By Mike Costa April 19, 2012
Writing Xevious has been a great experience for a lot of reasons – collaborating with Mike Norton, working with Cryptozoic Entertainment and Namco Bandai Games, and researching my pet interest of the second generation of video gaming among other reasons. But probably the most exciting and satisfying thing has been learning to adapt from a 22-page chapter format to a much more aggressive 4-panel length. It’s these kinds of storytelling challenges that keeps writers nimble (or totally defeats them.) I’m hoping to be in the former camp.
Though it certainly is a shift, I have to admit that it isn’t as drastic a shift as it might immediately seem. Years ago, before I discovered comic books (so we’re talking YEARS ago, as I started seriously reading comic around 1989) I wanted to write and draw comics. And by that I mean – Sunday comics. The funnies. Comic STRIPS, not books.
I can’t be certain to specifically pinpoint where and when I got it (though I have a dim, possibly apocryphal memory of receiving it as a Christmas gift) but I will never forget the book that changed my life.
“Garfield Rolls On.” The 11th collection of the daily Garfield strips, collecting May through December of 1984.
Probably not the book you were expecting. But my nascent interest in sequential art started to fully manifest once I started reading those strips. Within a year, I’d used all the allowance I could save to collect the entire run of the Garfield collections, which at that point were only up to book 16 (there are over 50 now.) I read those books to tatters. I taped his Saturday morning cartoon (interesting comic-related factoid: Nearly every episode of that show was written by comic-book historian and writer Mark Evanier)
After I transitioned out of the crude drawings that every kid creates as he perfects his abstract relationships and fine motor skills, I entered my era of drawing Garfield in the margins of my homework, on my tests, on my desks at school. This was followed in short order by creating original characters of my own, “The Nelsons” a family completely inspired by the cast of Garfield and the strip “Marvin” (which itself was a transparent ripoff of Garfield with a baby instead of a cat.) Early strips of The Nelsons were simply Garfield strips I re-drew with my own “original” characters. Like most writers, I started my career as a thief.
I eventually outgrew my fanatical obsession with Garfield (right around the time I bought my first actual Superhero comic, Silver Surfer #48) but I maintain my affection, despite the fact the strip hasn’t really ever escaped the bad rap it got back in the 80s, when it became a success of juggernautical power and unprecedented scale. The cultural ubiquity of Garfield’s astounding merchandizing success seemed like some new, sinister symptom of the larger disease of avarice and cultural bankruptcy that dominated the American conversation during and beyond the 1980s. But just because Jim Davis was a shrewd executive doesn’t mean that his strip was as calculated and mercenary as his business ventures.
My generation looks toward The Far Side as possibly our most ingenious strip, and Calvin and Hobbes as our one true masterpiece, and I agree with both of those assessments. But enough ink has been spilled on the obvious favorites. So coming up, I will present my comprehensive defense of Garfield – its themes, its humor, and its aesthetic. But right now I’ve just eaten some lasagna and am in desperate need of a nap.