DiC Entertainment
DiC Entertainment

11 Fun Facts About Heathcliff

DiC Entertainment
DiC Entertainment

In 1973, newspapers around the country saw the debut of artist George Gately's Heathcliff, a single-panel comic strip about a mischievous orange tabby who menaces dogs and haunts local fish markets. (And yes, he was named after the character in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.) For nearly half a century, the character has been seen in print, on television, and has spawned a slew of merchandise. Check out some facts about the comics page’s pick of the litter.

1. HE PRE-DATES GARFIELD.

You might assume the enormous success of Garfield, Jim Davis’s long-running strip about a lazy and sardonic orange cat, led to derivative works about sleepy felines. Could be, but Heathcliff isn’t one of them. George Gately’s strip began running in 1973, five years before Davis’s Garfield hit papers.

2. HE WAS BROUGHT BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND.

Though he quickly appeared in 200 papers, Heathcliff’s future was by no means guaranteed early on, and in 1974, the Los Angeles Times decided to drop the strip. More than 900 readers wrote letters of complaint in response, prompting the Times to reinstate the strip just a few weeks later.

3. GATELY WAS INVITED TO CAT CONVENTIONS.

With Heathcliff’s popularity came opportunity for merchandising, animation, and other ancillary ventures. One of the strangest may have been the repeated invitations for Gately to attend cat conventions, where cat owners requested his autograph be addressed to their pet. This sometimes led to questionable solicitations, like when one woman asked for his signature for her cat, Hitler. According to John Gallagher, Gately’s brother, Gately wound up writing “Good luck, Hitler” for the fan.

4. MEL BLANC GAVE HIM A VOICE.

Like Garfield, Heathcliff doesn’t speak in print. But when the character made the move to animation, being a silent hero was off the table. The first Heathcliff series premiered in 1980 and featured the voice of cartoon legend Mel Blanc as the title character. In the second season, he teamed with fellow comic strip star Marmaduke. Another series followed in 1984, as well as an animated feature in 1986.

5. BUNNICULA COST HIM A HALLOWEEN SPECIAL.

The crown jewel of comic strips in animation is the holiday special, with A Charlie Brown Christmas being the gold standard. Done right, the projects can run almost in perpetuity. In the 1980s, Heathcliff very nearly joined the pantheon with a Halloween special that was planned for ABC following an animated adaptation of the vampire-bunny book Bunnicula. During the outline stage, ABC screened the finished Bunnicula special and decided the animation was too rough for primetime. Since Ruby-Spears was handling production for both, Heathcliff got sidelined.

6. GATELY DREW SIMPLE BACKGROUNDS FOR A REASON.

Comic strip artists are constantly under deadline pressure, which is a big reason why you don’t often see elaborate backgrounds. But Gately had a different reason for keeping Heathcliff’s home simple. “I'm very careful to never make the home in my cartoon look too fancy,” he said. “I'm as interested in having the poorest person relate to Heathcliff as I am the richest person."

7. HE MADE GATELY A MILLIONAIRE.

Like Garfield, Heathcliff’s true potential wasn’t relegated to newsprint. By 1982, the cat’s merchandising deals were so profitable that Gately and partners raked in $55 million in licensing revenue.

8. HE ENDORSED KITTY LITTER.

In 1986, Heathcliff broke one of the last remaining taboos of celebrities and opted to endorse a feces-related product. Heathcliff’s Blue Ribbon Cat Litter promised to be “dust-free” and could absorb 1.5 times its weight in liquid. The ad copy got right to the point: “The competition stinks.”

9. ONE NEWSPAPER POLLED READERS ON WHICH COMIC CAT THEY LIKED BETTER. HEATHCLIFF LOST.

In October 1981, New Jersey's Asbury Park Press decided to allot space to one of the leading cat comic strips and asked readers to decide which one it would be. Garfield won, but only by a nose: The lasagna-engorged cat drew 326 votes to Heathcliff’s 324. One reader didn't appear enamored with either choice and opted for a write-in: “Bring us Marmaduke.”

10. HE WAS A NASCAR SPONSOR.

T.J. Bell, driver of the #50 Heathcliff's Cat Litter Ford leads Joe Ruttman, driver of the #4 Open Joist Dodge during the Sam's Town 400 at Texas Motor Speedway June 8, 2007 in Fort Worth, Texas
Chris Graythen, Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway

We’re not entirely sure what to make of the association, but beginning in 2004, Heathcliff was a sponsor for NASCAR driver T.J. Bell. Bell wore a Heathcliff character logo on his racing suit; his Ford F-150 car was dubbed the “No. 50 Heathcliff’s Cat Litter Ford.”

11. THE STRIP IS A FAMILY BUSINESS.

When Gately retired from the strip in 1998 (he died in 2001), Heathcliff continued—thanks in large part to the work of Peter Gallagher, Gately’s nephew, who had been working as Gately’s apprentice since 1994. Still appearing in newspapers across the country, Heathcliff is billed as "the original orange cat."

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8 Things You Might Not Know About The Wizard of Id
Titan Books
Titan Books

Debuting in 1964, Brant Parker and Johnny Hart’s The Wizard of Id took a page from the macabre humor of cartoonist Charles Addams. Ruling the kingdom of Id, a pint-sized tyrant uses humor to disarm a medieval cast made up of a jester, an executioner, a thief, and the titular magician, whose spells don’t usually impress. Although Hart and Parker both passed away in 2007, their black humor lives on. Take a look at some facts behind the throne, including the time Jim Henson almost brought it to television.

