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Character Count

Garfield - Fat, orange, striped cat. Enjoys lasagne, caterwauling, sleeping, and causing general chaos. Dislikes spiders, Mondays, and anything healthy. Memorable quote: "Sleeping makes me hungry. Eating makes me sleepy. It's a vicious cycle."

Odie - Skinny beige and brown dog (mutt). Enjoys breathing. Dislikes being kicked off tables. Memorable quote: "*SLURP*"

Jon - Tall, skinny nerd cartoonist. Enjoys boring activities, and pursuing Liz, the veterenarian. Dislikes being rejected by women. Memorable quote: "GAR-FIELD!!!"

Nermal - Grey striped kitten, somehow related to Garfield. Enjoys being cute. Dislikes Garfield's abuse. Memorable quote: "Garfield, what did you do that for?"

Arlene - Sleek pink female cat. The closest thing Garfield has to a girlfriend. Enjoys Garfield (for some reason...) Dislikes Garfield (it's another vicious cycle)

Pooky - Small brown teddy bear. Garfield's best friend. Enjoys Garfield's company and dryers. Dislikes washing machines and sewing kits.

Lyman - Tall and skinny, like Jon, but with a mustache, and more manly. He was Jon's roommate and disappeared around the third or fourth book, leaving his dog, Odie, with Jon.

Liz - Tall, slim veterenarian. Frequently propositioned by Jon, and rarely accepting. Sarcastic, and professional at the same time. Memorable quote: "Jon, you just propositioned my coat rack..."

Binky the Clown - Probably Krusty's predecessor. Insane sounding clown in charge of children's programming. Memorable quote: "HEEEEEEEEYYYYYYY KIIIIIIIIDDDDDSS!"

Jon's Parents - Your typical mother and father from the farm. The mother is loving, yet slightly airheaded. And the father is old-fashioned and stern. Both are constantly amazed with city life, and "newfangled contraptions". Memorable mother quote: "Would you like scalloped, whipped, fried, baked, or boiled potatoes?" Memorable father quote: "Cut the chit-chat, my tractor's double-parked..."

Garfield's mother - Garfield's most influential family member. His mother is a stray, and he hardly sees her. But when they do meet, she showers him with the love that she can rarely give...

Jon's Brother, Doc Boy - Your typical uneducated redneck. About the only thing that he's got is a sibling rivalry with Jon.
Garfield, started by Jim Davis in 1978, is the ultimate evolution of the newspaper comic strip - an entity perfectly suited for its niche. Since said niche is a tiny, usually monochromal unimportant rectangle, the strip is as bland as a Pringles tube. Not the chips - the cardboard. It's also the most widespread comic on the planet. At this point, if you're not familiar with it you're obviously a robot yearning to learn about your creators.

The formula is deceptively simple: It's designed for profit rather than quality, carefully inoffensive to everyone (which in humor means you're doing things wrong), utterly static so as to not scare readers off and simple enough to be understood by everyone - though just to make sure everything is spelled out. The end result is vaguely amusing for 1.8 seconds and bears the same relation to funny as industrial strawberry flavor has to the real thing.

To be fair, it wasn't always like this. It was never great, always repetitive, but there used to be a quite impressive cast of characters (as described above, though the rubber chicken was excluded), occasional plot and even drama! Garfield discovering his long-lost mother during a wandering that almost cost him his life was a heartfelt zenith. An actual spark surfaced in that story.

Nowadays Davis has outsourced almost the entire comic, preferring to focus on merchandising. Jon, Garfield and Odie are the only survivors of the cast - nobody else has appeared in years. The three make no attempt to fill this void. They have no life, are perpetually bored and prefer to spend a large portion of their on-panel time complaining about this. I present to you a genuine, unaltered transcription of a strip, 11th/03/03:

(Garfield is leaning on Jon's face.)
Garfield: "I'm thinking of burping"
Garfield: (Burps)
Garfield: "I burped"
Jon: "You don't have a lot going on, do you, Garfield?"

It's funny. Laugh.

There is no plot and even interconnectedness is rare enough to be remarkable. Like some twisted version of Groundhog Day, the comic has trapped a man and his pets to the same, endlessly repeating moments of ennui and apathy.

The status quo has held sway for lo these many years, but recently (as of this writing) notable efforts to improve the strip have been made online. Perhaps it's because those exposed to the good webcomics can't see Garfield and help crying out for, well, ANYTHING, but more likely because people are kinda weird on the internet. Inexplicably, they succeeded! It's sad that this has been neglected by the mainstream media, for it's rock-hard proof of the power of the net: We have made Garfield funny. There can be very little we cannot do.

The smaller effort is the panel-picking Garfield Randomizer. With a few tries, it produces a delightful nugget of absurdity. This didn't last long against the evil lawyers, but the author was considerate enough to leave the source code in view. Frankly: When a random generator gets better results than you, you seriously fail at cartooning.

