is a daily-syndicated comic strip
created by Jim Davis
. Published since June 19
, it chronicles the life of the title character, the cat Garfield
(named for Davis's grandfather); his owner, Jon Arbuckle
; and the dog, Odie
. As of 2007, it is syndicated in roughly 2,580 newspapers
and currently holds the Guinness World Record
for being the world's most widely syndicated comic strip
Though never mentioned in print, Garfield is set in Muncie, Indiana, according to the television special Garfield Goes Hollywood. Common themes in the strip include Garfield's laziness, obsessive eating, and hate of Mondays and diets. The strip's focus is mostly on the interactions between 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 become commercially successful, with 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".
In the 1970s, Davis authored a strip, Gnorm Gnat
; it met with mostly negative reviews. One editor told Davis 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
. 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 forty-one newspapers on June 19 of that year. In 1994, Davis' company, Paws, Inc.
, purchased all rights to the strips from 1978-1993 from United Feature. The strip is currently distributed by Universal Press Syndicate
, however, rights for the strip remain with Paws.
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 2570 newspapers with 263 million readers worldwide; by 2004, Garfield appeared in nearly 2600 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 creates the stories and rough sketches, other artists handle the inking, coloring, and lettering; Davis spends most of his time managing the business and merchandising of Garfield.
Marketing and other media
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: The Movie
was the strip's first feature film
. Released on June 11
, 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 RottenTomatoes
, 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, garnering an 11% rating from RottenTomatoes and a C- grade from Yahoo! Movies.
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.
In addition to official Garfield websites, there are unofficial fan-made sites with edited Garfield strips. Blogger Dan Walsh created Garfield Minus Garfield, in which Garfield and other main characters are removed from the original strips, leaving Jon talking to himself. 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 the strip an "inspired thing to do" and said that "some of [the strips] work better [than the originals]". Ballantine Books, which publishes the Garfield books, will release a volume of Garfield Minus Garfield strips on October 28, 2008. Another comic, Arbuckle, removes Garfield's thought-bubbles from the strips in order to depict what Jon Arbukle would be experiencing. The website creator wrote, "'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". A third site, Garfield Randomizer, created a three-panel strip using panels from previous Garfield strips. It was eventually shut down.
From 1982 to 1991, twelve primetime Garfield
specials were aired; in all of them, Garfield was voiced by Lorenzo Music
. A television show, Garfield and Friends
aired from 1988 to 1994; this adaption also starred Music as the voice of Garfield. The Garfield Show
, which is a CGI miniseries
, will premiere on Cartoon Network
First Appearance: June 19, 1978
Garfield was born in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant (later revealed in the television special Garfield: His Nine Lives to be Mama Leoni's Italian Restaurant) and subsequently developed a taste 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), diets, and Mondays. In addition to being portrayed as lazy and fat, Garfield is also pessimistic, cynical, sarcastic and sardonic. He enjoys destroying things, mauling the mailman, and tormenting Odie; he also makes snide comments, usually about Jon's inability to get a date (in one strip, when Jon moans 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.")
Jonathan "Jon" Q. Arbuckle
First Appearance: June 19, 1978
Jon is Garfield and Odie's owner, usually depicted as an awkward geek who has trouble finding a date. 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 with supposedly few amenities; in one strip, his father, upon seeing indoor plumbing, remarks, "Woo-ha! Ain't science something? Jon occasionally visits his family (consisting of his mother, father, and brother) at their farm.
First Appearance: August 8, 1978
Odie, a yellow, long-eared beagle who drools and walks on all four legs, was originally owned by Jon’s friend Lyman, though Jon adopted him after Lyman was written out of the strip. Odie is mostly portrayed as naive and unintelligent, though one strip showed him reading War and Peace and watching a television program, An Evening With Mozart, after Jon and Garfield had left the house. Odie is often subjected to physical abuse by Garfield.
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. Though he will eat nearly anything, Garfield is particularly fond of lasagna
; he also enjoys eating Jon's houseplants and other pets (including birds and fish). Garfield does not eat mice, however; he even hates catching them, much to Jon's chagrin. Garfield enjoys destroying things: he claws up Jon's furniture, breaks his curio
, and ruins the lawn of their neighbor, Mrs. Feeny. (In response, she set up a moat around her house and issued Jon a restraining order.)
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 TV chair is one of Garfield’s favorite places, where he entertains himself with shows like Binky the Clown, "Cluck with Chuck", "Moo with Fred", and others. Many of the shows mentioned are absurd and stupid, and give Jim Davis an opportunity to comment on pop culture. In a few early strips the chair had a floral print, but Garfield sneezed it off after having an allergic reaction to the flowers. In earlier strips Garfield doesn’t use the chair at all; he is perched on top of the TV and bends his head down, planting his face right in front of the screen.
