Garfield is a comic strip created by Jim Davis. Published since June 19, 1978, it chronicles the life of the title character, a cat named 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 never mentioned in print, the comic is set in Muncie, Indiana, the home of Jim Davis, according to the television special Garfield Goes Hollywood. Common themes in the strip are Garfield's laziness, obsessive eating, and hatred of Mondays and diets. The strip focuses on the interactions among Garfield, Jon, and Odie as well as recurring minor characters.
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 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 called Gnorm Gnat, which was met with mostly negative reviews. One editor said that "his art was good, his gags were great," but "nobody can identify with bugs." Davis took the advice and completely created a new strip with a cat as its main character.
The strip originally consisted of four main characters. Garfield, the titular character, who was based on the cats Davis grew up with; 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 came from a radio advertisement Davis had written for Oldsmobile-Cadillac. The fourth character, Lyman, was Odie's original owner; he was written in to give Jon someone to talk with. Davis later realized that Garfield and Jon could "communicate nonverbally", and Lyman was written out.
The strip was originally rejected by King Features Syndicate and Chicago Tribune-New York News; United Feature Syndicate, however, accepted it in 1978. It debuted in 41 newspapers on June 19 of that year. In 1994, Davis's company, Paws, Inc., purchased all rights to the strips from 1978-1993 from United Feature. The strip is currently distributed by Universal Press Syndicate, while rights for the strip remain with Paws.The appearance of the characters have gradually changed over time.
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.
As it progressed, the strip underwent stylistic changes. The appearance of Garfield was probably the most notable; he 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".
Davis is no longer the sole artist of Garfield handing the work over to freelance artist Dan Davis. Though he still writes the stories and draws rough sketches, other artists handle the inking, coloring, and lettering. Davis otherwise spends most of his time managing the business and merchandising of Garfield.
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, and related media. Garfield merchandise consists of a variety of toys, dolls, and DVDs of the movies or the television series.
Garfield: The Movie was the strip's first feature film. Released on June 11, 2004, the movie followed Garfield's quest to save the newly-adopted Odie from a TV pet-show host. The film was panned by most critics, garnering a 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while Yahoo! Movies gave the film a C- grade.
The film's sequel, Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties (2006), did not perform any better in terms of critical reception, gathering an 11% rating from Rotten Tomatoes and a C- grade from Yahoo! Movies.
In 2007, the CGI movie Garfield Gets Real was released. On Rotten Tomatoes, 34% of audience liked the film. On IMDb, the film was given a 4.6/10 and Common Sense Media gave it a 2/5.
Garfield's Fun Fest was the second out of the CGI trilogy, being released in 2008. While not being available on Rotten Tomatoes, the film got a 4.4/10 on IMDb, and a 1/5 on Common Sense Media.
Garfield's Pet Force was the final film released in 2009. 32% audience liked the film on Rotten Tomatoes, while spawning 4.2/10 on IMDb and 1/5 on Common Sense Media.
From 1982 to 1991, twelve primetime Garfield cartoon specials and a one hour-long primetime documentary celebrating the character's 10th anniversary were aired; Lorenzo Music voiced Garfield in all of them. A television cartoon show, Garfield and Friends aired for seven seasons from 1988 to 1994; this adaption also starred Music as the voice of Garfield. The Garfield Show, a CGI series, started production in 2008 to coincide with the strip's 30th anniversary. It premiered in France on France 3 in December 2008 and made its US debut on Cartoon Network on November 2, 2009.
Main article: Garfield.com
Garfield.com is the strip's official website, containing archives of past strips along with games and an online store. Jim Davis has also collaborated with Ball State University and Pearson Digital Learning to create Professor Garfield, a site with educational games focusing on math, reading skills and Children's Technology Group to create MindWalker, a web browser that allows parents to limit the websites their children can view to a pre-set list.
A variety of edited Garfield strips have been made available on the Internet, some hosted on their own unofficial, dedicated sites. Dating from 2005, a site called the "Garfield Randomizer" created a three-panel strip using panels from previous Garfield strips. It was eventually shut down. Another approach, known as "Silent Garfield", involves removing Garfield's thought balloons from the strips. Some examples date from 2006. A webcomic called Arbuckle does the above but also redraws the originals in a different art style. The Arbuckle website creator writes: "'Garfield' changes from being a comic about a sassy, corpulent feline, and becomes a compelling picture of a lonely, pathetic, delusional man who talks to his pets. Consider that Jon, according to Garfield canon, cannot hear his cat's thoughts. This is the world as he sees it. This is his story". Another variation along the same lines, called "Realfield" or "Realistic Garfield", is to redraw Garfield as a real cat as well as removing his thought balloons. Still another approach to editing the strips involves removing Garfield and other main characters from the originals completely, leaving Jon talking to himself. While strips in this vein can be found online as early as 2006, the 2008 site Garfield Minus Garfield by Dan Walsh received enough online attention to be covered by news media. Reception was largely positive: at its peak, the site received as many as 300,000 hits per day. Fans connected with Jon's "loneliness and desperation" and found his "crazy antics" humorous; Jim Davis himself called Walsh's strips an "inspired thing to do" and said that "some of [the strips] work better [than the originals]". Ballantine Books, which publishes the Garfield books, released a volume of Garfield Minus Garfield strips on October 28, 2008. The volume retains Davis as author and features a foreword by Walsh.
