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Garfield!

by James R. Davids

Garfield is a comic strip created by Jim Davis.

Garfield has been published starting 19 June 1978.  Garfield is named after Jim Davis' grandfather.  The comic strip is about the life of a cat named Garfield, his owner John Arbuckle and a dog named Odie. 

During 2007 the comic strip was syndicated in roughly 2,580 newspapers and journals.  It hold the Guinness World Record for 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 intention 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.

The broad appeal may partly be 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."

It all started when Jim Davis tried out creating a comic strip called Gnorm Gnat, but the reviews were mostly negative.   One editor said that "his art was good, his gags were great," but "nobody can identify with bugs."

Following this advice, Davis created a new strip with a cat as the main character.

The strip originally consisted of four main characters. Garfield was based on cats Davis was around growing up.  The name and personality he took from Davis's grandfather James A. Garfield Davis (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.

Odie's owner early on in the strip was a man named Lyman. He was written in to give Jon someone to talk with.

But Davis later realized that Garfield and Jon could "communicate nonverbally" (Garfield always "talks" with a "think" bubble, not a dialogue bubble like the people in the strip.)

The strip was originally rejected by King Features Syndicate and Chicago Tribune-New York News. United Feature Syndicate, however, accepted it in 1978.

Garfield debuted in 41 newspapers on 19 June 1978.

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.

Over time the appearance of the characters changed quite drastically.  Starting out with completely round little eyes, the characters' eyes became more and more oval and big.  John also seems to have started out as a cartoonist by profession, but if you've been a fan of the Garfield strips you probably realized by now that not much came of it. 

Above:  Strip from 1978

Below:  Strip from 2003

Garfield 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".

Less than three years after Garfield's 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 was the most syndicated strip 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.

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.

Personally I'm addicted to Garfield strips.  Watch out however, cuz all that sarcasm stick in your head! 

GOOD NEWS:  All the strips are available for free viewing on Garfield.com!  Yes, I started at the first one and watched a few hundred :)  I still prefer a physical book with the printed strips in them though - nice to have a good book when you have a little time to relax.


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