Oct 4, 2010

Top Five (Actually, Six) Most Important Funny Animals in Comics

So now we have a list of important superheroes (without actually getting to a list of the most important superheroes from Marvel and DC. . .yet), but did you know that in the time when comics really sold in large, gigantic volumes, the bestselling genre was that of funny animals (and by that, I mean anthropomorphized animals)? This part of comics history can't be ignored, so it is without further ado that I present the five (actually, six) most important funny animals in comics history. Again, this is a list of characters who originated in comics.

Honorable mention goes to the Bones - Fone, Phoney, and Smiley. They're heavily inspired by the funny animal genre, and Bone is the best comic book for kids out there. But they're not animals.

Honorable mention also goes to Supermouse, a mouse with the powers of Superman. Supermouse is the spiritual ancestor of Captain Carrot, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, Thunder Bunny, and Peter Porker the Spectacular Spider-Ham. But he'd be higher on this list if I wasn't convinced that Mighty Mouse (who came out too close to Supermouse for either to be a ripoff) was more influential, and Mighty Mouse isn't a comics original.

So here we go.

5. Cerebus the Aardvark

Cerebus, created by Dave Sim in 1977, is an aardvark, who starred in 300 issues straight of his own independent comic book. Not only is Cerebus a small press icon - proof and precedent that self-publishing can and does succeed - but he's also evidence that a story can be told through 26 years of continuous storytelling. It's the story of Cerebus' life, and it ends with his death. No other comic character can claim this kind of ambition.

Cerebus has been collected into separate volumes, each called phonebooks, with good reason.

4. (Tie) Hobbes and Garfield

Is there anyone out there who doesn't know Bill Watterson's Hobbes (the second half of "Calvin and...") and Jim Davis' Garfield? Although seven years separate the creations of Hobbes (1985) and Garfield (1978), I think they're equally important, for completely different reasons. Hobbes is symbolic of everything Watterson tried to do with his strip - when he's around Calvin, he's alive; when he's around other people, he's a stuffed animal. The question of what he truly is is never addressed, and Watterson leaves it to the reader to fill in the blanks. Hobbes is also the strip's vehicle for social and political commentary. In contrast, Garfield is completely devoid of such commentary, and exists merely to entertain. The total difference between the two is indicative of what made both of them so famous. Calvin and Hobbes is a strip that got  famous purely on artistic merit - Bill Watterson ended it when he deemed appropriate and never licensed any merchandise. Garfield is a strip that just keeps going and going, and achieved much of its success through its cartoons, movies, and other licensing material.

Both strips are emblematic of the different paths this medium can take you, artistically and financially.

3. Krazy Kat

What more can I say about George Herriman's masterpiece that I didn't already say here, when I named him the fifth most influential comics artist of all time? Krazy Kat was a strip that opened many people's eyes to the possibilities of the comics medium, and its ability to truly be art. Comics today simply and would not be the same without it, and the sheer genius of it is it's really just about a mouse named Ignatz trying to hit a cat with a brick.

Strips influenced by Krazy Kat include Will Eisner's The Spirit, Charles Schulz's Peanuts, and Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes.

2. Pogo

Pogo Possum was created in 1941 by Walt Kelly, but received his own newspaper strip in 1948. Living in the Okefenokee Swamp with his other anthropomorphic friends, Pogo functioned as political satire, complete with a sophisticated sense of wit and slapstick. Kelly invented practically a new dialect for the strip, as he was overly fond of puns and wordplay, and even at times did song parodies (including one of "Deck the Halls"). Kelly also was not afraid of, well, anything, as he lampooned important issues at the time, even once creating a parody of Joseph McCarthy, which caused the infamous senator to come down on the strip. It was the first of its kind.

Strips influenced by Pogo include Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes,  Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury, and Jeff Smith's Bone.

1. Scrooge McDuck

If you were the now-legendary Carl Barks, writing and drawing the comic book adventures of Donald Duck, circa 1947, and you decided to create a miserly character named Scrooge McDuck for one - ONE - story, could you have ever imagined everything that would follow it? From TV shows upon TV shows to animated movies to video games, Scrooge McDuck was so popular that the entire population of Duckburg ended up being based around him, from the Beagle Boys and Magica De Spell. Barks created a whole universe around Scrooge McDuck and crafted such good stories, so much so that Uncle Scrooge comics are being reprinted and told anew by Boom! Studios today!

That's the list! Agree? Disagree? Did I miss anyone? Let me know!


pj said...

Cerebus! Garfield! Hobbes! Scrooge McDuck!
This list is made of win, Duy. :D

(An aside: it made me think of influential animals in Filipino comics, and off the top of my head, I thought of: 1. Ikabod; 2. Guyito; and 3. Polgas.)

Duy Tano said...

You know, there's a very, very strong possibility that Polgas is so much more influential than anyone might think - a friend of mine strongly believes he was the inspiration for Bryan the Dog on Family Guy, and actually made a really good case for it once.

The duck on this list really should be Donald Duck - it was his book and his world, but even then, number two on the list would have been Scrooge anyway.

Duy Tano said...

In addition, I keep wanting to read Cerebus, but I'm afraid that my personal feelings for Dave Sim would cloud my judgment of the story.

The Professor said...

So ... Garfield is in, but not Snoopy? That seems mighty odd to me.

On the other hand, if you hadn't included Garfield I wouldn't have thought about Snoopy as a "funny animal". And, actually, I still don't think either one counts. But I am having a hard time articulating why Scrooge and Hobbes seem like funny animals to me, and Snoopy doesn't.

Snoopy is funny, he thinks like a person, and he is an animal. So he is a funny, anthropomorphized animal. Is it that he isn't anthropomorphized to the point where he can directly interact with ALL the other characters?

Duy Tano said...

Wow, I'm actually ashamed to say that I just completely forgot all about Snoopy, actually. Which is odd, since I mentioned Peanuts in some of them.

And actually, if I were to be perfectly honest, the truth is that Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes are completely intertwined in my head - I grew up with both and I really think one is as significant as the other, but when I was coming up with the list, I thought of Hobbes first, and then that made me think of Garfield. Without the association, I think I might have completely skipped over Garfield, just like I skipped over Snoopy.

I'm not sure what it is about Snoopy that made me forget him completely though! If I had to guess, it might be my subconscious telling me that Peanuts was best when it focused on Charlie Brown, before Snoopy took over the show.

Simon said...

Are you sure Bone is a kid's book. Some people don't think so!

Anyway great list but no Dogmatix?

Duy Tano said...

Hm, this is the second list I've made where someone sticks up for Asterix! So I'll say what I said last time - as popular as Asterix is internationally, I'm unconvinced of its effect and influence, and therefore am more unconvinced of the impact and influence of the supporting cast. In addition, Dogmatix isn't really "anthropomorphized" (Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.).

And yeah, beware of the drugs in Bone. They'll corrupt your children.

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