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Garfield (Comic Strip)

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Garfield Comic Strip
Garfield at 25.
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Author

Jim Davis

Website

Garfield.com

Syndicate(s)

Paws, Inc. (current) (1994-present) (recolored comic strips) Universal Press Syndicate (current) (1994-present) United Feature Syndicate (former) (1978-1993)

Publisher

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 never 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; 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."


History

In the 1970s the comic strip artist Jim Davis, authored a strip, Gnorm Gnat, which 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 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 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 gradually changed over time. The left panel is taken from a 1980 strip; the right is from a 1990 strip.

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. Though he still writes the stories and rough sketches, other artists handle the inking, coloring, and lettering. Davis otherwise spends most of his time managing the business and merchandising of Garfield.

Marketing

See also: Garfield merchandise and Garfield statues

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 TV series.

Media

Feature films

Main articles: Garfield: The Movie and Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties

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. While some critics lauded the casting of Bill Murray as the title character, Garfield: The Movie met with mostly negative reviews: Manohla Dargis of the Los Angeles Times called it "soulless excuse for entertainment", while Desson Thomson of The Washington Post said of the film "There's nothing to recommend about this film except its sheer innocuousness". The film garnered 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.

Internet

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 and reading skills and with 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.

Television

From 1982 to 1991, twelve primetime Garfield cartoon specials and 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 in December 2008 and made its US debut on Cartoon Network on November 2, 2009.

Video games

Main article: Garfield: Big Fat Hairy Deal

Garfield: Big Fat Hairy Deal' is a 1987 computer game for the Atari ST, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and the Amiga based on the comic strip. Sega also made video games based on Garfield for the Genesis and Windows 3.1 computers, as well as other companies made games, such as A Tale of Two Kitties for the DS, published by Game Factory.

Stage

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 characters

Main article: List of Garfield characters

Through the Garfield strips, there have been many additional characters, but the three main ones are described here.

Garfield

First appearance: June 19, 1978

I'm not overweight, I'm undertall. Garfield At Large: His First Book (1980)

Garfield is an orange, fuzzy, tabby cat of Maine coon breed 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 a love and obsession for lasagna. 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 exercise (or any form of 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."

Jon Arbuckle

Jon

First appearance: June 19, 1978

Jon: Here's my sixth-grade report card. My parents were so proud. Garfield, reading the report card: "Jon has not shoved any crayons up his nose this term." Garfield (1996)

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. 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 having a lack of 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.

Odie

Odie

First appearance: August 8, 1978

Jon: I think I'm having some kind of identity crisis. Garfield, walking past Odie who is lying in a kitchen drawer: He thinks he's having an identity crisis....Odie thinks he's a potato peeler. Garfield (1991)

Odie, a yellow, long-eared beagle with a large, slobbering tongue, who walks on all four legs. 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, 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, 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. In another strip, he is seen solving Jon's sudoku puzzle. Strips that play off of the size of Odie's tongue and his inscrutability include on 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.

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; 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 doesn't mind swatting spiders. 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.

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 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. 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 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 (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, "Eben my thoughts are stuffed ub."

Short storylines

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. 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 week 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 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. Right panel of Oct 27, 1989 strip.

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 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 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 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. Part of this storyline was taken from the 1983 Emmy-winning special Garfield on the Town.

Paws, Inc.

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.



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