From left to right:
Nermal, Odie, Garfield, Arlene & Pooky
|Current status / schedule||Running/Daily|
|Launch date||June 19, 1978|
|Syndicate(s)|| Universal Press Syndicate (current) (1994–present)
United Feature Syndicate (former) (1978–1993)
|Publisher(s)||Random House (under Ballantine Books), occasionally Andrews McMeel Publishing|
Garfield is a comic strip created by Jim Davis. Published since June 19, 1978, it chronicles the life of the title character, the cat Garfield (named after Davis's grandfather); his owner, Jon Arbuckle; and Arbuckle's dog, Odie. As of 2007, it was syndicated in roughly 2,580 newspapers and journals, and held the Guinness World Record for being the world's most widely syndicated comic strip.
Though this is rarely mentioned in print, Garfield is set in Muncie, Indiana, the home of Jim Davis, according to the television special Garfield Goes Hollywood. Common themes in the strip include Garfield's laziness, obsessive eating, and hatred of Mondays and diets. The strip's focus is mostly on the interactions among Garfield, Jon, and Odie, but recurring minor characters appear as well. Originally created with the intentions to "come up with a good, marketable character", Garfield has spawned merchandise earning $750 million to $1 billion annually. In addition to the various merchandise and commercial tie-ins, the strip has spawned several animated television specials, two animated television series, two theatrical feature-length live-action films and three CGI animated direct-to-video movies. Part of the strip's broad appeal is due to its lack of social or political commentary; though this was Davis's original intention, he also admitted that his "grasp of politics isn't strong", remarking that, for many years, he thought " OPEC was a denture adhesive".
In the 1970s the comic strip artist Jim Davis authored a strip, Gnorm Gnat, which met with little success. One editor said that "his art was good, his gags were great," but "nobody can identify with bugs." Davis took his advice and created a new strip with a cat as its main character. The strip originally consisted of four main characters. Garfield, the titular character, was based on the cats Davis was around growing up; he took his name and personality from Davis's grandfather James A. Garfield Davis, who was, in Davis's words, "a large cantankerous man". Jon Arbuckle came from a coffee commercial from the 1950s, and Odie was based on a car dealership commercial written by Jim Davis, which featured Odie the Village Idiot. Early on in the strip Odie's owner was a man named Lyman. He was written in to give Jon someone to talk with. Davis later realized that Garfield and Jon could "communicate nonverbally". The strip originally centered on Jon, being rejected by the King Features, Post-Hall and the Chicago Tribune- New York News agencies, all which asked Davis to focus on the cat, who in their opinion, got the better lines. United Feature Syndicate accepted the retooled strip in 1978 and debuted it in 41 newspapers on June 19 of that year (however after a test run, the Chicago Sun-Times dropped it, only to reinstate it after readers' complaints). Garfield's first Sunday page ran on June 25, 1978, being featured as a third-pager until March 22, 1981. A half page debuted the following Sunday (March 29), with the strips for March 14 and 21, 1982, having a unique nine-panel format, but UFS curtailed further use of it (but it allowed Davis to use the format for his U.S. Acres strip).
The strip's subject matter in the early months varied from the pattern it later settled into. Some could be seen today as politically incorrect, such as strips involving Jon's pipe smoking or his subscription to a bachelor magazine. Another point which has distanced these strips was the U.S./Canada-centric humor, with a few jokes being totally untranslatable to some languages, however by 1980, the strip became the universal family fare product for which it is now known.
More notably, the strip underwent stylistic changes with 1978–83 strips being more realistic, while comics from 1984 onwards have been more cartoony. This change has essentially affected Garfield's design; who underwent a "Darwinian evolution" in which he began walking on his hind legs, "slimmed down", and "stopped looking [...] through squinty little eyes". His evolution, according to Davis, was to make it easier to "push Odie off the table" or "reach for a piece of pie". Jon also underwent major changes, and still currently is. Now, he looks older than 1990 strips; he is taller and he has larger features.
Garfield quickly became a commercial success. In 1981, less than three years after its release, the strip appeared in 850 newspapers and accumulated over $15 million in merchandise. To manage the merchandise, Davis founded Paws, Inc. By 2002, Garfield became the world's most syndicated strip, appearing in 2,570 newspapers with 263 million readers worldwide; by 2004, Garfield appeared in nearly 2,600 newspapers and sold from $750 million to $1 billion worth of merchandise in 111 countries. In 1994, Davis's company, Paws, Inc., purchased all rights to the strips from 1978 to 1993 from United Feature. The strip is currently distributed by Universal Press Syndicate, while rights for the strip remain with Paws.
While retaining creative control and being the only signer, Davis now only writes and usually does the rough sketches. Since the late 1990's most of the work has been done by long-time assistants Brett Koth and Gary Barker. Inking and coloring work is done by other artists while Davis spends most of the time supervising production and merchandising of his characters.
Garfield was originally created by Davis with the intention to come up with a "good, marketable character". Now the world's most syndicated comic strip, Garfield has spawned a "profusion" of merchandise including clothing, toys, games, Caribbean cruises, credit cards, dolls, DVDs of the movies or the TV series, and related media.
Through the Garfield strips, there have been many additional characters, but the four main ones are described here.
First appearance: June 19, 1978
Garfield is an orange, fuzzy, tabby cat born in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant (later revealed in the television special Garfield: His 9 Lives to be Mama Leoni's Italian Restaurant) and immediately ate all the pasta and lasagna in sight, thus developing his love and obsession for lasagna and pizza. Gags in the strips commonly deal with Garfield's obesity (in one strip, Jon jokes, "I wouldn't say Garfield is fat, but the last time he got on a Ferris wheel, the two guys on top starved to death"), and his hatred of any form of exertion or work. He is known for saying "breathing is exercise". In addition to being portrayed as lazy and fat, Garfield is also pessimistic, sadistic, cynical, sarcastic, sardonic and a bit obnoxious. He enjoys destroying things, mauling the mailman, tormenting Odie, kicking Odie off the table; he also makes snide comments, usually about Jon's inability to get a date (in one strip, when Jon bemoans the fact that no one will go out with him on New Year's, Garfield replies, "Don't feel bad Jon. They wouldn't go out with you even if it weren't New Year's"). Though Garfield can be very cynical, he does have a soft side for his teddy bear, Pooky, food and sleep, but one Christmas he says "they say I have to get up early, be nice to people, skip breakfast...I wish it would never end." It has been wondered by many readers if Garfield can actually be understood by the non animal characters around him. Sometimes it seems like Jon can hear him. However, it is mentioned in more than one strip that Jon cannot understand Garfield.
First appearance: June 19, 1978
Jon (Jonathan Q. Arbuckle) is Garfield's owner, usually depicted as an awkward clumsy geek who has trouble finding a date. Jon also had a crush on Liz (Garfield's veterinarian) and is now dating her. In the December 23, 1980 strip, Jon states that he is 30 years old (meaning he is 61 years old as of January 2012, although he has not aged physically). Jon loves (or occasionally hates) Garfield and all cats. Many gags focus on this; his inability to get a date is usually attributed to his lack of social skills, his poor taste in clothes (Garfield remarked in one strip after seeing his closet that "two hundred moths committed suicide"; in another, the "geek police" ordered Jon to "throw out his tie"), and his eccentric interests which range from stamp collecting to measuring the growth of his toenails to watching movies with " polka ninjas". Other strips portray him as lacking intelligence (he is seen reading a pop-up book in one strip). Jon was born on a farm that apparently contained few amenities; in one strip, his father, upon seeing indoor plumbing, remarks, "Woo-ha! Ain't science something?" Jon occasionally visits his parents, brother and grandmother at their farm. It was implied that Jon is inspired by a drawing of Davis himself when he was first drawing the strip. Jon was initially portrayed as a cartoonist in earlier strips, as Jim Davis stated this would've been a way to express his own frustrations as a cartoonist himself, but this eventually faded in the later strips. It is revealed in the May 18, 1992 strip that he wears contact lenses.
First appearance: August 8, 1978
Odie is a yellow, long-eared beagle with a large, slobbering tongue, who walks on all four legs, though occasionally he will walk on two like Garfield. He was originally owned by Jon’s friend Lyman, though Jon adopted him after Lyman was written out of the strip. Odie is usually portrayed as naïve, happy, affectionate and blissfully unaware of Garfield's cynical, sadistic nature, despite the physical abuse Garfield exhibits toward him, including regularly kicking him off the kitchen table or tricking him into going over the edge himself. On some occasions, however, he is depicted more intelligently, as one strip, in which he holds a heavy rock to prevent Garfield from doing this, and actually hurts Garfield's foot. In one strip when Garfield and Jon are out of the house, Odie is seen reading War and Peace and watching a television program, An Evening With Mozart. Odie has only talked once. In another strip, published on January 28, 2010, he is seen solving Jon's sudoku puzzle. Strips that play off of the size of Odie's tongue and his inscrutability include one in which Garfield remarks, "Is there any wonder why there's no room in his head for a brain?", and another in which Garfield pulls Odie's tail, which results in his tongue being pulled out.
Dr. Liz Wilson
First appearance: June 26, 1979
Dr. Liz Wilson is Garfield's veterinarian and a long-time crush of Jon Arbuckle. Although she has a somewhat deadpan, sardonic persona, she never reacts negatively to Jon's outlandish and goofball behaviour, even finding it endearing on occasion. Jon often attempts to ask her out on a date, but rarely succeeds; however, in an extended story arc from June 19 to July 29, 2006 (the main event on July 28), Liz and Jon kiss. Now, they are a dating couple.
In a few of the July 2007 strips, Garfield became jealous of Liz until they became friends July 24.
In a 2008 strip that appeared at June 8 and also in Garfield 2: A Tail of Two Kitties, it is implied that Jon and Liz will eventually marry. However, in many books and interviews, Jim Davis reveals that he has no definite plans for a Jon/Liz marriage.
Recurring subjects and themes
Many of the gags focus on Garfield's obsessive eating and obesity; his hate of Mondays, diets, and any form of exertion; his constant shedding (which constantly annoys Jon); and his abuse of Odie and Jon as well as his obsession with mailing Nermal to Abu Dhabi. Though he will eat nearly anything (with the exception of raisins and spinach), Garfield is particularly fond of lasagna; he also enjoys eating Jon's houseplants and other pets (mainly birds and fish). He also has odd relationships with household pests; Garfield generally spares mice, and even cooperates with them to cause mischief (much to Jon's chagrin), but will readily swat or pound spiders flat. Other gags focused on Jon's poor social skills and inability to get a date; before he started dating Liz, he often tried to get dates, usually without success (in one strip, after failing to get a date with "Nancy", he tried getting a date with her mother and grandmother; he ended up getting "shot down by three generations".) When he does get a date, it usually goes awry; Jon's dates have slashed his tires, been tranquilized, and called the police when he stuck carrots in his ears. The storylines featuring Jon's dates rarely appear now. Before, he had dates with many odd characters, whereas now, he exclusively dates Liz.
Garfield's world has specific locations that appear normally on the comic strips, like the Vet’s office, a place he loathes. Irma’s Diner is another occasional setting. Irma is a chirpy but slow-witted and unattractive waitress/manager, and one of Jon’s few friends. The terrible food is the centre of most of the jokes, along with the poor management. Jon periodically visits his parents and brother on the farm. This results in week-long comical displays of stupidity by Jon and his family, and their interactions. There is a comic strip where Jon's brother Doc Boy is watching two socks in the dryer spinning and Doc Boy calls it entertainment. On the farm, Jon's mother will cook huge dinners; Garfield hugs her for this. Jon has a grandmother who, in a strip, kicked Odie; Garfield subsequently hugged her. Jon's parents once visited Jon, Garfield, and Odie in the city. Jon's father drove into town on his tractor (which he double-parked) and brought a rooster to wake him up. As Garfield has a love for food, they will often eat out at restaurants. Most trips end up embarrassing because Garfield will pig out, or Jon will do something stupid, including wearing an ugly shirt, which happened one night when he took Liz on a date. When Jon does take Liz on a date, Garfield always tags along, and he once ate all the bread, along with all the rest of the food in the place. Frequently, the characters break the fourth wall, mostly to explain something to the readers, talk about a subject that often sets up the strip's punchline (like Jon claiming that pets are good for exercise right before he finds Garfield in the kitchen and chases him out), or give a mere glare when a character is belittled or not impressed. Sometimes, this theme revolves around the conventions of the strip; for example, in one strip, Garfield catches a cold and complains about it, noting, "I can hardy eben understad by own thoughts."
Garfield often engages in one- to two-week-long (6 to 12 days, excluding Sundays) interactions with a minor character, event, or thing, such as Nermal, Arlene, the mailman, alarm clocks, a talking scale, the TV, Pooky, spiders, mice, balls of yarn, dieting, shedding, pie throwing, fishing, vacations, Irma's diner, etc. However, since 2010 these continuities have become relatively scarce, with a theme or character now usually featured on a specific day of the week (especially with the Jon-Liz dates, which have mostly taken place on Fridays).
One particular semi-recurring storyline features Jon and Liz on a date in a restaurant. They sometimes are waited on by the Italian Armando, who is refined and sophisticated and shows a great loathing towards Jon, presumably for his immature and uncouth behaviour at the prestigious eatery. On other occasions, the couple receives a different waiter, such as a large ogre-like man who intimidates Jon when he is about to report a complaint about the food.
