Garfield is an American comic strip created by Jim Davis. Published since 1978, it chronicles the life of the title character, the cat Garfield, Jon, his owner, and Jon’s dog, Odie. As of 2013, 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 rarely mentioned in print, Garfield is set in Muncie, Indiana, the home of Jim Davis, according to the television special Happy Birthday, Garfield. Common themes in the strip include Garfield’s laziness, obsessive eating, and disdain of Mondays and diets. The strip’s focus is mostly on the interactions among Garfield, Jon, and Odie, but 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/CGI animated films and three fully 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”.
Garfield is an orange, fuzzy tabby cat 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) who immediately ate all the pasta and lasagna in sight, thus developing his love and obsession for lasagna and pizza.
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 disdain of any form of exertion or work. He is known for saying “breathing is exercise”. In addition to being portrayed as lazy and fat, Garfield is also pessimistic, narcissistic, sadistic, cynical, sarcastic, sardonic, negative, and a bit obnoxious. He enjoys destroying things, mauling the mailman, tormenting Odie, and 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 Eve, 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, and one Christmas he says, “they say I have to get up early, be nice to people, skip breakfast… I wish it would never end.” However, in the feature film Garfield Gets Real and its sequels, Garfield is better behaved, friendlier towards Odie and Jon, less self-centered, and more sympathetic.
It has been wondered by many readers if Garfield can actually be understood by the human characters around him. Sometimes, it seems like Jon can hear him. However, it is mentioned in more than one strip that Jon cannot understand Garfield. However, in the feature film Garfield Gets Real and its sequels, Garfield and the other animals save for Odie are able to talk to, and be understood by, Jon and the other humans. In the 1 April 1997 strip, Garfield, still with thought balloons, can be understood by Jon.
To break the fourth wall, 19 June is celebrated within the strip as Garfield’s birthday. The appearance in 1979 claimed it to be his first birthday, although in the first appearance of the strip (19 June 1978), he was portrayed as a fully-grown cat, implying that the birthday is of the strip itself. Garfield learns about his past from his grandfather, who makes many jokes about Garfield.
Notably, the strip underwent stylistic changes, from the 1978–83 strips being more realistic, to appearing more cartoonish from 1984 onward. This change has essentially affected Garfield’s design, which 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”. Jon also underwent physiological changes. He now looks older than in the 1990 strips – he is taller and he has larger features.
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. 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.
While retaining creative control and being the only signer, Davis now only writes and usually does the rough sketches. Since the late 1990s most of the work has been done by long-time assistants Brett Koth and Gary Barker. Inking and coloring work is done by other artists, while Davis spends most of the time supervising production and merchandising the characters.