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Comic Book Legends Revealed #466

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COMIC LEGEND: Veterans complained about a seemingly offensive Garfield comic strip during Veteran’s Day.

STATUS: True

Right off the bat, let me just tell you – Garfield creator Jim Davis is not going to write an offensive comic strip intentionally. That’s just not what Jim Davis is about. This is not meant as an insult (nor is it praise), that’s just not what Jim Davis is trying to achieve with Garfield. Last week, we discussed one of Davis’ more adventurous Garfield strips of all-time (there’s another fascinating one, by the way, that I might feature here at some point in time). Even there, though, the intent was not to be offensive – it was just Davis spreading his storytelling wings a little bit more than normal. Davis is here to entertain, not to piss people off. Garfield is not Doonesbury – it is not trying to push the envelope. That is why the Veteran’s Day controversy of 2010 (suggested to me last week by reader Charlie L. after he read last week’s column) struck me as a bit on the silly side of things. The controversy requires readers to ignore the entire approach that Garfield has used for decades now to find offense.

The strip at hand debuted on Veteran’s Day, 2010…

garfieldvet1

So yeah, obviously you can read that as a very sharp (and very harsh) critique of Veteran’s Day as a holiday. But come on, it’s Garfield!

The first hint that Davis did not intend to offend (well, besides the aforementioned fact that this is Garfield, for crying out loud!) was the strips on the three days of the week leading to that strip on Thursday, November 11th…

garfieldvet2

garfieldvet3

garfieldvet4

And the two strips that followed…

garfieldvet5

garfieldvet6

Obviously, he was just doing a week of Garfield versus spider gags (a recurring topic in the strip).

However, after people began freaking out, Davis quickly apologized even though he had not intended to offend, explaining that he had scheduled these strips many months ago and he used a very basic calendar that did not have holidays on it when he was scheduling where each strip would go and did not realize the awkward coincidence.

Dear Friends, Fans, and Veterans:

In what has to be the worst timing ever, the strip that runs in today’s paper seems to be making a statement about Veteran’s Day. It absolutely, positively has nothing to do with this important day of remembrance.

Regarding today’s Garfield comic strip, it was written almost a year ago and I had no idea when writing it that it would appear today — of all days. I do not use a calendar that lists holidays and other notable days, so when this strip was put in the queue, I had no idea it would run on Veteran’s Day. What are the odds? You can bet I’ll have a calendar that lists EVERYTHING by my side in the future.

My brother Dave served in Vietnam. My son James is a Marine who has had two tours of duty, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. You’d have to go a long way to find someone who was more proud and grateful for what our Veterans have done for all of us.

Please accept my sincere apologies for any offense today’s Garfield may have created. It was unintentional and regrettable.

Jim Davis

So there you go.

Thanks to Charlie for the suggestion!

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61 Comments

People still remember Marc McClure? Really? Come on, be honest.

Here’s a pretty funny satire of the whole Garfield controversy:

http://virgiltexas.com/post/23039458116/jim-davis-doesnt-remember-9-11

LOL, its almost like they were desperate to get rid of certain characters. What ever happened of fading into oblivion? OH forgot, the cheap sales spike comes first! Another sad entry for: Comics are not literature, yet…

A lady did die of AIDS in the Superman books eventually, with the Whites adopting her son, if my memory is correct.

Do they only cast gay actors as Jimmy? I knew Jack Larson is, didn’t know about Marc McClure..if he even is, as I can’t see any confirmation of that. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just a curiosity..

I don’t know about Marc McClure, but Jack Larson, who was Jimmy on the Superman TV show is gay. Maybe he got them mixed up.

Poor Jim Davis. But it is kinda odd someone would relate a comic about a spider getting squashed to a soldier getting K.I.A.

Also “Starlin, desperate to get rid of Jason Todd, kept pushing for it to be Jason Todd.”

Am I missing something here?Was it because he hated the character or other reasons?

Quite frankly, I’m glad they didn’t proceed down that route in either instance, as it would have “stunt” written all over it. Later writers handled the subject fairly well, especially Peter David, in the Hulk. Still, one of the better comic related projects, along these lines, was Judd Winick’s Pedro & Me. I’m not a fan of his work at DC but this was a great book and was very moving.

Nobody can seem to figure out what to do with Jimmy. The Silver Age goofiness is out, but they don’t need another serious reporter when you have Clark and Lois so Jimmy’s just sort of … there. All-Star Superman got some good use out of him but that’s the exception.

