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From Humble Beginnings: The Origin of Garfield

Garfield is a comic strip from the creative mind of the cartoonist Jim Davis. Prior to his heralding success with Garfield, Davis developed a comic called Gnorm Gnat featuring a cast of insects. Despite pleasing artwork and humorous gags, Gnorm Gnat failed to achieve national syndication, prompting Davis to re-think his approach and replace insects with more relatable, mainstream characters. Drawing inspiration from his own childhood, in which he grew up on a farm with 25 cats, and his grandfather, James A. Garfield Davis, Davis conceived of a comic strip revolving around a man named Jon Arbuckle and his cat, Garfield. After reworking the strip to focus more on the cat, United Feature Syndicate began running the strip on June 19, 1978 and Garfield graced the funny pages nationwide. The strip's early years sported a more realistic art style, with Garfield's stance, movements, and expressions resembling those of a real cat. Davis' style has changed gradually throughout the years, with Garfield and other animals becoming bipedal and adopting more human behaviors. The strip still runs today in over 2,500 newspapers throughout the world.

Meet the Main Characters

Garfield - Perhaps the reason why the comic strips were so successful, Garfield is an orange tabby cat whose laziness, cynical behavior, heaviness, and large appetite are the subjects of many of the strip's running gags. His most defining characteristics include his love of food (particularly lasagna), affinity for naps and sleeping all day, and hatred of Mondays. Despite his laziness, Garfield can be spiteful and mischievous for no apparent reason. He often kicks Odie, makes fun of Jon, and torments the mailman. Garfield lives a relatively luxurious life as a cat, with his only role in the household being mouse catcher. However, much to Jon's chagrin, Garfield has an amiable relationship with the mice, comes to their aid, and even participates in their antics. Although he rarely shows it, Garfield has a more caring and sentimental side that comes out when cuddling with his best friend, a stuffed teddy bear named Pooky, and on dates with his girlfriend Arlene. A nod to the strip's publication date, Garfield's birthday is celebrated on June 19.

Jon Arbuckle -A geeky and clumsy man, Jon is Garfield and Odie's owner and the subject of much ridicule. Many strips poke fun of Jon's awkward interactions with women and inability to get a date. Jon's most notable rejections came from his long-term crush, Liz, Garfield's veterinarian. Jon and Liz are now a couple, although Jon still displays socially awkward tendencies and bland hobbies such as stamp collecting and organizing his socks. Although he can't hear Garfield's thoughts, as the readers can see via thought bubbles, he appears to understand his pets. Jon is based on Jim Davis himself, sharing a similar background of growing up on a farm with his parents and brother, Doc Boy, as well as Jon's occupation as a cartoonist.

Odie - Always happy and somewhat stupid and gullible, Odie is a yellow beagle and serves as Garfield's foil. Odie's large, slobbering tongue, lack of intelligence, and positive attitude (and Garfield's subsequent abuse) play a large role in the comic strip. Like Garfield, Odie walks on two legs and displays very human-like actions, but it is implied that due to his stupidity, Odie cannot speak and only communicates as a real dog could. Still, there are signs that Odie is more intelligent than people believe and may only be playing dumb. Although Garfield sees Odie as annoying and kicks him whenever he can, Odie is generally a kind and affectionate dog. The two have a caring relationship, much like that of two siblings, and will often exchange knowing looks when faced with Jon's geeky and eccentric behavior. Odie was originally the dog of Jon's roommate, Lyman, and supposedly later adopted by Jon when Davis decided to remove the character from the strip.

Garfield's Success

Driven by his failure with Gnorm Gnat, Davis sought to create a comic strip that featured a good, commercially marketable character. The result was Garfield. Shortly after its first publication, the strip appeared in over 800 newspapers. Now in over 2,500 newspapers worldwide, Garfield holds the record for the world's most syndicated comic strip. The strip's popularity has generated nearly $1 billion per year in merchandise, including compilation books of the comic strips, early reader chapter books, figurines, and plush toys.

Other Media

As a result of Garfield's early success, a series of cartoon specials were aired on television. In 1988, television show Garfield and Friends joined Saturday morning cartoons on CBS. The show featured short segments of U.S. Acres, a lesser known comic strip created by Jim Davis that was set on a farm. True to Garfield's rising popularity, the show aired until 1994, becoming one of the longest running Saturday morning cartoons of all time Although it had good ratings, the show was canceled due to budget cuts and CBS's decision to replace its Saturday cartoons with the morning news. Garfield later returned to television in 2009 in a CGI animated television series on Cartoon Network. A live-action film was also released in 2004, along with its sequel, released in 2006. Both films received largely negative reviews from critics but were considered huge commercial successes, raking in over $200 million and $100 million, respectively, worldwide.

Fans of the series can read Garfield from the beginning by navigating the archives of the official website. Other, fan-run sites are dedicated to viewing strips with a different perspective, such as reading the comic as if Garfield could not speak or if Garfield was not in the strip at all Garfield was even adapted into a stage musical and toured throughout North America in 2012.

Video games based on the comic strip have been released since the late 1980s, first on various computer platforms, and later on other consoles and handhelds, namely PlayStation 2, Game Boy, and the 3DS. Along with the rise of smartphones, many Garfield games have appeared on app stores, most notably Garfield's Diner, a game that was inspired by the gameplay of the popular Diner Dash series. You can also access and play Garfield games right here on our website.

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