The cat's meow
Famous fat feline 'Garfield' feeds on the talents of cartoonist Jim Davis
Garfield, the lasagna loving cat, and his canine sidekick, Odie
MUNCIE, Indiana (CNNSB) -- Who would have thought one of today's most adored cartoonists was once so bad at drawing that he had to label every detail?
But time, fame and humor can change a lot of things, and today "Garfield" creator Jim Davis, 55, figures prominently in the lives of millions who peruse his comic strip every day.
Garfield, the pessimistic yet lovable cartoon feline, has played the leading role in Davis' success, along with his canine sidekick Odie and owner John Arbuckle.
CNN Student Bureau meets the man behind "Garfield"
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The famously fat cat came into being 22 years ago, when Davis made a creative transition from drawing insects to felines.
"I took a long hard look at the comics, and I noticed dogs doing very well -- Snoopy, Marmaduke, Fred Bassett, Belvedere -- and no cats at that time," Davis said. "So I felt that, if dog lovers like dog strips, surely cat lovers would like to see a cat out there."
But Garfield is not just a cartoon to his creator. In fact, Davis said he feels like he knows the cat personally.
"When I write, it's like watching a TV set in my head," Davis said. "I can put Garfield into a situation -- on a diet, camping, something -- and I watch him, and I ask myself, 'What would he do? Where would he go? What would he say? What would the other characters do and say?'
"I watch him until he does something funny, back up three frames and cut it off."
Drawing on Indiana experiences
Garfield, Odie and John weren't the only characters when the comic strip began more than two decades ago.
"I started the comic strip with John and Garfield, basically, for several months," Davis explained. "Then after about three months, I had Lyman and Odie move in. Lyman is a friend of John's who moved in with a dog. I introduced Lyman because I wanted to give John someone to talk to, since John and Garfield can't physically visit with one another."
But that experiment didn't work out. Davis said he later realized that John and Garfield could communicate nonverbally, thus making Lyman unnecessary and forcing him out of the picture.
And how did the characters' names come about? Contrary to popular belief, Garfield is not named after James Garfield, the 20th U.S. president.
"Garfield was my grandfather's name -- James A. Garfield Davis -- a large cantankerous man," Davis said.
The other characters developed out of Davis' personal experiences in Muncie and Marion, Indiana, where he grew up.
"John Arbuckle, Garfield's owner, was an inside joke," Davis said. "It was from an old coffee commercial in the '50s. Odie, the dog, was another inside joke. I had done a commercial for the Oldsmobile-Cadillac dealer here; I'd written radio commercials for years. One day, I'd used the gag 'Odie, the town idiot.' "
From bugs to cats
Davis began his career creating comic strips with bugs as the central characters. One of the first was called "Gnorm Gnat." That stint lasted five years, giving way to "Garfield."
Today, "Garfield" has become one of the most popular comic strips in the world, with more than 220 million readers daily.
Not surprisingly, Garfield the cat plays a major role in Davis' life. There is an old saying that, over time, pets and their owners sometimes take on each other's characteristics. That is partly, if not wholly, the case with Davis and his favorite feline.
"I'm a little bit Garfield," Davis reluctantly admitted. "I love lasagna. I occasionally take a catnap. I don't do jogging. That's sort of a sweaty and boring proposition.
"But on the other hand, I love Mondays. I'm an optimist. Garfield is the opposite there. I'm probably 30 percent Garfield."
In 20-plus years, "Garfield" comics have appeared in 111 countries, 28 languages and 13 television specials, not to mention seven years on the CBS Saturday morning cartoon series "Garfield and Friends."
"Garfield's" future continues to be bright, as his exposure expands from newspaper and television and into the dot-com world.
"Obviously, our Web site (has) been doing very well," Davis said. "We get about 1 million individual visits a month, and we're busy adding new bells and whistles to that site and looking at our opportunities."
Davis also said he would like to establish an amusement park inspired by the fat, lazy cat that he hopes will add an entirely new facet to the "Garfield" enterprise.
But no matter how high-flying or high-tech the world becomes, one thing will remain the same with Davis and his character -- "Garfield's only reason to be is to make people laugh ... to make them feel better," the cartoonist said.
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