Flatter than the rest of the folded newspaper sections spread out on the kitchen table, the comics section was always waiting for me, every Sunday morning for as long as I can remember. Whatever was ahead-- church, a soccer game, a trip to the pool, yard work-- Sundays started off with a few quiet minutes studying the comics. If we were in a rush, as happened with increasing frequency the older I became and the more "sleeping in" revealed itself to be the smartest option of all, I'd steal a few minutes while my parents honked the horn in the driveway to hopscotch through my favorite strips, knowing I'd be back later to read the rest and scoff at how simple the "spot the difference" puzzle was.
Sunday mornings in my parents' house remain ritualized to this day, even in my absence: if I drop by before my dad gets back from playing golf and settles in to tidying up, the comics are still out among the rest of the pre-church clutter, under the lights in the kitchen someone forgot to turn off, not realizing they were the last one out of the house when they left.
Garfield is especially suited to the broad expanse of Sundays, appearing in most papers above the fold, stretching out to take up a full quarter or more of the page. The color palate used is nice and flat, which always looks cleaner and more crisp than other strips' attempts at depth and shading through gradients, which never seem to reproduce as intended in print. This is a personal preference-- I'm all for a Pantone scale freakout, if that's what a particular creator wants.
To me, even the most hilarious Garfield gag never measured up to the title panel, which changed every week. The best part was that it didn't need to do anything (start here, end there, etc) besides somehow figuring out how to get the word "GARFIELD" in there. So week after week, there was some weird, new context for the title, encompassing all sorts of settings and fonts unthinkable in the strip proper. I'm not proud of this, but it took me a few years before I realized that the title panel never really had anything to do with the strip, no matter how hard I looked for clues.
The reason there even is such a thing as a title panel has to do with the various configurations a multi-panel strip appears in different papers around the world. With every paper's layout differing slightly, there's a functionally infinite combination of strips, columns and puzzles on pages that could be oriented vertically or horizontally, Sunday comics need to have built-in "crumple zones" (not the actual term) to account for any nips or tucks necessary to fit them onto a given page alongside the rest of the stuff on there.
For instance, ever notice how Peanuts takes a panel or two to get going, even after the title panel? That's because those first few panels can be lopped off if needed without harming the integrity of that day's gag, and the remaining panels reconfigured into a new, streamlined format. Example? Example:
See? Lop off that first panel and the title, and you didn't miss a thing. Instead of a tall rectangle, you get a long one. Newspaper readers in markets with certain spacial configurations might never have the pleasure of seeing a title panel. Pity them.
Calvin and Hobbes is a little unique in this regard-- Bill Watterson chafed at the idea of constraining his ideas into little boxes, so he worked out an agreement that he'd fill up a box however he felt like it, then turn it in and have it run in papers without any tinkering. This isn't necessary for a lot of strips-- their scope doesn't call for such creative freedom. For anyone who remembers having their minds blown by seeing a T-Rex flying a jet in the newspaper one Sunday, you can see why it was such a smart idea to compromise on the side of the artist, instead of the format.
Click on any of these here word-pitchers for hugeness.
Earlier today, I happened to be rummaging around in the Garfield archives, renaming years and years' worth of strips translated into different languages to ensure they all adhered to the same naming conventions for future database searches. As my soul slowly died, I managed a saving throw, grasping on to the novelty of title panels. In order to ensure this flight of fancy counts as a work-related activity (thus remaining part of my billable hours), I've fluffed up some selections from 2006 for you to enjoy, since 2006 was where I stopped renaming things for this week. Now we both win, except in this case, you win a lot bigger than I do, since the only parts of you that have to do any work here are your eyes and whatever fingers you employ for scrolling down the page. In a way, we're also both losers for caring this much about these things, but only in the eyes of those incapable of joy. We win again! Have a nice weekend, y'all.