I’ve been reading comic strips for almost 50 years. When I was a little tyke, I would crawl up in my dad’s lap as he sat at the dining room table sipping coffee and ask him to read the comics in the Sunday paper to me. My dad was a fine, hard-working man, but reading was not his strong point. One Sunday morning, when I was 4 or 5, I pointed out the words he skipped or mispronounced as he read (or worse, read the word out loud as he was struggling to pronounce it) and dad decided that his days of reading to me were over. After that, no matter how many times I asked, he would not do it. When I grew older my mom explained that it was embarrassing for my dad to try to read to me when I was already reading better than he did, but of course that had never been my intention or even entered my 4 or 5 year old mind. I just looked at it as something we did together and I was sad when it ended.
But that was not The Saddest Moment In Comic Strip History for me.
Back in this post I mentioned how much I loved watching TV shows like Rin Tin Tin and Lassie when I was a child. I have always had a love for dogs, like a lot of boys I suppose. I don’t recall it, but my mom would later tell how I would sit in front of the TV and cry when it looked like “Rinny” or Lassie had been hurt or killed (always being injured or apparently giving their life in order to save someone) during the course of one of their stories. Later, when I was a little older, we had a beautiful German Shepherd named “Lady”, that we had to have put to sleep due to her hip dysplasia and I was utterly devastated. When I was about 15 my cousin Harry and I went to see “Big Jake”, a John Wayne western. Wayne’s character had a smart, loyal dog named….”Dog.” That’s it, just “Dog.” At the movie’s climax, “Dog” gives his life saving Wayne’s character and his character’s grandson. At 15 I was too old and too cool to show it outwardly, but inside I was heartbroken at the onscreen death of “Dog.”
You might be able to see where this is going by now.
In 1995 I was a grown man with children of my own who were almost grown. Cartoonist Lynn Johnston had been writing and drawing a comic strip called “For Better or Worse” since 1979 and I think I had been reading it from the beginning or close to it. Much like the TV series “24′ or it’s predecessor “Murder One”, Johnston kept the strip and its characters in “real time”, aging them as if they lived in the real world, and this created a problem when she realized that the Patterson family dog, Farley, was nearly 14 or 15 years old. So she wrote and drew a storyline in which Farley gives his life saving 4 year old April Patterson from drowning in the nearby river. You can read the archived strips online here.
I remember reading the strip each day and saying, “No, no no!” each day as it progressed toward what seemed its inevitable conclusion. This panel, in particular, had this grown adult man tearing up and sniffling like a child.
And that was The Saddest Moment In Comic Strip History for me.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one as Johnston was inundated with complaints from readers around the world. Legend has it that the late Charles Schultz, upon hearing of the plan to have Farley die, threatened to have his cartoon dog, Snoopy, get hit by a truck if Johnston followed through with the story. Fortunately, he never carried out that threat.
Farley was buried beneath what became known as “Farley’s Tree” and has remained an occasional part of the lives of characters in the strip, sometimes appearing as a spirit or something that only Edgar, Farley’s son, can see.
Do you have something you feel is The Saddest Moment In Comic Strip History? If so, I hope you’ll share in the comments below.
Rest In Peace, Farley. I’m going to get some tissue.
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