Comic hangover Garfield turns 40: Pointen for the cat

Comic hangover Garfield turns 40: Pointen for the cat

Tuesday, 06/19/2018
05:19 clock

The mid-sized city of Muncie is located in the middle of the US Midwest. There’s not much happening here in the heart of Indiana: There’s a baseball field, a hospital, a few bowling alleys. In the twenties, sociologists came to explore life in the original US small town. In her study, Muncie is simply called “Middletown.”

Mediocrity is typical of Muncie. And especially for the most famous inhabitants. Cartoonist Jim Davis once told the Washington Post, “He’s neither black, white, male, female, young or old, nor of any nationality, his thoughts do not kick anyone’s feet because they come from an animal.” Namely from the most famous “cheeky, fat, lazy and filosofischen” (and now also fifties) cat in the world: Garfield.

The orange cake tavern with a taste for lasagna, coffee and cynicism appeared on the cover of “People” magazine, in television series and movies. More than 200 million Garfield books have been sold so far, the comic strips appear daily in 2400 newspapers with 200 million readers in 80 countries, 16 million fans follow Facebook Garfield , In 2002, the Guinness Book of Records crowned him the most licensed comic strip in the world.

But there was not just jubilation: The “Slate” magazine scolded in 2004 that Davis had designed the comic hangover “so harmlessly” that “you can not even hate him for being so meaningless”. And in 2009 SPIEGEL wrote ONLINE from “Most uninteresting popular comic strip in the world” , Not everyone loves Garfield. But half as wild. Because everyone knows him.

photo gallery
40 years Garfield:
Pointen for the cat

The recipe is simple: the fat cat drives his owner Jon to despair with cynicism and laziness, ponders coffee, lasagna and life – and tries to sleep as much as possible. Nothing special actually, so successful.

Jim Davis made early experiences with cats. In the forties, he grew up near Muncie on a farm where 25 cats roamed around. “They all had their personalities,” he recalls, “but they had one thing in common – they were smart, independent, reserved.”

“Would have
can paper a room with rejections ”

He could not play much with the cats, because the young Jim suffered from severe asthma. And the time spent in the hospital bed by drawing.

After a break in arts and business studies Davis tried to earn money later. But no publisher wanted his first cartoon character “Gnorm the Gnat”, a mosquito. “I got so many cancellations that I could have wallpapered a room with it,” says Davis. A publisher advised him to use a figure better suited for identification than an insect.

In analyzing the comic market, Davis noticed that animals were doing well, especially on licensed items such as stuffed animals: “Snoopy is very much in demand for licenses, not Charlie Brown.” And there were many dog ​​comics, but hardly any with cats. This is how Garfield emerged as a “conscious attempt to create a marketable figure”. The bill was fully received.

Jon and Garfield introduce each other – the first comic strip of 1978. And so it continues (please turn over …)

At the beginning, Garfield (here in 1978) was noticeably more obese than today.

Smack! Jon, Garfield and the Evil Potato (1979)

Almost lean compared to the early years: Garfield 1989

Between Laziness, Feeding and Television (1992)

The naughty Fiech likes to stick his holder (1993)

Daily schedule completed (2003)

On June 19, 1978, a small strip of three pictures appeared in 41 US newspapers: a cartoonist named Jon introduces his cat to Garfield – and vice versa. Jon promises her only thought is to entertain the reader. Garfield thinks, “Feed me!”

Already with Garfield’s first appearance the laconic egocentrism of the series was determined. Davis had named the cat after his grumpy grandfather, James Garfield Davis. The cat was eaten, lazy, secretly kicked the dog Odie in the buttocks, stuck his owner Jon on the chair and commented everything with cynical sayings. That’s exactly what he loved.

“Garfield is an anti-hero,” Davis explains, “he defends our right to look around, overslept, and be selfish.” When the “Chicago Sun-Times” stopped the comic strip after a few months, 1300 angry readers demanded an immediate resumption.

No puns, no political jokes

Garfield became an international cartoon star – and Davis a millionaire. Already in 1979, an anthology was on the bestseller list of the “New York Times”, as well as the next ten Garfield books. “Once seven were on the list at the same time,” says Davis. “Since they have changed the list setting because publishers complained that their authors did not come up through Garfield.”

Davis’ recipe for success: a cartoon with so few rough edges that it remained understandable everywhere. And marketable. He declined, Davis said in 1982, on concrete cultural references to address everyone as a reader: “So I do not even show seasons.” The only holiday I mention is Christmas. ”

Likewise, puns or phrases were missing, “so that Garfield fits every society”; the jokes were limited to “eating and sleeping.” It suits everyone, everywhere. And just no political gags: “People read the comic pages to be entertained,” says Davis, “not to be lectured.”

He has also greatly reduced the drawing style, often the environment is just a tabletop: “Nothing distracts the eye, there are as few words as possible.” Instead of speech, Davis paid special attention to facial expressions – they are international.

Please not too famous

Davis turned out to be a marketing genius: For licensing, he created in 1981 the company “Paws”. Garfield products were soon replenished, ranging from coffee mugs, erasers, t-shirts, underpants, bedding, stuffed animals, to a Garfield Caribbean cruise, and a musical.

After Malaysia Davis sold a license for a “Garfield Pizza Café”, to China for use in textbooks. Even a fruit merchant advertised Garfield’s counterfeit apples, pears and cherries in 24 countries. There are already more than 5,000 official Garfield products.

Davis, however, always feared the oversaturation of the market. His calculation: If Garfield became a hype instead of only the ever-popular mediocrity, it could annoy people.


In the late 1980s, this threatened as Garfield stuffed animals with suction cups of the Renner were. Originally a false production (with Velcro on the paws, the figures should hang on curtains), they have become a cult decoration for car windows. Cars were broken only because of the dolls. Davis responded drastically: “We pulled all stuffed animals out of the shops for five years.”

The strategy worked. To this day, Garfield is a strong brand, the licensed products are Davis’ main business; His fortune is currently estimated at about $ 800 million.

Anti-aging for the target group

He does not have much time for the comic: he reserves “a few days a month to concentrate on writing”. Otherwise, get up early to get rid of the business stuff quickly – “so I can get a game of golf squeezed in when the weather is good.”

When drawing, he told the online magazine “Mental Floss” in 2014, he helps a staff: “I inspect gags and work with assistants on the Strip We occasionally meet all and draw (…) forms such as fingers and gestures, so that one can not distinguish who has drawn it. ”

In 40 years, quite a bit has changed the character style: 1978 Garfield was still a shapeless Fettkloß with hanging cheeks and always bored half-closed eyes. As early as 1979, his eyes grew larger, his stomach became smaller, his posture more upright and more human-like. Davis also drew his legs longer – so that Garfield dog Odie could step better.

You never saw the age of the cat. “I’ve had a bit of a joke with Garfield complaining about being forgotten,” says Davis. But he realized that the target group includes many children who do not understand age jokes: “I do not intend to let Garfield age.”

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