted to make it just right,” the Garfield creator told us. “It was done with a white, chalky pencil on a rough texture so that everything would be really grainy. Back then, we animated on real film, so in order to get that glow we did what’s called a double burn. We exposed the film twice to overexpose the ghosts, and that gave it that eerie glow. We were totally in control of the process and the results turned out very well.”

11. IN 2011, A FULL-LENGTH STAGE MUSICAL CALLED GARFIELD LIVE WAS STAGED IN MUNCIE.

The musical was supposed to start touring the United States in September 2010, but was delayed until January 2011, when it premiered in Muncie. Davis wrote Garfield Live, while Michael Dansicker and Bill Meade handled the music and lyrics.

12. DAVIS LOVED THE CASTING OF BILL MURRAY AS THE VOICE OF GARFIELD IN 2004'S GARFIELD: THE MOVIE.


Muncie Magazine

“It was because of Bill Murray’s attitude [that he was cast],” Davis tells us. “It wasn’t really so much his voice. It was the fact that he embodies the attitude that Garfield has always displayed in the strip. Lorenzo [Music] obviously wasn’t a choice since he passed away years ago, and when the producers said, ‘Bill Murray would like to do the voice,’ I thought, ‘Oh, cool.’ My biggest concern about doing a CGI Garfield with live action was that people wouldn’t buy into the fact that this was our Garfield—the Garfield we’d known all these years. But I thought that as soon as they heard Bill Murray’s voice they’d get it. There will be that emotional tag going with his voice. That will establish the fact that, ‘Yes, this character has attitude.’”

13. THERE'S A GREAT LINK BETWEEN GARFIELD VOICE ACTOR LORENZO MUSIC AND BILL MURRAY.

Lorenzo Music provided the voice of Garfield in all of the cat’s TV specials from 1982 to 1991, as well as during the 1988 to 1994 run of Garfield and Friends. Music also provided the voice of Peter Venkman in The Real Ghostbusters. Murray, of course, played Venkman in the Ghostbusters films and would, in 2004, provide the voice of Garfield in Garfield: The Movie. “I didn’t know about the relationship with Ghostbusters until years later."

14. THE MACY'S PARADE ONCE CITED SHAMU THE WHALE AS THE PARADE'S LARGEST BALLOON, BUT DAVIS SAYS GARFIELD WAS LARGER.

“In the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, they had published that their biggest balloon ever, by volume of gas, was Shamu the Whale with over 18,000 cubic feet," Davis says. "The fact is that the Garfield balloon was filled with 18,907 cubic feet of helium. So we just confirmed that the Garfield balloon, in fact, was the largest one by volume of gas.”

15. THERE ARE ONLY THREE COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD WHERE GARFIELD IS NOT NAMED GARFIELD.

“In Sweden, Garfield is known as Gustav,” the Garfield creator says. “There are only three countries in the whole world where he’s not Garfield and they’re all in the Nordics.” The other two are Norway and Finland.

16. THE STUCK ON YOU GARFIELD PLUSH WITH SUCTION CUPS WAS THE RESULT OF A MISUNDERSTANDING.


Amazon

In the 1990s, it wasn't unusual to see a number of cars with little Garfield plushes stuck to the windows with suction cups. But that wasn't the original design—or the intended use. “I designed the first Stuck on You doll with Velcro on the paws, thinking that people would stick it on curtains,” Davis says. “It came back as a mistake with suction cups. They didn’t understand the directions. So I stuck it on a window and said, 'If it’s still there in two days, we’ll approve this.' Well, they were good suction cups and we released it like that. It never occurred to me that people would put them on cars.”

17. THE GARFIELD COMIC STRIP BOOKS HAVE BEEN HUGE HITS.

“The 11 Garfield comic strip books have all been number one on the New York Times Bestseller List,” Davis says. “At one time there were seven on the list simultaneously. At that point, they changed the way the list was done because other publishing houses were complaining that their authors couldn’t get on the list because of Garfield. Garfield at Large (1980) was number one for two solid years. Over 100 weeks.” The title of every compilation book is a reference to either food or Garfield’s weight.

18. STEVEN SPIELBERG AND STEPHEN KING ARE AMONG THE MANY CELEBRITIES WHO OWN ORIGINAL GARFIELD STRIPS.

They both contacted Davis personally for the strips; the cartoonist happily obliged.

19. DESPITE GARFIELD BEING INSANELY POPULAR FOR DECADES, DAVIS IS STILL MOSTLY ANONYMOUS.


Muncie Magazine

“Being a cartoonist, you really enjoy a lot of anonymity,” he says. “You take a half-dozen of the biggest cartoonists and walk them down any street, nobody would notice them. They only know their characters. So I just hide behind Garfield. The only time anyone knows the name or spots me is if I’m out on book tour and I’m meant to do publicity. We don’t suffer any of the kind of attention problems that I think people do on TV or in movies. It’s not a big deal. I’m sitting here in the countryside of East Central Indiana, so it’s pretty quiet.”

20. DAVIS'S FATHER'S FAVORITE COMIC STRIP WASN'T GARFIELD.

Davis's father and namesake, who passed away in 2016, liked Garfield but preferred another comic strip: Beetle Bailey. “Nobody else knew that until today,” Davis tells us.

This article originally appeared in 2014.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios