Prior to the surge of anti-hero and dark characters during the Modern Age of Comics, comics were all about humor and imagination. An entire industry was dedicated to making people smile, and that meant they had to do it in a number of different ways; there was incredible variety!
Of this genre, Peanuts, Garfield, and Calvin & Hobbes stand out. Though they all share the same approach of having an animal character with human-like traits, the characters themselves were all very different.
In Peanuts Snoopy possesses a vivid imagination. It is his driving characteristic – that and lying on top of his dog house. Then there’s Garfield, the lazy yet secretly compassionate fat cat with a belly full of lasagna. Hobbes is a cat, like Garfield, but instead of a simple housecat he’s a tiger and (imaginary?) friend of Calvin. While Snoopy and Garfield live in reality, though Snoopy’s frequent daydreams signal he probably doesn’t want to, Hobbes is Calvin’s other half in activities that definitely aren’t “real.”
Beyond the main, non-human characters there are similarly poignant differences that can be observed in the primary humans. Peanuts’ Charlie Brown is an underwhelming person whose biggest strengths are his self-awareness and his desire to better himself (kick that ball, Charlie!). Garfield’s Jon Arbuckle is a comic strip all himself (Google Garfield without Garfield – you won’t be disappointed) who’s utterly pathetic nature and obliviousness to his obvious shortcomings is hilarious in its own right. At times Jon Arbuckle doesn’t even realize Garfield is mocking or taking advantage of him. Calvin doesn’t have that relationship with Hobbes. They’re best friends and partners in imagination.
The relationships of each comic strip’s main characters are entirely different, yet they have all been similarly transcendent in pop culture.
Beyond the main characters are a suite of supporting characters, most notably in Peanuts where the supporting characters like Lucy, Linus, and Peppermint Patty each are individually well-developed. Each has strengths and weaknesses that add to the complexity of the story. They are a real gang of kids that you could really imagine seeing. Garfield is much more Garfield-centric. He is the center of attention and the humor flows through him.
Much of this distinction is found in the titles of these comic strips themselves. Peanuts is about the gang. Garfield is about Garfield. Calvin & Hobbes is pretty obvious.
Though all of the main characters are animals, they each have different purposes in the comic strip, and they each have different places in the world in which they operate. And that only looks at three of the thousands of comic strips that have been developed. Without a doubt, comedy comic strips use a whole array of approaches with the same end goal. Peanuts was funny but definitely more philosophical. Garfield was straight to the point with its humor, and Calvin & Hobbes’ humor was like laughing with your best friend.
Regardless of the approach, the end goal is the same: to make the audience smile, think, laugh, and look forward to next week’s paper.