This is a blog entry that is about cats.
Cartoon cats, that is.
There are a lot of examples of cats being drawn into comic strips. Obviously the most famous example of a cat starring in a comic strip is Garfield, who has been delighting audiences all over the world since 1978. But Garfield is hardly the only feline to make people laugh all over the funny pages in the newspaper. Arlene and Nermal are also a huge part of the Garfield strip as well. We also have Bill the Cat from “Bloom County”, Bucky from “Get Fuzzy”, Caramel from “Archie”, and Hobbes from “Calvin & Hobbes”.
And then there’s this comic strip cat.
This was the first edition of this strip, dated September 3, 1973. Do you recognize that fat cat in the comic? I’ll give you a hint. He also happens to share the same first name as the main character on the Cosby Show, as well as a character from the book “Wuthering Heights”.
Yes, we’re taking a look at the classic comic, “Heathcliff”, a George Gately creation. And as you will see, Heathcliff is far from being your typical cat. If you want my honest assessment of the kind of cat Heathcliff is, I would best describe him as a lovable rogue. While he does come across to many as being nothing more than a bully to several people, in a lot of cases, it’s not really done in a malicious way...
...ah, who am I kidding? Of course his actions are malicious. But for whatever reason, I always seemed to laugh at the antics that Heathcliff got himself into, and the supporting characters of the cartoon added just as much humour to the ongoing saga of Heathcliff as Heathcliff himself displayed.
To begin our look back at “Heathcliff”, we should pay homage to the creator of the classic comic strip.
George Gately was born George Gately Gallagher on December 21, 1928 in Queens Village, Queens, New York. It was no surprise that George was keen on comics from an early age...he was born into a family of comic lovers, and was always exposed to them. His father liked to draw, and his brother John was a cartoonist. It almost seemed like it was written in the stars that Gately would end up following in his brother’s footsteps.
Sure enough, after graduating from the Pratt Institute where he studied art, he ended up pursuing his dream...though it did take him eleven years to do just that. He passed the time in between working at an advertising agency in New Jersey. In 1957, George ended up selling his first cartoon, and it was right around this time that he began to be known as George Gately, dropping the “Gallagher” from his name to avoid confusion with his successful older brother.
Gately’s first taste of success in the funny pages came in 1964 when he created the comic strip “Hapless Harry”. That strip ran for at least a few years, establishing him as a serious cartoonist.
And around 1971, Gately created a cartoon sketch of a fat, orange cat which would become his most famous creation. But, it wouldn’t be until 1973 before comic syndicates became interested in publishing it. Within the first ten years of the “Heathcliff” strip, it became syndicated in hundreds of newspapers. Each weekday strip was one panel (similar in format to “The Far Side” or “Herman”), and the Sunday cartoon was several panels illustrated in full colour. The demand for a seven-day-a-week comic strip proved to be a bit difficult for Gately to keep up with, and in later years, he ended up getting assistance from his brother and Bob Laughlin, who helped him draw the strip.
“Heathcliff” was published by McNaught Syndicate for its first fifteen years. In 1988, Creators Syndicate took over the publishing rights from McNaught, and continues to syndicate the comic in over one thousand newspapers. George Gately continued working on the strip until 1998, when he retired. His nephew, Peter Gallagher, took over the artwork for Heathcliff that same year, and as of 2012 still illustrates the comic strip. George Gately passed away in September 2001 at the age of 72.
Now, who exactly is Heathcliff anyway?
Heathcliff is the pet of Iggy Nutmeg, a young boy who lives in the town of Westfinster with his grandparents, Grandpa and Grandma Nutmeg. Iggy loves Heathcliff very much, and often sees him as one of his best friends. Sadly, it appears he may be one of the only humans who will befriend Heathcliff.
Grandma Nutmeg loves Heathcliff as well, but she does spoil him...an awful lot...sometimes even worse than Iggy! But, I suppose that’s something that can be considered true to life, as my mother often used to spoil any cat that ever lived in our family home over the years.
As for Grandpa Nutmeg...I think he and Heathcliff ended up having a sort of a love-hate relationship with each other. On one hand, I don’t think that Grandpa Nutmeg could ever imagine life without Heathcliff in it...but I think that he also believed that if Heathcliff wasn’t living with him, his life would be made so much easier.
As far as other characters in the series went, Heathcliff usually got along with Iggy’s classmates. He liked Iggy’s bespectacled friend, Willy, and I think he also had a soft spot for Iggy’s friend, Marcy. I mean, not everyone would willingly climb into a baby carriage wearing a baby bonnet sucking a pacifier, but Heathcliff did so willingly. And, he also was the object of affection of an obsessed female cat known as “Crazy Shirley”...which would have been all right, except for the fact that Heathcliff’s affections were directed towards the lovely young kitten known as Sonja.
Oh, and Heathcliff also had a long-term friendship with the various dogcatchers all over town...the reason being that he would be the one to often tip them off to the locations of stray dogs, and he would end up being a part of the capturing of said dogs.
In case you haven’t figured out yet, Heathcliff hates dogs.
And perhaps the dog that Heathcliff tangles with the most is the bulldog with the name Spike. Spike and his owner Muggsy Faber (who used to bully Iggy and his friends) would often try to play tricks on Heathcliff, or bully Heathcliff as well. And, in about 99.9% of all attempts, Heathcliff would always outwit them and get them before they struck first.
(On the other extreme, there is a dog that lives in Iggy Nutmeg’s neighbourhood known as Chauncey who loves Heathcliff to the point where he is constantly licking him. From one extreme to the other.)
Dogs weren’t the only enemies that Heathcliff had in his life. He also tangled with the owner of Elite Fish Market...
...the garbagemen who would often have to clean up the messes that Heathcliff caused by knocking over the garbage cans on the street...
...the milkman who often ended up giving the Nutmeg family extra milk thanks to Heathcliff’s scheming...
...not even the mice that lived inside the Nutmeg house were safe!
But despite his mischievous behaviour which was brought upon by Heathcliff’s own selfish needs, he really is a good cat at heart. He is incredibly devoted to his girlfriend, Sonja, and despite the grief he caused Grandpa Nutmeg, he really did love where he lived, and wouldn’t trade a moment of it for a second.
And lest you think that Heathcliff only existed in comic strip format, think again. There were Heathcliff comic books that were printed during the 1980s, as well as two animated cartoon series that aired in two separate periods produced by two different companies. The first series ran between 1980 and 1982, and was produced by Ruby-Spears, while the second series aired between 1984 and 1988 and was produced by DIC Entertainment. Here’s a clip of the opening intro from the 1984 series.
TRIVIA: The voice of Heathcliff in both incarnations of the television cartoon was performed by legendary voice artist, Mel Blanc. It would end up being his last regular role in a cartoon series before his death in 1989.
So, that’s our look back on Heathcliff...a cartoon cat that may not have been as popular as Garfield, but was just as funny...if not more.