Main Articles: Garfield Video games
Garfield has released video games from 1986 to 2013. The first game was Create With Garfield.
Joseph Papp, producer of "A Chorus Line", discussed making a Garfield stage musical, but due to some complications, it never got off ground. A full-length stage musical, titled "Garfield Live", was planned to kick off its USA tour in September 2010, but got moved to January 18, 2011, when it will have its world premiere in Muncie, IN. The book will be written by Jim Davis, with music and lyrics by Michael Dansicker and Bill Meade, and it will be booked by AWA Touring Services. However, no other cast or crew has been announced. The opening song, "Cattitude" can be heard on the national tour's website, along with two more, "On the Fence," and "Going Home!". When the North-American tour concludes in 2012, it will tour throughout Asia. After that, there are high hopes that "Garfield Live" will be licensed to high schools and regional theaters.
Main article: Characters
Garfield is the titular main and primary protagonist who was born in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant. When Garfield ate all the food in the restaurant (and developed a love for lasagna), Garfield was put into a pet shop where Jon Arbuckle bought him.
Gags in the strips commonly deal with Garfield's obesity, his hatred of exercise, or him abusing Jon and Odie. He is portrayed as lazy, fat, pessimistic, sadistic, cynical, sarcastic, sardonic and a bit obnoxious. He enjoys destroying things, mauling the mailman, tormenting Odie, making snide comments, usually about Jon's inability to get a date (which was former). Though Garfield can be very cynical, he does have a soft side for Jon, Odie, his teddy bear, Pooky, food and sleep.
Jonathan Q. Arbuckle is the main human character. He's usually depicted as an awkward clumsy geek who has strange interests. Jon also had a crush on Liz Wilson and due to fan demand, he's now dating her.
Many gags focus is usually attributed to his lack of social skills, his poor taste in clothes, and his eccentric interests which range from stamp collecting to measuring the growth of his toenails. Older gags were Jon failing to secure a date. Other strips portray him as having a lack of intelligence. Jon was born on a farm that apparently contained few amenities. Jon occasionally visits his parents, brother and grandmother at their farm.
Odie is the tritagonist of the strip. 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 naive, happy, affectionate and blissfully unaware of Garfield's cynical, sadistic nature, even despite the physical abuse Garfield exhibits toward him, as in a running gag in the strip in which Garfield shoves or tricks Odie off the coffee table. On some occasions, he has been depicted as intelligent as shown in a few strips. Most strips focus on the size of Odie's tongue and his inscrutability.
Recurring subjects and themes
Many of the gags focus on Garfield's obsessive eating, obesity; his hate of Mondays, diets, any form of exertion, his abuse of Odie and Jon as well as his obsession with mailing Nermal to Abu Dhabi. Garfield has odd relationships with household pests; Garfield generally spares mice, and even cooperates with them to cause mischief (much to Jon's chagrin), but doesn't mind swatting spiders.
Other gags focused on Jon's poor social skills and in older strips focused on his inability to get a date. Before he started dating Liz, he often tried to get dates, usually without success. 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.
Garfield's world has specific locations that appear normally on the comic strips, like the Arbuckle house, the Vet’s office or Irma’s Diner. Irma is a chirpy but slow-witted and unattractive waitress/manager, and one of Jon’s few friends. The terrible food is the center 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 as seen in many comics. On the farm, Jon's mother will cook large dinners much to Garfield's delight. Grandma Arbuckle has on occasions been seen and mentioned. Jon's parents once visited Jon, Garfield, and Odie in the city. Jon's father drove into town on his tractor 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 with embarrassment mostly because of Garfield pigging out, or Jon doing something stupid such as wearing an ugly shirt. When Jon does take Liz on a date, Garfield usually tags along, and once filled up on bread.
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, or give a mere glare when a character is belittled or not impressed. Sometimes, this theme revolves around the conventions of the strip.
Garfield often engages in one-to two-week-long 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, etc.
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 the “National Fat Week,” where Garfield spends the week making fun of skinny people. There was also a storyline involving Garfield catching Odie eating his food and “kicking Odie into next week”. A week after the storyline began, Garfield is lying in his bed with a “nagging feeling that he forgot 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 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 began after his sixth birthday. However, before his 29th birthday, Liz put Garfield on a diet. On June 19, 2007, Garfield was given the what he considered the greatest birthday present: being off his 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 in January or February and beach or heat themed jokes in the summer.
One storyline, which ran the week before Halloween in 1989 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 has been abandoned and he no longer exists. The 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 of strips. His caption, in its entirety states:
"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 involve Garfield getting lost or running away. The longest one of these was in 1986 where it lasted for over a month; it began with Jon telling Garfield to go get the newspaper. Upon walking outside to retrieve it, He wonders 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 as Odie as well 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 & a 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 which he devoured instantly, so Garfield leaves his house and gets locked out. He reunites with his mother, and eventually makes it back home in the snow on Christmas Eve. Part of this storyline was taken from 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 1978-1993 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 color 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.
- June 19, 1978 (USA)
- June 19, 1978 (UK)
- July 31, 1980 (Japan)
- August 13, 1980 (Australia)
- September 18, 1980 (New Zealand)
- September 23, 1980 (Germany)
- July 14, 1981 (Canada)
- October 4, 1981 (Brazil)
- November 10, 1981 (Spain)
- December 21, 1981 (Ireland)
- December 25, 1982 (France)