Jim Davis Reflects on 40 Years of Garfield

Full of sass, sarcasm, and lasagna, Garfield is celebrating his 40th anniversary in 2018! With over 200 million comic books sold worldwide and over 500 licenses all over the world, Garfield is one of the most beloved characters in media history. Dr. Katie Monnin, the Director of Education at Pop Culture Classroom, reflects on the pop culture icon with Garfield creator Jim Davis.


The Art of Jim Davis' Garfield

Dr. Katie Monnin:On June 19th of 2018 Garfield will turn 40. As readers join you in celebrating Garfield’s 40th birthday, how do you feel about Garfield’s first 40 years?

Jim Davis: The first 40 years have gone like a finger-snap! Every day brings a new challenge. Every day something about the business changes. Every day I try to get it right!

KM: Garfield has such unique and endearing characteristics that have captured reader's hearts for decades: his love for lasagna, his desire to sleep in, his dislike of Mondays and many more. Was there a particular inspiration behind these character traits?

JD: Garfield is a human in a cat suit. I wanted to work with animals because people take “people-humor” too seriously. Garfield simply has the same desires that we do: food, shelter and love. Garfield IS the reader. Moe often than not, when someone laughs at a Garfield gag, it’s because they’re saying, “Isn’t that true?”

KM: Bridging from these unique and endearing characteristics, in what ways has Garfield matured in the last 40 years, especially to appeal to today's grade school readers as they grow up with Garfield in the 21st century?

JD: Garfield has softened just a bit over the last 40 years. He loves his teddy bear, Pooky, and makes no secret about it. His relationship with Odie has also changed from outright combative to more of a sibling rivalry. It’s okay for Garfield to kick Odie off the table, but he’d be the first to come to Odie’s defense if someone else threatened him.

The fact of the matter is that kids have always liked Garfield for the same reasons:

Garfield is funny

Garfield has attitude

Garfield resents authority as imposed by his owner, Jon.

Those things don’t change over time.

KM: Do you have a favorite character in the Garfield series. If not, why? If so, which character and why?

JD: If I had to pick one character, it would be Garfield because he’s the catalyst. He makes things happen. He’s the grist for the mill. Without him, everyone would get along, and what fun would that be? Humor comes from conflict; fat/skinny, smart/stupid, cat/dog.

Jim Davis’ Garfield: The Original Art Daily and Sunday Archive

KM: As a dog person, my favorite character is Odie. How old is Odie? When did he enter Garfield's world and why do you think so many readers have fallen in love with him over the years?

JD: Odie is nearly 40 years old as well! He first appeared in the strip August 8, 1978. It’s interesting; people like Odie because he’s so sweet and trusting. His enthusiasm and his outright love of life is infectious.

As a joke, we created an Odie Facebook page. Occasionally, we’ll post an “arf”. To our surprise, Odie has garnered nearly three million fans! Who knew?

I love putting Odie in the strip, but, to be honest, he’s very hard to write for. Since I have to rely strictly on expressions and gestures, it’s harder to create gags.

KM: Denver Comic Con attendees are particularly fortunate this year, for they will be the only comic con attendees who will get a chance to celebrate Garfield's 40th birthday with you this summer.  Because you and the PAWs Inc. team have so passionately supported literacy education outreach over the years were you aware that the proceeds from Denver Comic Con go to support an education-based non-profit in Denver called Pop Culture Classroom?  How do you feel about a comic con that directly supports educational year-round programming that values and designs education curriculum for teaching pop culture in classrooms around the nation?

JD: No, I was not aware of the connection to Pop Culture Classroom. What a concept… give kids something that they love to read… which will help them develop their reading skills… encouraging them to move on to other kinds of literature as they grow and mature… who would have figured?!!!

Not a week goes by that I don’t hear from someone who knows someone who learned to read through the comics. There’s something about putting pictures with words that speaks to new readers in ways that traditional literature can’t.

I think that Pop Culture Classroom is on to something!


Dr. Katie Monnin is the Director of Education at Pop Culture Classroom in Denver, Colorado.  She has written dozens of articles, curricula, reviews, lesson plans, and 8 books about teaching graphic novels, animation, video games, social media and other pop culture topics in the classroom.  

 

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