I don’t think it’s odd because I am not a LOTR fan, I think it’s odd because most people are not. Even if you don’t read the sports page you have probably heard of the New York Yankees, even if you’re not a fan.
I think you’re underestimating the cultural penetration of LotR. Which is not to say that “most” people are fans - but they are some of the most profitable movies ever made, and have had enough sustained interest that, twenty years later, Amazon is dropping hundreds of millions to make a LotR TV show. Having a LotR reference show up in a bad syndicated comic is only a little more surprising than a Star Wars reference.
The Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit rate on every list as top 10 selling books of all time. All 3 Lord of the Rings movies and the 1st Hobbit moive are top 100 earners of all time. So as Pop culture references go, they’re a pretty good bet.
This is general cultural knowledge at this point though of course not universal.
ETA: My apologies, all 3 Hobbit movies & all 3 Lord of the Rings movies are top 100 earners.
There a quite a few posters on this board who are far more expert in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien than I am, so I’m likely to be corrected on this, but I don’t think that’s right. Or not exactly right.
Tolkien wrote in a style that relied heavily on evocative imagery and metaphor, not detailed physical descriptions. He also was drawing heavily on authentic European folklore and mythology, which was often a complex mix of fuzzy and outright contradictory terms and images.
Sauron was a malevolent entity. At some times, in some places, for some purposes, he had a physical form that was in some ways analogous to a human (he had a hand with fingers on which he wore the One Ring). At other times, in other places, he was a disembodied spirit. He might even have been both at once. That’s not a way of thinking about things that makes much sense to most of us in a post-industrial 21st Century culture, but in pre-modern cultures, that’s not uncommon.
Sauron also had a “lidless, burning eye.” We don’t really know to what extent that was a metaphor, or a physical reality, or a psychic impression, or something else.
Which is all great on the printed page, but movies need physical images. For the Lord of the Rings movies, Peter Jackson interpreted the “lidless, burning eye” as literally as could be - Sauron’s tower literally had a gigantic eye made of flame hovering over it. The cartoon is an accurate representation of the movies’ version of Sauron at the time they mostly took place.
(Even in the movies, though, in a prologue Sauron is an armored humanoid figure. So Sauron could appear in different forms. Or had different forms. Or was perceived differently in different circumstances).
And at one point, he was able to appear pretty much however he wanted, and predictably for a being who could choose his own appearance, he usually chose to be quite attractive. But long before the Lord of the Rings books, he lost the ability to take on a fair form, so whatever forms he had in recent history were all foul.