For Garfield fans of a certain age, Jim Davis's U.S. Acres is the perfect comic to dig into on Barn Day. After all, not every fan caught it as a newspaper comic strip on its first time around. Though it ran in more than 500 papers at its peak, the barnyard animal comedy's original comic run only lasted from 1986-1989. It's no wonder so many know it better as the "friends" component in the Garfield and Friends animated series, where it appeared in 121 segments over the course of nine seasons circa 1988-1994.
The strip opens by introducing Orson, a runty pig with a disarmingly-pragmatic mother and three bullying brothers. Orson is quickly sold by his farmer and lands a life of book-reading solitude on a farm down the road. His loneliness doesn't last long, though. He's joined by Roy Rooster before stepping in for an absentee chicken to help hatch Booker (who calls him "Mom") and Sheldon (who refuses to fully hatch). The omni-phobic Wade Duck -- haunting doppelganger-headed inner tube in tow -- joins the party in the weeks following, but it takes a few more weeks still before the crew is joined by the sunny Bo Sheep and his cranky sister Lanolin. Technically they debut in a Sunday strip, although proper introductions come sometime later.
With the core cast established, the strip becomes pretty recognizable to G&F viewers. Unlike the cartoon, however, the U.S. Acres comic strip cast grows to include a blue cat called, well, Blue, plus a spotted dog called Cody. They're not in the strip for long and are never mentioned after their final appearances. Maybe Garfield and Odie didn't like splitting attention with a slightly more assertive and good-natured cat-and-dog duo? We can only speculate...
Like in Garfield, the U.S Acres art style evolves over the course of its run. By the strip's second year, the character models are approximately identical to their cartoon counterparts, but they become even more dynamic with time. Garfield assistant Brett Koth began signing his name as a co-creator during the final year of the strip, delivering noticeably more angular art that lent itself to exaggerated features conducive to the strip's signature sight gags and physical comedy.
U.S. Acres has been continued on as re-runs here on GoComics since 2010, and there's no time like the present to read it from barn birth to the point at which it... buys the farm. Binge read the whole run today, or create a GoComics account and subscribe to savor the farm flavor.