- Early in the strip, Garfield would spend time on the window ledge and sometimes get trapped in the roll-up blinds. One of these events culminated in a two-week storyline in which Garfield, Odie, and Jon all got trapped in the blinds. The blinds give way eventually, and Jon ends up wandering around the city, still trapped in the blinds with his pets and getting two complete strangers and even a street lamp caught with them until a fireman frees them with a pair of scissors. This was one of the few storylines in which a Sunday strip was part of the regular story arc. After this, Jon bought Venetian blinds (which Garfield, somehow, still manages to get stuck in).
- The fence in the alley is an area where Garfield often goes. He often tells bad jokes. Odie joins the act from time to time, once as a ventriloquist’s dummy, once as “Mr. Skins,” who accompanied Garfield on the drums, and once as a cue card boy. Garfield is frequently the target of disgusted fans (usually unseen), who throw shoes, pie, vegetables, and houseplants, and other things that would hurt, at him, and once burned down his fence with flaming arrows (Garfield’s temporary replacement, a plastic flamingo, just “didn’t feel the same”). Garfield, however, loves the attention he receives, and once complained that he thought a joke deserved more than a single shoe. He does sometimes get applause from his audience (once Odie held the applause sign upside down and the fans clapped upside down) though one time the audience consisted solely of his mother, another time the custodian. He apparently has to be booked onto the fence by an agent (in one strip, his agent booked him a gig on a chain link fence). Everyone thinks Odie makes better entertainment. When asked how Garfield could stand on the fence without falling, it was revealed the fence was apparently very wide.
- Up the tree is another area where Garfield often traps himself. Garfield knows how to climb, but ironically can never overcome the urge ("Why, oh why, oh why, oh why, do cats do these things?" he once lamented). A firefighter usually has to save him on the final day of the week. Once, Jon got trapped at the top of the tree trying to get him down and once, Garfield tried to run down the tree, crashing into the ground at the bottom. Another time, a firefighter came to rescue him, but when he complained about “always getting the fat ones,” Garfield sent the fireman’s ladder crashing to the ground.
- Occasionally, Garfield will be taken to the vet’s office, a place he loathes. In this setting, Jon always tries to get a date with Liz, the vet, and usually fails badly. Garfield voices how he hates waiting rooms because of the "stupid pamphlets they put in there", only to have Jon (who is reading one) say "Look, Garfield! an ingrown nosehair!" Liz sometimes does go out with Jon. At the end of one date, Jon got a kiss, his first of only three so far in the comic. (However, with his having officially “gotten a life” as of July 28, 2006 when he received his second kiss, this could change.)
- Sometimes Jon takes Garfield to the park. Jon tries to meet girls in the park, but always fails miserably and humorously. (“She acknowledged my existence!” Jon joyfully declared after a female passer-by told him to “Shaddap” before he could even say anything.)
- Vacations are taken by Jon and his pets every so often, usually to exotic places. Early in the series, Garfield had to sneak along in Jon’s suitcase (this tactic is also used in the second Garfield film, Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties). But at some point Jon gave up and took him along as an equal, albeit sometimes dressed as a child. Most often Jon will choose some undesirable tourist trap in a tropical setting. In a particular storyline, Jon takes Garfield to an isle called Guano Guano which actually means “bat feces” in Spanish. Although Jon does say “Aloha” to a native, thereby speaking Hawaiian, it is not said where the isle is on the map. Greeting the native with “Aloha” was implied as the ignorance that Americans have towards tropical cultures, because when he greets the native, it is implied that the native gives Jon an obscene gesture."Aloha This!"
- The beach can be a sub-setting that falls under a vacation destination, but it is implied that Jon takes Garfield to the local beach. This is yet another hot spot for Jon to try to pick up dates but he always fails. Garfield hates the beach simply because it has no TV, and is too hot; however, he does like the fact that he thinks he can “go” wherever he wants. This theme often shows up in the summer.
- An airliner is a sub-setting for vacations. Earlier in the strip, Jon and Garfield had to ride in third class, but when they visited Guano Guano, it is not implied what section they were in. Garfield and Odie also had to be dressed as children so as not to ride with the luggage.
- Campsites are sometimes accompanied by the fishing in a small boat sub-setting.
