In March of 1986, Jim Davis launched a second comic strip (his first was "Garfield," duh). (Okay, if you want to get technical his first strip was "Gnorm Gnat," but we're talking about strips of his that got printed.)
Davis grew up a farm boy, and he made Jon Arbuckle come from a farm, but he was jonesing to write more farm-related material. Thus, U.S. Acres. And YOU thought it only existed as a series of TV cartoons, DIDN'T you?? It began with this.
A record number of newspapers picked up the new strip, hoping Davis would outdo himself and that it would rise to popularity just as quickly. It didn't, papers gradually dropped the strip, and it vanished in 1989. By then, though, it was already a cartoon--a cartoon that would last over twice as long as the original strip it came from. Though....let's be honest....that was all Garfield's doing.
The U.S. Acres comic strip has been in demand around the Internet for quite a while now--most of the Garfield and Friends fanclub has never seen it. I've seen all of it because I have all five book collections, and ever since I admitted that in the Garfield and Friends Supapage, I've been getting Emails all the time begging me to get the original strip onto this site. This week I finally gave in, but not without caution.
My U.S. Acres books are pretty old by now, and well-worn from my childhood days. The pages feel like they could fall out at any time, and I fear the act of bending them over a flatbed scanner would be the tipping point. But today I convinced myself to do it anyway....FOR DUH FANS.
This week: Book One!
You know how the original drawings of characters that cartoonists make always look different from how they eventually end up looking? It happened here too. This is the Original Orson--a lot cuter and a lot more designed to be a plush toy.
Davis' trend of gender-ambiguous characters that he started with Nermal continued with Original Orson. In 1986 he had long eyelashes and frequently played in costume tights, and Booker and Sheldon called him "Mom." If I hadn't heard the voice of Orson before I ever bought this book, I would have thought he was female for sure.
There's not enough time in the world to scan all the strips that exist, so I stuck to the most important ones and the ones I liked best. What follows is the first week. This strip gets better as the books go along, but everyone seems to like the very first cartoon below:
Orson's evil brothers only appeared in the strip during the first two weeks. The Weasel never did--he was invented for the show.
After three weeks of living with his mom and brothers, Orson was sent away. It's accurate. Often in pig litters, the runt pig doesn't get fed because it can't fight the other pigs for a suckling spot on his mom. If another farmer doesn't want to raise it, it'll either starve to death or be put out of its misery by rifle. There was a pig movie that showed this fact, but I can't remember which one.
But Orson doesn't wind up here, or there--he winds up in U.S. ACRES! (Or...."Orson's Farm.")
This one is a textbook example of why I don't think the first year of this strip was any good. There are several months of plot-advancing strips showing how Orson gets to the farm and meets the other animals, and they all follow this formula:
Panel 1: Plot
Panel 2: Plot advancement
Panel 3: Attempt at a spontaneous joke that just doesn't fit
In the competitive comic strip world, the first year is very important. U.S. Acres blew its chance.
Orson is eventually found by some girl and taken to U.S. Acres. We only see her for two more strips after this and then never again. We also see her dad from the legs down--the only appearance the farmer ever made, and the only time humans were ever shown in the entire series.
At his new home, Orson finds a stash of books in the barn and develops his love of reading. The whole business of Orson having an overactive imagination so powerful that everyone around him gets trapped in his fantasies started here.
In comes Roy. He's pretty much like his TV version--he loves being rude and playing pranks.
First appearance of Powerrrrr Piiiiig!
This is the beginning of a two-month arc that brought Booker and Sheldon into the strip. There was one week of just the two eggs in the nest making semi-humorous small talk.
Then Orson found them and had to hatch them. It plays out similarly to the Season 4 cartoon "An Egg-citing Story," which was written in response to so many children getting confused over Sheldon. For three whole seasons, they just assumed we KNEW why there was a walking egg.
This one makes no sense now that it's been printed in black and white.
Toward the back of the book, Wade is added. The decision was premeditated. Davis planned all these characters in advance, then gradually introduced them. The comic strip version of Wade had a reason to be so afraid -- oftentimes, everything really WAS out to get him!
Next: the second book, where Bo and Lanolin appear! For an even BIGGER tease, check out the back cover to Book #1.....
Who are the dog and the cat? You'll find out soon enough.....
RETURN TO THE MAIN PAGE