The Affable, Sometimes Disquieting Weirdness of 'Heathcliff'by Stephen Roth
Created in 1973, Heathcliff was the funny pages' original orange cat, preceding Garfield by five years. A lot of people forget that. Jim Davis once stated that he created his cartoon cat because he felt there were too many dog-centered comic strips. But there was Healthcliff, raiding the local fish shop, knocking over garbage cans, annoying the milkman, and generating all sorts of other mischief in the fictional town of Westfinster.
George Gately created Healthcliff. His nephew, Peter Gallagher, took over the strip in 2001. Under Gallagher's pen, Heathcliff has taken some, well, interesting turns, and has seemingly gotten stranger as the years have passed.
A recent article on TheOutline.com titled, "The Best Internet is 'Weird Heathcliff' Internet", features an interview with Gallagher and attempts to analyze the strip's descent into sometimes confounding oddness:
Gallagher’s version of Heathcliff lulls you into a state of cognitive dissonance. It doesn’t seem to contain jokes per se — go through a few weeks’ worth of panels, though, and they develop an internal rhythm that doesn’t quite make sense, but nevertheless feels like it does.
Strange or not, Heathcliff does seem to be a feline for all seasons. Unlike that other famous cartoon cat - who spends much of his time lounging around the house and tormenting his owner - Heathcliff is always out and about. He plays baseball, has a rock band, knows all the best landfills in town, has a gambling habit, and sometimes pals around with Chewbacca, the Pink Panther and other pop culture icons. He's as likely to be riding a rhinoceros down Main Street as he is to be clawing away at the family Christmas tree. In short, the strip is all about an indominitable Heathcliff and the great time he appears to be having, often at the other characters' expense. He's like the Frank Sinatra of cartoon cats.
Still, Heathcliff sparks many unanswered questions. Why does he dress as an Egyptian pharaoh every Halloween? Why does Heathcliff have a chai helmet? Why does his dad still wear prison stripes when he's out of the clink, and what, in fact, is the purpose of the Garbage Ape?
Scroll through the strips we've collected below, and let us know your theories.