5 Tragic Origins Behind Famous Cartoon Character Quirks
Every iconic cartoon character has their own unique trait, signature quirk or characteristic that helps define them. Bugs Bunny has his catchphrase: “What’s up, Doc?” Woody Woodpecker has that maniacal laugh. Winnie the Pooh has a crippling addiction to honey. Seriously, if you’re rolling around in a mud puddle to disguise yourself as a rain cloud just to get your next fix, please seek help immediately.
Even though many of these characters were created purely to entertain/distract children, some iconic hooks have surprisingly depressing origin stories, like how…
Garfield Loves Lasagna Because He Used to Live in an Italian Restaurant
What do we know about Garfield? He hates Mondays (despite not having a job and/or any responsibilities dictated by the start of the week), his owner Jon once casually chugged dog semen and he just loooves lasagna.
Garfield’s penchant for Italian cuisine has an oddly sad in-universe explanation. According to the book Garfield at Large, the titular feline was “born in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant on a winter’s night in 1978.” While living at Mamma Leoni’s Italian Restaurant, Garfield “rolled in the ravioli and ate all the lasagna in sight.”
Before Mamma Leoni’s even got the chance to be shut down by the health inspector, the owner decided to sell Garfield to a pet store, fearing that Garfield’s appetite would put him out of business. But Garfield retained his taste for lasagna, a lingering reminder of his early life and the owner who heartlessly cast him aside.
And judging from the recent trailer, the upcoming Garfield origin movie’s story also involves an Italian restaurant and a whole lot of pathos.
Of course, no Garfield-Italian eatery narrative is quite as sad as the bleak tale of the real-life failed Garfield pizza joint.
Popeye’s Spinach Addiction Was a Direct Result of the Great Depression
Despite his name now being synonymous with fried chicken sandwiches and candy cigarettes for children, Popeye’s only vice is spinach, which, in the Popeye-verse, basically works like black magic-infused, vegan PEDs.
In real life, few sailors used leafy green vegetables to jack themselves up during bar fights. Popeye’s love of spinach was a direct result of the Great Depression. Specifically, the U.S. government was trying to “promote iron-rich spinach as a meat substitute” and enlisted Popeye to help the cause. This explains the short in which Popeye belligerently argues with children about why spinach is better than hamburgers.
Popeye’s propaganda worked: spinach sales “skyrocketed.” The plan also involved hyping canned goods to Americans who were in need of emergency rations, which is why Popeye rarely enjoyed fresh spinach. Although, presumably, the average American couldn’t just open a can by squeezing it like a tube of toothpaste.
Donald Duck’s Anger Issues Stem From His Deep-Rooted Anxiety
In the recent, surprisingly great DuckTales reboot, we finally got an explanation for Donald’s chronic anger issues, and it’s weirdly poignant. In the episode “What Ever Happened to Donald Duck?!” we meet Donald’s anger-management counselor, who reveals the “source” of his fury: Donald’s problems “stem from a fear that the world is out to get him. And that no one understands him. Quite literally.”
So maybe if Walt Disney had made him slightly more comprehensible, Donald wouldn’t have become a rage-filled arsonist.
Kite-Man’s Catchphrase Is a Reference to His Dead Son
Fans of DC’s ultraviolent, definitely-not-for-kids animated series Harley Quinn will be familiar with Kite-Man, the historically lame Batman villain, who is now getting his own spin-off series: Kite-Man: Hell Yeah!
The show’s subtitle, “Hell yeah!” is, of course, Kite-Man’s catchphrase. While it may sound fairly innocuous, one recent comic revealed the hidden layers of tragedy beneath this pithy motto. In Tom King’s Batman run, there was a Kite-Man origin story in which the goofiest possible villain’s son is tragically murdered by the Riddler. We also see that his late child originated the “Hell yeah” expression during a father-son day of kite-flying, which is a little like finding out that the Condiment King’s wife perished in a freak accident at the Heinz factory.
Porky Pig’s Stutter Was a Real Condition That Caused the Actor to Be Fired
The Looney Tunes bench of classic characters is full of people and animals with pronounced speech impediments, from Elmer Fudd to Daffy Duck to the giant rooster that went on to inspire Daniel Craig. But perhaps none is more famous than Porky Pig, whose trademark stutter will forever be associated with the phrase “That’s all folks!”
While Porky may have been conceived of as a sweaty, stuttering swine before his first appearance in 1935, his familiar cadence was created by voice actor Joe Dougherty, who was hired because he really did have “a severe stutter.”
Unfortunately, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Dougherty was fired after just two years of voicing Porky. Why? Because his stutter prolonged the recording sessions, which the studio ultimately decided were becoming “too expensive.” Once Dougherty was given the boot, he was replaced with Mel Blanc, whose fake stutter proved to be far cheaper.
You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this).