Stories in small boxes #1: The comic strip Get Fuzzy

Stories in small boxes 1 Get Fuzzy MAIN

 

The world is, by and large, divided into dog lovers and cat lovers, and by mutual unspoken agreement, never the twain shall meet.

But what if you were one of those people who straddles this often hostile divide – between the people, not the animals; if you’re a dog, you love EVERYONE, and if you’re a cat well who cares really who likes whom as long as you’re fed – spending your time with a dog and a cat, both of whom embody everything that’s wonderful and yes, also less than wonderful about their respective species?

Well then you’d be Get Fuzzy‘s Rob Wilco, the long suffering owner of Bucky Katt, a megalomaniacal Siamese cat who doesn’t think the world should worship at his feet; he knows it should, and Satchel Pooch, a sweet natured and delightfully clueless Labrador Retriever/Shar Pei cross who is frequently caught up, to his detriment usually, in Bucky’s nefarious plans.

And Rob, a Boston-based advertising executive, with a fanatical love of the Boston Red Sox, video games, a less than stellar love life and an unkempt physical appearance, is usually caught in the middle of the undeclared war between Bucky and the rest of the world, forced to adjudicate when things get out of hand, which is often.

What sets Get Fuzzy by Bostonian Darby Conley apart from many of its modern day comic strip compatriots is that it has never played this constant battle between scheming, plotting hostile Bucky, who isn’t as smart as he likes to think he is, and Rob, with Satchel the unwitting and often manipulated bystander, for cheap, end of the panel punchline laughs.

He is a patient cartoonist too, happy to let a particular storyline play out over a number of days to its inevitable resolution, which usually involves Bucky getting some form of comeuppance, which naturally he never acknowledges, Satchel scratching his head and wondering what just happened, and Rob pulling out more of his hair and sighing heavily.

 

Stories in small boxes 1 Get Fuzzy pic 3

 

Conley has invested the time in developing all three characters, and to a lesser extent the secondary players like Rob’s best friend Joe Doman, who miraculously gets on well with everyone in the Wilco household, and Rob’s family, so they emerge as fully-rounded out members of the Get Fuzzy cast.

The characterisations are pleasingly complex with each of the three main players given the chance to develop all manner of weird idiosyncratic ticks and mannerisms, just like real people – and yes Bucky and Satchel, indeed all the animals in the strip speak, which is accepted as entirely fitting and normal – with their interactions the source of the humour rather than laboriously set ups for an eventual gag.

Bucky for instance is an often nasty piece of work, doling out sarcasm to a barely comprehending Satchel, taking contrary conservative political views and team allegiances (he is ostensibly a Yankees fan) simply it seems to annoy Rob, and residing in a drawer in Rob’s hall closet which he has declared sovereign territory, independent of Rob and the USA.

But for all his snarkiness and conniving ruthlessness, and endless campaign to make the life of Fungo Squiggly, the ferret in the neighbouring apartment occupied by the Garcias, as miserable as possible, he can also be touchingly soft, lavishing adoring attention on his rag doll Ms. Pretty, and his treasured teddy bear Smacky, whose occasional disappearance prompts unbridled panic.

Of course Bucky goes out of his way, well out of his way, to not let to Rob or Satchel that he has this soft underbelly, although it does pop out from time to time regardless of how vigilant he is in hiding it.

 

Stories in small boxes 1 Get Fuzzy pic 4

 

Satchel by comparison is the very personification, or is that dogification, of everything people love about the canine breeds.

Dim he may be, but he is sweet, Pollyanna-like in his unbridled optimism, affectionate, and loyal, resolutely sharing Rob’s views on everything from political allegiances to animal rights.

But far from being a complete doormat, he has been known to quite definitely stand up for himself, putting Bucky in his place from time to time; but these occurrences are fewer and further in between than the number of times he falls prey to Bucky’s calculating maneuvering and has to be rescued by a sympathetic if exhausted Rob.

He is the everyman of the strip, friends with everyone Bucky loathes, which let’s face it, is everyone, the heart and soul of faithfulness, whimsy (he is a staunch royalist thanks to his European heritage, faithfully watching Queen Elizabeth 2 whenever she’s on TV) and joy.

And in the middle of these polar opposites, sits Rob, who often feels like a prisoner in his own wildly dysfunctional home, a man who wants more out of life than he’s getting but who’s also a home body, happy to spend his time kicking back watching sports, playing video games and working on his computer.

What makes Get Fuzzy work so well is that for all the nastiness of Bucky and clueless lovability of Satchel, and near constant exasperation of Rob is that there isn’t a meanness to the strip, a vile undercurrent that could conceivably slip in if Conley wasn’t so vigilant about writing Get Fuzzy as well as he does.

It is the Frasier of sitcoms, heavy on the well-drawn characterisations, and relational humour, and short on cheap, easy jokes that belabour the same easily-written shots over and over.

And because Bucky is allowed to be soft and vulnerable, however well hidden, Satchel gets to enjoy some rare, hard won, almost accidental victories, and Rob does occasionally, very occasionally, get some peace and quiet, Get Fuzzy doesn’t feel like the same barely reworked storyline on constant repeat.

Like all well written stories, no matter the medium, it plays with expectations of the characters and situation they inhabit, and is endlessly surprising and enjoyable as a result.

 

Stories in small boxes 1 Get Fuzzy pic 2

 

All of which has made Get Fuzzy enormously popular with the strip running in over 400 newspapers at its peak.

That soaring popularity has however taken a battering in recent years with some controversial story lines such as a jibe about the alleged smelliness of Pittsburgh in October 2003, and the humourous apology that followed it, and a crack in one strip in 2005 that well known Boston sportscaster Bob Lobel had appeared drunk on air, a claim he strenuously denied.

Additionally, Get Fuzzy has been dropped by newspapers like The Washington Post (October 2013) and The Seattle Times (March 2014) largely due to the fact that rerun strips had been outnumbering first run editions ever since 2011.

All that aside, Get Fuzzy remains one of those strips that has a great deal of enduring and stubbornly affectionate fandom on its side, which it owes to Conley’s sharp writing, characters that anyone who owns a dog or a cat can identify with, and an intelligence and wit that will ensure it keeps on going for quite a number of years yet, regardless of whether that pleases Bucky or not.

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