Excepting stories based on real life events, AIDS must be one of the hardest themes for a writer to tackle.

– If the character suffering from AIDS in the story is gay, then you’re accused of linking AIDS to gay people and saying only gays get AIDS.

-If the character is not gay or their sexuality is kept obscured on purpose, then you’re accused of making gay people invisible by not featuring them prominently in the story, or of writing for conservative straight people who could only sympathize with a AIDS sufferer who is straight.

– If the character got AIDS from having unprotected sex or using injectable drugs, then you’re accused of saying sex is evil or drugs are evil, and you’re making the character pay for a “misdeed”.

– On the other hand, if the character got AIDS from a transfusion, then you’re accused of being a prude, by avoiding sexual themes, or of presenting an AIDS victim that is a “good” AIDS victim, because they got the virus not by doing “nasty” things.

Thanks for the timely response! I definitely didn’t expect it to be featured so soon.

Is Marc McClure gay, too? I know Jack Larson is, but I didn’t know BOTH of them were.

Nobody can seem to figure out what to do with Jimmy. The Silver Age goofiness is out, but they don’t need another serious reporter when you have Clark and Lois so Jimmy’s just sort of … there. All-Star Superman got some good use out of him but that’s the exception.

The Nick Spencer stuff with Jimmy preventing a race of alien hedonists from throwing a literally apocalyptic party was excellent, too. Really, he’s a character who works best as an everyman in the midst of the most insane elements of the Superman mythos.

That Nick Spencer story was crazy fun. I could have done with more of it.

One of the things that makes Jimmy difficult for writers, I think, is that he was created for a specific purpose on the old radio show, and that purpose doesn’t apply in other media, so he becomes a misfit of sorts. On the radio show, when it was time for Lois to go do something that was going to get her into trouble, it needed to be conveyed to the listeners. So she had to have someone to tell what she was up to so the audience could over hear it. Other media have more ways to set up the expository dialogue or even just put us in someone’s head, but Jimmy’s presence on the radio show made him expected in other outlets as well.

It’s Me: Do you have a citation to a book or a link about that type of stuff. It makes sense and is fascinating and I’d love to read more on it.

Even if Davis didn’t do that message on purpose, the point still came across. Sacrificing yourself with the consolation that you’ll be celebrated for it afterwards is stupid. Might have been by accident, but it’s the most profound message Garfield ever tried to convey.

interesting to learn that dc way back in the eighties was so axious to whack one of their characters that they targeted jimmy olson of all people. plus that jason todd was so disliked that even a legend like jim starlin was pushing dc to whack him.

I knew all of those sites saying that HYDRA had appeared in Menace were wrong, but was never able to track down an original copy to check. If HYDRA had appeared then it would have predated SPECTRE, the James Bond organization it is clearly based on. Thanks, CBLR! That had been bothering me for a few years.

Steve Barbieri

April 11, 2014 at 2:00 pm

I love when political correctness and political activism overshadows facts. AIDS, by the numbers, is a gay disease. That doesn’t diminish its importance but the numbers are the numbers:

http://aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/statistics/

@Steve Barboeri

It’s good to have something to love.

Alejandr Montenegro Granados

April 11, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Starlin was wrong. Marc McClure is straigth, actually married and have children

Starlin was wrong. Marc McClure is straigth, actually married and have children

Starlin could have been confusing McClure with the Olsen actor from the TV series. But again, there are so many other reasons as to why DC would decide not to have Jimmy Olsen have AIDS and then die from the disease that I’m hesitant to actually credit Starlin’s actor theory as truth, even if McClure was gay. I am willing to believe that DC was, indeed, at one time planning to have Jimmy Olsen have AIDS and die from it, but that’s about as far as I’m willing to go with the story.

Here’s a pretty funny satire of the whole Garfield controversy:

That was excellent. Especially the Luann bit at the end. Holy shit, Greg Evans!

People still remember Marc McClure? Really? Come on, be honest.

At the time this was being discussed, though, McClure had just played Jimmy Olsen in Superman IV.

Bill Williamson

April 11, 2014 at 2:59 pm

@ Rene: ER seemed to do it well enough. They had a character contract HIV and as far as I know there was none of the types of backlash from it that you mentioned.

