Review by Ian Keogh
A much loved British newspaper strip titled The Perishers ran from the 1950s to the 1990s, and an annual feature for a week during the summer was the panic caused within a rock pool by the appearance of a dog peering in. Gary’s Garden mines similar territory, as the assorted insects, birds and mammals go about their business, not always fully comprehending what’s going on around them. It’s Gary, however, who understands the least. Sitting in his deckchair on a sunny afternoon he loves listening to the birds sing, completely unaware that what they’re actually doing is making fun of him.
Creator Gary Northfield is another alumni of the Phoenix comic, where these strips first appeared. His is a more genial, good-natured sense of humour than some of his fellow creators, and the predatory aspects of the assorted garden creatures are rarely explored. Cats maintain their attitude toward birds, and the occasional spider will cut up rough, but for the most part the creatures will rub along with each other. And balancing the more aggressive spiders, the main one featured is a music lover. The joke is that no-one can leave his performances as they’re all stuck to his web.
The strips are primarily one or two pages of Northfield’s loose cartooning, but he reserves the right to extend beyond that, and does so with the most oddly affecting strip in the book. A leaf on a tree is drawn with two darker patches resembling eyes, and is seen as having a face by a young ladybird named Melissa. She identifies with it, and talks to it as young children do. We see their interaction through the seasons until a devastated Melissa discovers the leaf’s fallen from the branch. Don’t worry kids, there is a happy ending, which is quite the achievement. The pathos of that strip is at odds with the remainder.
The book ends with a set of top trumps cards should one want to cut them out, featuring every character from the preceding pages, including the leaf, along with amusing commentary. Gary scores 10 in every category, which isn’t the case here, but Gary’s Garden is gentle nonsense, drawn to charm younger children.