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How a Lazy, Orange Cat Became an Eternal American Icon

The ‘Garfield’ comic strip was initially launched on 41 newspapers in the US in 1978. As revealed in various interviews, creator Jim Davis named the popular character after his grandfather James Garfield Davis.

Rakhi Bose | News18.com

Updated:June 20, 2018, 7:56 AM IST
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How a Lazy, Orange Cat Became an Eternal American Icon
Source: Facebook/ Garfield
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Garfield, the famously cynical, Monday-hating, lasagne-loving cat, just turned forty.

The beloved cartoon character was published first on this day, June 19, in 1978 by creator Jim Davis and has since been charming audiences, young and old, with his Machiavellian wit, Sunday charm and feline cunning. As the fat cat turns 40, here's a look at his life so far.




Origins

The ‘Garfield’ comic strip was initially launched on 41 newspapers in the US in 1978. As revealed in various interviews, creator Jim Davis named the popular character after his grandfather James Garfield Davis.

The cynical and drawling cat also draws some physical traits from him. The character of Garfield’s human, Jon Arbuckle, is influenced by Davis himself. In fact, some early versions of the strip had even established Jon as a cartoonist. Garfield is a lethargic feline who lives with his human in Muncie, Indiana, which is also the hometown of Davis, though the fact is rarely stated in the comic series.

The cartoon strip was initially supposed to focus on Odie, the dog who is part of the strip’s cast. At the time, dogs made popular comic characters. However, Davis decided to go with the cantankerous cat, with the rationale that it may work well with cat lovers. With Garfield’s growing popularity, Davis soon released several Garfield books, all of which received a warm responses and high sales.

In 1981, Davis started Paws Inc., a company dedicated exclusively to draw, write and produce consequent helpings of the comic series and designing Garfield related merchandise and products. By 1982, the comic strip had reached 1000 newspapers and within one year, Garfield made his first TV appearance.

In fact,  the cat announced his first TV special from the cover of People magazine’s November issue where he appeared as America’s #1 personality.

In 1984, he appeared on his first television commercial for American Express, along with Davis.

Evolution

In its four decades of existence, Garfield has gone through several physical changes. In its earliest version, the cat was fatter than its current avatar, looked more scraggly and walked on all four.

Later versions increased the anthropomorphic element of the character, giving it a two-legged gait and a slimmer body with more refined outlines. According to his website, Garfield was made two-legged and given bigger feet on the advice of animator Charles Shulz (credited with the creation of Peanuts). Davis had been struggling with animating the cat with four small feet for the TV special, ‘Here Comes Garfield’. With two legs, the animated Garfield was easier to produce and could move, punch and shove Odie and eat lasagne with greater ease and visual congruence.

In an interview to The Gazette, Davis, who claims to be an out and out optimist, said that the Monday-hating cat was initially meant to be a ‘soft-core rebel’ but that the image became tamer with the entry of other hyper-rebellious characters such as Bart Simpson (from the Simpsons) and others.

Davis recently said that though the cat is often given curt dialogues and gruff mannerism, giving the impression of being anti-establishment, in reality the strip will never engage with politics in terms of its content and humour.

Success

By 1986, the comic was the fastest growing strip in the world, appearing in 1800 newspapers in 22 countries across the world. Today, with the comic strip appearing in over 2,500 newspapers, Garfield holds the Guinness World Record for being the most syndicated comic strip of all time. The cartoon spawned a total of 12 such Specials and two consecutive TV series.

Davis has earned four Emmy awards for the Garfield TV specials, the first of which was in 1985. Davis won it for the cartoon’s second TV special titled ‘Garfield on the Town’. By 1988, the strip and the successful TV specials made way to the first Garfield TV series, ‘Garfield and Friends’.

In 2009, a CGI Garfield show titled ‘The Garfield Show’ was aired on Cartoon Network in 2009. On his tenth birthday, Garfield was gifted his own variety of the marigold flower, developed specially to match the colour of his coat.

He has also appeared on a talk show with Barbara Bush, wife of former US President George Bush, where the two read some of his popular stories for a national audience.

Controversies

Though Garfield has never directly engaged with politics and his maker has made clear his apolitical nature, the cat was in the eye of a political hate-storm in 2010 after a strip, released on ‘Veteran’s Day’ reportedly made fun of the day and called it ‘National Stupid Day’. Davis later had to apologise for the contentious cartoon starring a spider, about to be killed by Garfield.

Another controversy that recently surrounded the fictional cat was about its gender. Many have over the years wondered about the sex of the anthropomorphic cat, with the questions reaching a crescendo in March 2017, two years after an innocuous comment by Davis, claiming that Garfield had no gender and that his appeal was more of a universal cat.

The controversy led to a Wikipedia war and finally Davis cleared the air with the announcement that Garfield indeed was male. Davis proved it by stating that the fictional cat had a girlfriend, Arlene, who was also a part of the strip’s cast.




Legacy

Though he’s acerbic and lazy, Garfield has done his bit for the betterment of society by being the spokescat (ahem) of several health and literacy campaigns. He appeared on Muncie’s moving van libraries to attract children to read.

In 1997, he became the spokescat for the ‘Literacy Volunteers of America’ with Davis releasing a book titled ‘Read. Brains Get Hungry Too’.

In 1999, he appeared as part of the National Institute of Health’s campaign ‘Sleep Well Do Well’, in which he promoted the importance of a good night’s sleep to American parents and children.

So is Garfield a hero? If he were, he’d probably not care! Happy birthday to the orange renegade.
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