Permanent Saturday: Paging Mr. Ducky-White Courtesy Telecan, Please

With deepest apologies to Chris Stangl, Permanent Saturday is a semiregular critical exploration of Jim Davis’ comic strips Garfield and U.S. Acres/Orson’s Farm.

Wade Duck is a pantophobe. Or rather, this is how the other animals on the farm see him: As a sad, pathetic soul who has an irrational fear of everything. And indeed, when Orson’s Farm is adapted for Saturday Morning Cartoon TV as the backup segment of Garfield and Friends, the series gets a great deal of mileage out of this concept. One of the show’s most iconic and defining motifs is having Wade, perfectly voiced by the legendary Howie Morris, hilariously overreacting to any number of insignificant things, ranging from caterpillars to caraway seeds to jelly doughnuts. Sometimes, wildly implausible things, like finding a band of bagpipe players hiding in the closet, or “being attacked by talking flashlight batteries during a potato race”.

But that’s not quite an apt description of the Wade who appears in the actual Orson’s Farm comic strip. Wade as written by Jim Davis is indeed afraid of most everything, but there’s a critical difference here: Wade is afraid of literally everything because literally everything has his number. Wade is a cosmic plaything akin to Wile E. Coyote except on an even grander and more exaggerated scale: The laws of nature and the very logic of narrative will warp, contort and distend in grotesque ways in order to make sure that Wade Duck and Wade Duck in particular suffers. Wade will sing “Home on the Range” and get attacked by the animals and objects in the song, because fuck Wade Duck. Booker and Sheldon will build a pretend set of train tracks out of sticks and, through pure accident, summon. an actual train that will collide with innocent bystander Wade head on because fuck Wade Duck. Wade will slide down a slide, then reverse direction and slide back up the slide and get launched into orbit in complete defiance of every law of gravitational physics because fuck Wade Duck.

It’s like what they always say about paranoia. It’s not really paranoia if everything actually is trying to kill you.
The choice of the telephone for this strip is therefore somewhat deceptive at first glance, as all great Garfield and Orson’s Farm jokes ultimately are. A common, everyday household object, Wade’s evident dread of it seems like a typical Garfield and Friends gag: Silly Wade is afraid of completely innocent and inoffensive things. And this would make sense, especially as, given the mid August 1988 publication date (and even accommodating for the strips’ lengthy advance writing), while Garfield and Friends would not have yet been on the air, it was almost certainly late in development and Jim Davis and Brett Koth absolutely knew everything that was going on as it got closer to launch. But there are a number of different ways we could read this: Perhaps, since Jim Davis originally conceived of Orson’s Farm as a way to affectionately satirize his childhood growing up on a rural Indiana farm, Wade is being naive and provincial.

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