The Lyman Conundrum
Reading Garfield’s entire 1970s run for a recent Literature Society piece, I was surprised to discover that Jon was not Odie’s original owner. No, that distinction belonged to a mustachioed, disco-dancing doofus named Lyman who showed up on Jon’s doorstep the strip’s first year of existence looking for a place to crash along with his energetic, idiotic pet pooch.
If the name Lyman does not sound familiar to you, despite your deep, obsessive and, let’s face it, just plain psychotic obsession with Garfield that’s probably because after making pretty much zero impression on readers or, more importantly, merchandisers (somehow I can’t imagine Lyman dolls being a big seller) Lyman appeared less and less frequently until he stopped appearing at all.
Lyman’s absence and Jon’s subsequent ownership of Odie was never explained in the comic strip but the show’s superior 1980s animated adaptation Garfield & Friends provided fans much-needed closure by revealing that Lyman went to work as a photographer in Africa, and left Odie in John’s charge.
Jon and Odie seem to have a bit of a Bob Crane/John Carpenter dynamic going on. When asked about Lyman’s absence, Jim Davis once quipped “Don’t look in Jon’s basement!” (which, incidentally, is the title of my new bootleg Garfield-themed YA horror novel), which I interpret as a confession that Jon probably bashed Lyman’s skull in with a tripod during sex play gone awry.
Rumors persist of strips where a wild-eyed Jon brags about his complicated home-video set-up to a clearly concerned Garfield, boasting that he could probably a murder a man with his primitive video camera if he had to.
The world of comic strips did not miss much when poor Lyman disappeared. He wasn’t much of a character, just a jerk with a dog and a thing for disco but he epitomizes a phenomenon that I find fascinating, which is the character or actor or musician or what have you who gets the boot just before something explodes into a massive pop culture phenomenon.
I’m going to call these characters Lymans. They persist throughout pop culture. The Beatles, for example, had two Lymans in the form of original bassist Stu Sutcliffe and original drummer Pete Best. Speaking of drummers, Chad Channing was the Lyman of Nirvana while over on television Richie Cunningham’s lanky, basketball playing brother Chuck was Happy Days’ resident Lyman, disappearing after two seasons due to ferocious disinterest from audiences and the show’s writers alike.
On reality television, Brian Dunkleman reigns as the biggest and perhaps saddest Lyman, having co-hosted alongside Ryan Seacrest American Idol’s first year only to get the boot and watch his smarmy, big-smiling colleague become a hugely successful, ubiquitous mogul and tastemaker while he became a walking punchline, a Trivia Pursuit answer.
There’s something inherently bittersweet and melancholy about Lymans. They come so very close to making it big time only to be cavalierly jettisoned once it becomes apparent that they’re a liability rather than an asset. That tantalizing proximity to incredible success has to make rejection even more brutal and agonizing. To be so close and yet so far away has to be an awful, awful feeling. I wouldn’t know except for that time John Green begged me to write young adult novels with him and I told him that YA was for losers and that the real money was in writing movie reviews for newspapers.
Mark Wahlberg is an interesting Lyman because, in true Lyman form, he was part of New Kids on the Block just before they exploded but unlike a proper Lyman, not only did Mark Wahlberg not disappear forever due to raging public disinterest bur he actually became far more popular and successful than the bubblegum superstars that initially left him behind.
It is a strange, sad thing to be a Lyman, to be a forgotten, or at best half-remembered element of something seemingly everyone knows and loves.
Who are your favorite Lymans? Who have I left out of my list?
I make my living largely through crowd-funding, so if you would consider pledging as little as a dollar a month over at http://patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace it’d be