@Steve Barboeri

I agree in America (according to the chart), it’s mostly homosexual people being infected, but globally, much different statistics.

http://www.amfar.org/about-hiv-and-aids/facts-and-stats/statistics–worldwide/
http://aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/global-statistics/index.html

Doesn’t diminish the U.S. studies, but true number are true numbers.

A Horde of Evil Hipsters

April 11, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Sheesh. I drop by to read about some Jimmy Olsen silliness, and what are you people talking about in the comments? How AIDS is a “gay disease” and global statistics don’t matter compared to American ones? To misquote that Garfield strip, anyone remeber why we celebrate Ignorant Hatemonger Day?

No disease is an “[insert sufferer here] disease.” HIV is quite happy to infect whoever it can; it just happened to find a vector in a certain community at a certain time in the United States, and other vectors in other countries at other times, but it never sought out gay people, it never was a factor in being gay, it wasn’t attracted to other human immunodeficiency viruses. We don’t call cancer a “smoker’s disease” though we might say smokers are more likely to get some kinds of cancer.

I understand the allure of shorthand statements, that “gay disease” merely means “disease that [in some countries] gay people are more likely to have than non-gay people.” But it’s at best laziness to do so — and far worse than laziness when you consider how many fear-mongerers out there still love to demonize homosexuals.

Through the ***W***ringer.

Political correctness aside, labeling AIDS a gay disease is dangerous to everybody. Being straight do not shield you magically if you decide to have unprotected sex with people you don’t know very well.

It’s a bit of an oversimplification to say that AIDS in the United States is a gay disease- it’s fairly common among black heterosexuals. What is true is that among straight white people, AIDS is largely limited to drug users, prostitutes, etc.

Jeff Nettleton

April 11, 2014 at 9:47 pm

In regards the difficulty of writing an AIDS story, like most things, it depends on how the writer approaches it. In the first place, the audience needs to care about the character, so you have to establish them as a person, before you even bring in the virus. Then you have to illustrate how the disease affects that character and how it brings them into a new world. Anyone going through this is going to undergo treatment, which probably brings them into contact with other people suffering. That gives you the chance to explore it from multiple points of view, gay and straight, afflicted and family/loved ones. In that way, you illustrate that it is a disease that affects more than one group and, through the lead character’s eyes, you can see how each of these other characters faces their disease. You can also explore similar conditions, via things like support groups. If you take the character from being HIV positive to active AIDS, you can bring them into support groups for catastrophic and terminal illnesses, so you can show them relating to people with cancers and other afflictions, who are facing similar issues. A good writer will go this route, a sloppy one will pick only one point of view and stay within that.

To me, the problem with doing an AIDS story with Jimmy Olsen is that it would require a long storyline. First, you would need to provide an event that transmitted the disease to him, without putting a neon sign over it (if you want to have any positive impact). Then, you need to drop hints along the way that something is wrong with his health, or provide a reason for Olsen to be tested (company physical, maybe). Then, you deal with how he handles the diagnosis and the reactions of those around him. Then you have to move beyond diagnosis into treatment and support, if your ultimate goal is his death from the disease. That’s not something you can do in an issue, nor a mini-series. I think you would need at least a year’s story arc. I think I would go for 2 years or more, if I could convince the editors that the story could be kept compelling. Either way, it would take a strong commitment from the publisher.

@ Michael,

It’s a bit of an oversimplification to say that AIDS in the United States is a gay disease- it’s fairly common among black heterosexuals.

Jeez! I’m a black heterosexual. And even though I know other black heterosexuals that had AIDS, I wouldn’t say it’s common. Maybe it’s the Black people I know.

The other problem with the Jason Todd or Jimmy Olsen contracting HIV and developing AIDS has to do with an apparently little-remembered series DC was producing at roughly the same time that Jason Todd was being prepared to become a 900-phone stunt: “The New Guardians.”

The series which started with a cover date of Jan 1988 (and, IMS, DC’s cover dates were pretty close to the actual month of release at the time) ended up having not one but TWO characters who contracted HIV in the course of the series: Extraño (who also happened to be openly–and wildly flayboyantly–gay) and Jet.

It seems a bit odd that DC would consider actually having two much longer established characters (even if Todd had only been created in the early 1980s) contract HIV and develop AIDS at the same time that two minor characters (who’d only been created the year before) would end up contracting HIV at the hands of Steve Englehart.

“It’s even on Hydra’s Wikipedia page.”

Not anymore it’s not.