The greater is a simple but beautiful modification: Remove Garfield's thought bubbles. Suddenly the grey monotony turns into a psychedelic rainbow, punchlines lose redundant underlining, all six facial expressions get their chances to shine and Jon's true madness is exposed. Consider that he can't hear Garfield or Odie, yet he talks to his pets like it was a conversation. His animals are the closest things he has to social contacts. The setting is turned upside down as what seemed to be a loser becomes a mental patient. Personally, I support the theory that Garfield died in his sleep in 1989, driving Jon into deluded isolation.

(Garfield lies in his bunk.)
(A chandelier falls on him.)

(Jon places a bunny slipper on the table. Garfield makes no reaction to anything.)
Jon: "See the bunny slipper, Garfield?"
Jon: "The bunny is sad because he can't find his friend"
Jon: "Do you know where his friend is?"

(Garfield stares at Jon, again making no reaction whatsoever.)
Jon (to Garfield, fiercely): "I'm not pathetic!"
(beat)
Jon (to Garfield, uncertainly): "Am I?"

Some claim that Jim Davis is a mad genius who has hidden a surreal and subversive comic inside an utterly mediocre one. It may even be so. Or perhaps on the Last Day he will rise up and face Bill Watterson in a battle that will shake the stars themselves. Who can tell?


Links:
http://www.truthandbeautybombs.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=4997 - Truth and Beauty Bombs, the origin of dialogue removal and an excellent source of images.
http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?s=&threadid=1797416 - Something Awful discussion, this was unavoidable. The best source of images.
http://www.cs.washington.edu/homes/natetrue/gar.html - The remnants of the Garfield randomizer.

Sources:
http://www.garfield.com/comics/comics_archives_strip.html?2003-ga030311 - The first example. Would be better without Garfield's dialogue. Try it!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garfield - Data.

Jim Davis is the nom de plume of a collection of artists who work together to produce the comic strip Garfield, a strip about a cat. Even though there IS a physical Jim Davis that started it, at this point, it's a pseudonym for a gaggle of about 40 people.

That's literally it.

Some syndicate people sat around a boardroom and were like, "cats are popular, just do a strip about a cat". The goal being not necessarily to make people laugh, or to advance the art of comics in any way - just to push as much merchandise as possible, to cat people. And we are cat people, judging by the sheer number of cat photos on the internet, and LOLcat memes. The suits were right, and they raked in the cash.

Garfield is a fat, sarcastic looking ginger tomcat owned (or is it the other way around) by a complete loser named Jon Arbuckle - and their interactions are designed solely to provide catchphrases or memes to place on T-shirts, plush dolls, and comc anthololgies. That's basically it. As has been noted elsewhere in this thread, the backgrounds are spartan in the extreme - usually Garfield, Garfield and Jon, or Garfield talking to a mouse or spider. As the epitome of the "anything that isn't worth doing at all isn't worth doing properly" mantra. well, they work back from a punchline to the barest of setups and draw just enough to make the joke work.

Garfield isn't just a cat, he's a psychological reflection of the kind of single cat lady they were targeting with their strip, a demographic with just enough bleedover to the rest of us that we'd find the merch as appealing. He's like a cat that he eats too much, sleeps all the time, and like many domesticated cats really could care less if a mouse runs amok in the house. As for spiders, he'll kill them on sight, because it's the thrill of killing something without any work. But he's like the demographic they're going for in that he likes pasta and carbs (his favorite food is lasagna, even though cats in general can't live on plants), drinks coffee by the hoddle, and hates Mondays. It makes no sense whatsoever that a cat would like or hate Monday because like every other cat on the planet, he's unemployed and happily sleeping in patches of sunlight throughout the day. Likewise, I've never known a cat to remotely touch any liquid but pure water, suspicious of anything supposedly drinkable with an odor.

So having established that this cat wouldn't move if you put 10,000 volts through him, sleeps all day, and hates everyone and everything, it's pretty difficult to actually chain a strip around him - given that "drawing sleeping cat" has comic potential. So they put the burden of that on Jon. Jon is, to be quite blunt about it, a lunatic. In an effort to not be a complete dating failure and an uninteresting, sad and soitary creature he decides to do any of a number of whacky things in the background that Garfield can break the fourth wall and comment on. This hasn't been thought out well - in fact, there's a wonderfully surreal online riff on Garfield which Jim Davis absolutely loves called "Garfield minus Garfield" in which Jon simply talks to himself in the house, and does incredibly strange things while alone in the house for no sane reason, as Garfield has been removed from the equation. I mean, without Garfield there to interact, Jon just comes across as a nut case. And since a cat really can't interact with you, that's in essence what Jon is, regardless of any bon mots that Garfield can add to the situation.

The only possible other things Garfield could interact with are a dog with the intellectual capacity of wet cabbage, and a stuffed bear. So the strip really doesn't do much except repeat the same things over and over. Getting fat is good, Mondays suck, I wish I could sleep forever, and men are annoying.

That hasn't stopped the strip from operating continuously for decades, keeping on its treadmill of crushing every possible red cent out of the premise. 

Internet cartoon meme sensation Pusheen has pretty much done the same thing - only realizing it's dealing with a cat, it makes no attempt at dialog or any other interaction further than the cat eating pizza, or kneading someone's back, in a tiny, shareable animated GIF. 

 

 

 

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