Other unique themes are things like “Garfield’s Believe it or Don’t,” “Garfield’s Law", “Garfield’s History of Dogs, and “Garfield’s History of Cats,” which show science, history and the world from Garfield’s point of view. Another particular theme is "National Fat Week," where Garfield spends the week making fun of skinny people. Also, there was a storyline involving Garfield catching Odie eating his food and “kicking Odie into next week.” Soon, Garfield realizes that “Lunch isn’t the same without Odie. He always slips up behind me, barks loudly and makes me fall into my food,” (Garfield subsequently falls into his food by himself). A few days after the storyline began, Garfield is lying in his bed with a “nagging feeling I'm forgetting something,” with Odie landing on Garfield in the next panel. Ever since Jon and Liz began to go out more frequently, Jon has started hiring pet sitters to look after Garfield and Odie, though they don't always work out. Two particular examples are Lillian, an eccentric (and very nearsighted) old lady with odd quirks, and Greta, a muscle bound woman who was hired to look after the pets during New Years. Most of December is spent preparing for Christmas, with a predictable focus on presents. Another example is "Splut Week", when Garfield tries to avoid pies that are thrown at him. For most of Garfield's history, being hit with a pie has inevitably resulted in the onomatopoeia 'splut', hence the name.
Every week before June 19, the strip focuses on Garfield's birthday, which he dreads because of his fear of getting older. This started happening after his sixth birthday. However, before his 29th birthday, Liz put Garfield on a diet. On June 19, 2007, Garfield was given the greatest birthday present: “I’M OFF MY DIET!” Occasionally the strip celebrates Halloween as well with scary-themed jokes, such as mask gags. There are also seasonal jokes, with snow-related gags common in January or February and beach or heat themed jokes in the summer.
One storyline, which ran the week before Halloween in 1989 ( Oct 23 to Oct 28), is unique among Garfield strips in that it is not meant to be humorous. It depicts Garfield awakening in a future in which the house is abandoned and he no longer exists. In tone and imagery the storyline for this series of strips is very similar to the animation segment for Valse Triste from Allegro non troppo, which depicts a ghostly cat roaming around the ruins of the home it once inhabited. In Garfield’s Twentieth Anniversary Collection, in which the strips are reprinted, Jim Davis discusses the genesis for this series:
During a writing session for Halloween, I got the idea for this decidedly different series of strips. I wanted to scare people. And what do people fear most? Why, being alone. We carried out the concept to its logical conclusion and got a lot of responses from readers. Reaction ranged from 'Right on!' to 'This isn't a trend, is it?'
One of the recurring storylines involves Garfield getting lost or running away. The longest one of these lasted for over a month (in 1986 August 25 to September 28); it began with Jon telling Garfield to go get the newspaper. Garfield walks outside to get it, but speculates about what will happen if he wanders off – and decides to find out. Jon notices Garfield has been gone too long, so he sends Odie out to find him. He quickly realizes his mistake (Odie, being not too bright, also gets lost). Jon starts to get lonely, so he offers a reward for the return of Garfield and Odie. He is not descriptive, so animals including an elephant, monkeys, a seal, a snake, a kangaroo & joey, and turtles are brought to Jon’s house for the reward. After a series of events, including Odie being adopted by a small girl, both pets meeting up at a circus that they briefly joined, and both going to a pet shop, Garfield and Odie make it back home.
Another story involved Jon going away on a business trip around Christmas time, leaving Garfield a week's worth of food (it was more like 11 second's worth of food) which he devoured instantly, so Garfield leaves his house and gets locked out. He then reunites with his mother, and eventually makes it back home in the snow on Christmas Eve (1984 December 3 to 23). Part of this storyline was taken from the 1983 Emmy-winning special Garfield on the Town.
Paws, Inc. was founded in 1981 by Jim Davis to support the Garfield comic strip and its licensing. It is located in Muncie, Indiana and has a staff of nearly 50 artists and licensing administrators. In 1994, the company purchased all rights to the Garfield comic strips from 1978 to 1993 from United Feature Syndicate. However, the original black and white daily strips and original color Sunday strips remain copyrighted to United Feature Syndicate. The full colour daily strips and recolored Sunday strips are copyrighted to Paws as they are considered a different product. The strip is currently distributed by Universal Press Syndicate, however, rights for the strip remain with Paws, Inc.
2010 Veterans Day controversy
Davis attracted criticism for a Garfield strip in which the last panel appeared to be a negative reference to Veterans Day that appeared in newspapers on November 11, 2010. In the strip, a spider who is about to be squashed by Garfield boasts that if he is squished, he will get a holiday in his remembrance. The next panel shows a classroom of spiders in which a teacher asks the students why spiders celebrate "National Stupid Day," implying that the spider was squished. Davis quickly apologized for the poorly timed comic strip, claiming that it had been written a year in advance and that both his brother and son were veterans.
The three panel strip was one in a series that featured Garfield interacting with spiders.
Square Root of Minus Garfield, abbreviated as SRoMG by David Morgan-Mar
Before its acquisition by Google, the gmail.com domain name was used by a free e-mail service offered by Garfield.com, online home of the comic strip Garfield. After moving to a different domain, that service has since been discontinued.