@ Rene

I think your point about the difficulty and accusations about doing an AIDS story are proven to be true by the comments here.

Timothy Markin

April 12, 2014 at 4:58 am

Even as a veteran myself, I would never have misinterpreted the Garfield strip, even by itself, out of context of the week’s continuity, as being a jab at veterans. There are people in society who go out of their way to be offended by the most innocuous things. Jim Davis has always come across as a genuinely nice guy (although I find Garfield a bit annoying at times).
And Jack Larson has been out of the closet for many years and was partnered with James Bridges, the director best known for “Urban Cowboy.”

@emac1790- maybe common isn’t the word I should have used- what I meant was that AIDS occurs far more often in black heterosexuals than white heterosexuals. According to the CDC, in 2009, the infection rate in black women was 15 times the rate in white women.

Hydra was also used as the bad guys when Marvel’s “The Ruler of Earth” in Journey into Mystery #81 (June 1962) was reprinted in Where Monsters Dwell #25 (November 1973). Commies in the original version were changed to Hydra in the reprint.

Steve Barbieri

April 12, 2014 at 6:45 am

The intent of my initial comment was simply to point out the ‘overcorrection’ that has occurred with AIDS in the US. In the 80s it was labeled a ‘gay disease.’ As such, it was viewed as lower priority than it should have been, presumably because of widespread homophobia or maybe indifference. Activists created the idea that the ‘enlightened position’ was it is was ignorant to think AIDS was primarily a problem for gay men and that AIDS is a widespread public health problem. The ‘enlightened position’ (in the US) is not supported in any way by the reality of the numbers.

Regardless guys were popping on this thread acting as if representing AIDS as a threat that most that is most pronounced in the gay community is ignorant, dangerous and misleading (and between the lines of their comments- HOMOPHOBIC). And these enlightened commenters are the exact opposite of correct.

Gay men need to be far more vigilant and concerned about AIDS than heterosexual men. It is a fact and while it might feel good to say we should all be concerned equally about it, that position is dangerous. And the people most at risk because of this undying desire for equality in all things are gay men who are at risk of a minimized view of what is a pronounced threat in their community.

I’d like to commend several commenters for their calm, reasoned rebuttals to what was obviously a flame-throwing, anti-gay post above. Kudos to Reverend Snow, deron, Rene, Michael & emac1790 for not letting the thread devolve.

Steve Barbieri

April 12, 2014 at 7:09 am

Nu-D, I assume you are calling my posts ‘anti-gay’ but I cannot begin to see how. Gay men are at far greater risk of AIDS than any other group, to pretend otherwise doesn’t help anyone. There is a difference between not being afraid to call bullshit on ‘conventional wisdom’ and ‘flame-throwing.’

(1) It’s anti-gay because it’s untrue propaganda. As Reverend Snow pointed out, globally gay people are not more vulnerable to HIV infection. Gay sex is not any more likely to spread HIV than straight sex. Straight people who have unprotected sex with an infected person are just as at risk as gay people who have unprotected sex with an infected person.

(2) It’s flame-throwing because it’s intentionally introducing controversy that is off-topic. This is a comic book forum, about a comic book story. The story involved does not even specify how the character might have contracted the disease. You claim to just be speaking “truth,” but there’s nothing in the column or the comments prior to yours that required you to introduce this (misleading) information. It was done solely to stir controversy.

Steve Barbieri

April 12, 2014 at 7:45 am

1) Anal sex is far, far, far more likely to spread AIDS than vaginal sex. And anal sex is far, far, far more common among homosexual males than heterosexuals. Nothing Reverend Snow shared refuted this.

So it is NOT: 1) anti-gay 2) untrue or 3) propaganda

2) It isn’t off topic in that it is theorized that the actor’s sexuality may have played a factor in whether or not to proceed with the story. Part of Brian’s story indicated ‘this story shouldn’t be told because it reinforces (maybe unconsciously) the ‘false’ idea gays are more at risk than heteros to AIDS’ (even if only to one actor). I did not ‘introduce controversy,’ it is there, in a foundational, common wisdom way, that is insidious and dangerous.

But I will concede your point- this is a comic book forum and I have derailed what is usually a good comments section with a conversation people probably aren’t enjoying. For that- I apologize.

