HEATHCLIFFOriginal medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: McNaught Syndicate
First Appeared: 1973
Creator: George Gately
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Publicity materials from Creators Syndicate, which distributes Heathcliff to some 200-odd newspapers, indicate that it was the first comics feature to star a cat. This isn't precisely accurate, as
Krazy Kat beat him into print by a quite a few decades. But the probable intent of the statement is to claim primacy over the better-known Garfield without actually naming the rival feature, and in that sense it is quite true. Debuting on Monday, September 3, 1973, the Heathcliff panel had been running a little more than five years when its highly successful imitator first appeared.
Comics' first realistically self-centered pet cat protagonist was created by cartoonist George Gately Gallagher, who, to avoid confusion with his older brother John, also a successful cartoonist, dropped his last name in signing his work. It was Gately's second syndicated comic — the first, The Chicago Tribune Syndicate's Hapless Harry (about a perpetual victim along the lines of H.T. Webster's Caspar Milquetoast or Art Sansom's The Born Loser) didn't make it. But Heathcliff, which was originally distributed by McNaught Syndicate (Napoleon & Uncle Elby, Mickey Finn), was soon appearing from coast to coast. Millions of readers became fans of the fat, pugnacious star and his supporting cast, the Nutmeg family (Grandma, Grandpa, Iggy and Marcy), his girlfriend in the neighborhood pet community (Sonja, no relation, a white Persian pussycat), and the local bully (Spike, a bulldog).
Besides beating Garfield onto the newspaper page, Heathcliff also beat him into television. His first Saturday morning series, The Heathcliff & Dingbat Show (the other title character being a vampire dog who starred in the second of two segments, and no relation), debuted on ABC on October 4, 1980. It was produced by Ruby-Spears, a TV animation outfit also responsible for Thundarr the Barbarian, the 1983 incarnation of Alvin & the Chipmunks, and a 1979 show starring DC Comics' Plastic Man. Voices heard on the show included those of Julie McWhirter (Baby Smurf, Vampira in Drak Pack), June Foray (Rocket J. Squirrel, Grammi Gummi) and, as the cat himself, Mel Blanc (dozens of voices at Warner Bros., Hanna-Barbera and elsewhere). The following year, a third segment was added, starring Marmaduke, the canine star of cartoonist Brad Anderson's daily panel, and the title was changed to The Heathcliff & Marmaduke Show. McWhirter left, and Foray took over her role (Sonja). 26 episodes were made of each.
Another animated series was made three years later by DiC Enterprises (Kissyfur, Captain Planet). Heathcliff & the Catillac Cats (the latter, again, being the second of two segments) ran 65 episodes, which debuted in syndication during September, 1984. Blanc again did Heathcliff's voice. Other cast members included Marilyn Lightstone (Mom in the 1986 Dennis the Menace, Crasher in GoBots) and Danny Mann (several voices in The Tick and Darkwing Duck).
The same cast played those roles one last time in the cat's feature-length film, which DiC released to theatres on January 17, 1986. Other voices in Heathcliff: the Movie included Peter Cullen (Winnie the Pooh's friend Eeyore), Jeannie Elias (Huey in Quack Pack), Stan Jones (Richie Rich's father), Marilyn Schreffler (various voices in Kwicky Koala), Danny Wells (Luigi in Super Mario Brothers) and Ted Zeigler (several voices in later versions of Scooby-Doo).
Marvel Comics did a comic book version of Heathcliff, starting with a cover date of April, 1985, written and drawn by Gately. It was among the more successful of the company's Star Comics imprint (which was aimed at younger readers), running 56 issues, the last dated February, 1991. There was also a spin-off, Heathcliff's Funhouse, which ran ten issues, 1987-88. Heathcliff later appeared in the anthology, Star Comics magazine. He even had a crossover with one of Star Comics' original characters, Top Dog.
George Gately died on September 30, 2001. Heathcliff continues under the direction of his nephew and former assistant, Peter Gallagher.