1. THE IDEA FOR THE STRIP CAME FROM A DECK OF PLAYING CARDS.

Johnny Hart was already a successful syndicated cartoonist (the Stone Age comedy B.C.) before he and former Disney animator Brant Parker decided to collaborate on a different project. Hart was flipping through a deck of playing cards in 1964 when he came across a peculiar illustration used for the king. Drawing on it to create his own diminutive despot, Hart wrote most of the jokes for Id while Parker illustrated it.

2. THE SYNDICATE THOUGHT THE TWO ARTISTS WERE DISGUSTING.

Although Id would eventually be syndicated to over 1000 strips across the country, Hart and Parker first had to get past the gatekeepers of cartoon distribution operating out of New York. Traveling to the city to show them samples, the two worked late into the night and called to tell executives they were ready. They didn’t know the syndicate would be coming to their hotel room, which was a mess of papers, food, and beer bottles. Caught off-guard, the men looked like transients. “We think you guys are disgusting,” one executive said, “but we love the strip. We’ll take it.”

3. THE SHORT JOKES WERE BASED ON JOHNNY HART.

In a visual juxtaposition, the king of Id’s height is inversely proportional to his power. Parker said the character’s stature was based partly on Hart, who used to fend off jokes about his own height. "The king became short because we used to kid John about being short and a lot of the short gags began to slide over into the strip," Parker said. "He just kept getting smaller, and as he shrunk, the nose got bigger and bigger."

4. A LITTLE GIRL GOT THEM TO DROP A CHARACTER.

Most of the humor in Id is centered around the morbid dynamics of Middle Ages politics, which is not normally an opportunity to offend current sensibilities. But early on, Parker and Hart created a karate teacher from Japan who was perceived by some as a stereotype. When Parker received a letter from a young Japanese-American girl who was being teased at school as a result of the character, the creators decided to drop him from the strip.

5. JIM HENSON WAS GOING TO PUT IT ON TELEVISION.

An avowed fan of comic strips and of The Wizard of Id in particular, Muppets creator Jim Henson met with Hart in 1968 to discuss a possible collaboration. Henson wanted to create an Id television show that would use puppets against an animated backdrop. Hart agreed, and in 1969, Henson was able to shoot test footage featuring himself as the voice of the Wizard. But executives at Publishers-Hall, which had taken over syndication of the strip, were having trouble enticing networks into producing a series. By the time ABC showed interest, Henson had moved on to Sesame Street and other projects. Wizard of Id got translated into animation in 1970 as part of a Chuck Jones variety series titled Curiosity Shop.

6. HART TURNED DOWN FEATURE FILM OFFERS.

Possibly disappointed in the outcome of the Henson project, Hart wasn’t very receptive to offers to adapt Id into other mediums. He reportedly shunned Steven Spielberg and Norman Lear when they called about adaptations. Producer Andrew Gaty managed to interest Hart in 1987, though his plans for a live-action feature—possibly starring Danny DeVito as the king—never came to fruition.

7. IT WAS A (STRANGE) VIDEO GAME.

In 1984, users of the ColecoVision home computer system were able to pick up a software program with an unwieldy title: The Wizard of Id’s Wiz Math. The edutainment program allowed players to brush up on math skills by solving problems faced by Spookingdorf, the tortured and jailed cast member of the strip. By solving math problems, players could navigate Spookingdorf out of his dungeon. The game was produced by Sierra, which later became known for its King’s Quest and Leisure Suit Larry franchises. A typing game, WizType, was also released.

8. BLONDIE AND BEETLE BAILEY CELEBRATED THE STRIP'S 50TH ANNIVERSARY.

When The Wizard of Id passed the half-century milestone in 2014, the entire comics page came out to celebrate. Hi and Lois featured a portrait of the Wizard in a panel, while Blondie and Family Circus made subtle references to the anniversary. (As modern-day strips, it would be difficult to regard a medieval strip with more overt acknowledgment.) In Beetle Bailey, the perennial screw-up shared a cell with the eternally suffering Spookingdorf.

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A Canadian Man Set a Guinness World Record for Most Marvel Comic Tattoos

Here’s something to Marvel at: A 36-year-old man from Alberta, Canada just set a Guinness World Record for having the highest number of Marvel comic tattoos on his body, Nerdist reports.

Rick Scolamiero, of Edmonton, boasts 31 Marvel tattoos in total and is inked from his neck down to his feet. What started out as a plan to get a sleeve (full arm tattoo) of his favorite Marvel characters quickly morphed into a full-body makeover.

"I fell in love with the artist’s work and wanted to continue to see what else we could come up with regarding tattoos,” Scolamiero told Guinness World Records. “I have been a Marvel comic lover since I was small and growing up we didn’t have much but I always had my Marvel comics and Marvel trading cards. They actually got me through some tough times so the idea of having them on my body forever just really appealed to me."

Wolverine and Spider-Man can be seen on his forearms, the Guardians of the Galaxy trail down his left calf, and LEGO versions of Daredevil and Deadpool adorn his ankles, to name but a few designs. Scolamiero didn’t want to leave any superheroes behind, so he had them inked onto his, well, behind. His left and right buttocks feature depictions of Spider-Man 2099 (a futuristic version of the original) and Vision (from The Avengers), respectively.

He even got Marvel comic artist Stan Lee’s autograph tattooed onto his wrist. In total, he attended one tattoo session per month for the past seven years and endured 350 hours under the needle. Now that’s dedication.

Check out the video below to see Scolamiero show off his tats.

[h/t Nerdist]

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