@Steve Baebieri

I think the way you phrased your original declaration:

I love when political correctness and political activism overshadows facts

may have played a part in the way people are responding. Instead of merely stating your facts, your introduction indicates an agenda, and your glee is rather unsettling. You also seemed to go out of your way to make “political correctness” a focus of your correction, and that’s always a bad sign.

Yeah, those black heterosexual men with AIDS? They’re lying.

@JohnBrown
Well Eddie Murphy still claims he’s not gay. Only a matter of time before AIDS infects him.

Some people really don’t get it, especially satirical jokes.

“Michael: It’s a bit of an oversimplification to say that AIDS in the United States is a gay disease- it’s fairly common among black heterosexuals. What is true is that among straight white people, AIDS is largely limited to drug users, prostitutes, etc.”

I like how you flipped it from a “gay” disease to a “black” diseases. It wasn’t even necessary to do that in the way that you did.

And I read your follow up but if you’re point was to deny that AIDS isn’t a gay disease, it’s just as classless to shift it to some other group while basically stating “but with white people it must be delinquents”.

And you did correct yourself, but “fairly common among black heterosexuals” is one of the most bigoted statements I’ve read in a while. This comes from a someone who’s been called the N word multiple times in my life… blatant disrespect is one thing and can be chalked up to ignorance, but underlying ideas and perceptions are dangerous.

It’s a bit of an oversimplification to say that AIDS in the United States is a gay disease- it’s fairly common among black heterosexuals. What is true is that among straight white people, AIDS is largely limited to drug users, prostitutes, etc.

There’s a big difference between saying heterosexual blacks are DISPROPORTIONATELY REPRESENTED among HIV statistics and saying that HIV is COMMON among heterosexual blacks.

Also, it’s stunning that you can make the connection that among straight white people, the ones with AIDS must have exacerbating reasons that aren’t related to theirskin color, such as prostitution, drug use, etc, but you don’t make the same allowance for black people. For various historical and socioeconomic reasons, black people have a much higher rate of drug use and criminality and imprisonment rates than white people. So the same exacerbating reasons you allow for white people apply even more to black people.

Also, regarding the black women stat:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=114237523

Yeah, those black heterosexual men with AIDS? They’re lying.

Do you know how many of those black heterosexual men with AIDS were:

1. IV drug users?
2. occasionally bisexual but consider themselves hetero and self-reported as such?
3. consider themselves heterosexual and self-reported as such, but went to prison and experimented with homosexuality and drugs there?

The disproportionate rates of incarceration and IV drug use among black heterosexual men is an extremely confounding factor. Do you have any studies directly comparing black heterosexual men and white heterosexual men across equal socioeconomic levels that takes adequate, verifiable measures to compensate for self-reporting issues regarding sexual orientation, incarceration, and IV drug use?

Steve –

I know that right-wingers think altruism and the search for equality are like Pandora’s Box, and that all bad things come from it. But this time it’s not even remotely backed by any real world facts that the “enlightened” position about AIDS is in any way dangerous. “Spreading” the worry doesn’t make homosexuals less worried about AIDS. In fact, the gay community has been exemplary in taking precautions.

Actually, it’s the heterosexuals, particularly heterosexual women, that are being endangered by the foolish notion that they’re not vulnerable to AIDS, a notion that you seem to be advocating. THAT is the dangerous position.

I’m Brazilian, and we have had the most success of all the developing countries in fighting the epidemics, and the way to go is to teach everybody – gay and straight – that they should be careful. We have cut projected AIDS cases by half by aggressive campaigning and supplying condoms to everybody, not just gays.

Unfortunately Rene, a number of conservatives equate “take precautions when having sex” to “it’s okay to have sex” which is a Bad, Bad Message. This does not lend itself to recommending any precautions beyond abstinence.

What’s all this talk about AIDS being gaymans disease?! WTF?!?? U people nuts! Racist shit, man!

I think you’re all missing the big point here: Jim Davis has a brother named Dave Davis!

Fuk, Im done with this place. Used to be cool n sweet but you fuckas just had to pull racist anti-gay shit.

hurm, moving on..

..you beat me to it sarge, how awesome is that

For the record, “Earth Vs. The Spider” is an actual 50s science fiction film. As a huge fan of the science fiction movies of the decade, I got a tremendous kick seeing it mentioned in the strip (much the same way I got a huge kick from Garfield celebrating Isaac Asimov’s birthday).

@nothing,T- I’m sorry- I meant to argue that blacks are victims of AIDS in disproportionate numbers- I should have worded it differently.

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