- Jon’s car is a common setting when Jon is taking Garfield to his parents’ farm to visit, to the vet, or when Jon and Garfield go to a fast food drive through. Sometimes the destination is not implied. One time, it is implied that, when lost, the two end up in Switzerland.
- 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 and is the only one who calls Jon "Hon" (although she is probably the only woman he has known that he hasn’t asked out other than in one strip, an insane lady with a monkey). The terrible food is the center of most of the jokes, along with the poor management. Along with Irma’s Diner, other no-name restaurants, from fancy to tourist trap, are sometimes used as a setting.
- 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 and Garfield hugged her. Jon's parents did once visit Jon, Garfield, and Odie in the city. Jon's father brought a rooster to wake him up.
- Stores & shopping lots are usually on and off settings where Garfield sometimes wreaks havoc. Some include the grocery store, the pet store, the furniture store, fancy restaurants, the florist, the refrigerator store, the Christmas tree lot, and the used car lot.
- Cinemas are rare settings but appear on and off. In a particular setting where Liz reluctantly goes on a date with Jon, he takes her to see a film called Sludge Monster VII: The Oozing. When Jon asks Liz if she wants a bucket of popcorn, she asks for just the bucket.
- Christmas tree, on rare occasions, Garfield is found sitting by the Christmas tree. Sometimes on Christmas Day, sometimes Christmas Eve.
- House, as in the house in which the comic takes place: there are hints of a two-story house. On Garfield’s 16th birthday, as Garfield is expecting a surprise, it appears that there is a staircase in the background, but when viewed from outside the house in a later comic, the house appears as a one-story. Also in one comic strip Garfield falls through the ceiling claiming he jumped out of bed. In Here Comes Garfield, Garfield is seen walking down the stairs during Lou Rawls' Long About Midnight song. There have also been many episodes of Garfield and Friends featuring a staircase. In the strip, the address is 711 Maple Street. In the TV series and specials, a possible address for the house is 357 Shady Grove Lane according to Pizza Patrol, though in Here Comes Garfield and Garfield: His 9 Lives, it is Main Street.
- Coffee Shop, Jon and Garfield have recently been going to a coffee shop called "Xan's Cafe Caffeine". Garfield states they don't go to the shop much because Jon will get latte on his face, forming a foam mustache.
- Restaurants, since Garfield has a love for food, they will often eat out. 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 (such as Jon stealing Garfield's food bowl), 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. In another, Jon claims that he learned three new words, and Garfield remarks, "Unsuitable for a comic strip, no doubt," implying that Jon just heard profanity. In yet another comic, Garfield is leaning against the side of a panel, asking, "Is it my imagination, or is this strip getting longer?
Garfield comic strips have occasionally featured some members of Jim Davis’s other cartoon strip, U.S. Acres
(known as Orson’s Farm
outside the US).
Garfield often engages in one- to two-week-long interactions with a minor character, event, or thing, such as Nermal, Arlene, the mailman, an alarm clock, a talking scale, the TV, Pooky, spiders, mice, balls of yarn, dieting, shedding, pie throwing, fishing, Mondays (The Monday That Wouldn’t Die), birthdays, lasagna, the “Caped Avenger” (Garfield’s alter ego), Mrs. Feeny, colds, hallucinations with birthday displeasures or dietary complications, talks with his grandfather, 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 time when Garfield caught Odie eating Garfield’s food, so Garfield “kicked 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,” with the result of Garfield falling into his food by himself. Soon after, 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.
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. But, before his 29th birthday, Liz put Garfield on a diet. And on June 19, 2007, Garfield was given the greatest birthday present: “I’M OFF MY DIET!” (Note: This is the first time the dieting and birthday themes came together in a series of strips.) 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.
There was some speculation about what these strips meant, including the possibility that Garfield was either dead or starving to death in an abandoned house, imagining future strips in a state of denial. Jim Davis is reported to have actually “laughed loudly” when informed of these rumors circulating on the Internet. 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 that week, I got the idea for this decidedly different series of strips. I wanted to scare people. And what do people fear? Why, being alone of course. 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?'”"
Another storyline used often is when Garfield gets lost or runs away. One of these storylines lasted for over a month; it started when Jon tells Garfield to go get the newspaper. Garfield walks outside to get it, but speculates what will happen if he wanders off. 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 involved Jon going away on a business trip, 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 parents, and eventually makes it back home in the snow on Christmas.
- Davis, Jim (1998). 20 Years & Still Kicking!: Garfield's Twentieth Anniversary Collection.. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 9780345421265.
- Davis, Jim (2004). In Dog Years I'd be Dead: Garfield at 25.. Random House, Incorporated. ISBN 9780345452047.