Ten Ways 'Garfield' has Changed Our Culture Foreverby Stephen Roth
The Guinness Book of World Records has declared Garfield "the most widely syndicated comic strip in the world," but that's only part of the story.
Over the past 40 years, the furry feline has touched upon almost every aspect of popular culture in the United States and beyond. Garfield is more than a comic strip character--he's a superstar, an icon. For many years during the 1980s and 90s, he was nearly omnipresent, appearing in everything from Saturday morning cartoons to credit card commercials.
Garfield turns 40 years old on June 19, and he'll celebrate his birthday in typical Garfield fashion--with a new book, a movie in development, another TV show, and enough licensing business to fund four more decades of eating, sleeping, and grousing about Mondays.
As Garfield continues to enthrall new generations of fans through multiple platforms, here are 10 ways the big cat has influenced our culture beyond the newspaper funny pages:
Admit it--you owned at least one of those short, overly wide Garfield books that jutted out from the bookshelf like the cat's ever-expanding belly. The first book, 1980's Garfield at Large, hit #1 on The New York Times' bestseller list, and was quickly followed by several other collections. At one point in 1982, there were a staggering seven Garfield books on the bestseller list at the same time. That had never happened before, and hasn't since.
The TV Specials
Garfield's televison debut, the appropriately-titled Here Comes Garfield, hit the airwaves in 1982, and was a ratings smash. The next decade brought an additional 12 prime-time TV specials for Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and less notable occasions. The last special, Garfield Gets a Life, aired in 1991.
The Cover of People
Only Snoopy (and perhaps John, Paul, George and Ringo) can relate to how hugely popular Garfield was in the early 1980s. On November 1, 1982, he graced the cover of People magazine, relaxing in a director's chair with sunglasses and a fish-flavored martini. The cover story announced the debut of Garfield's first TV special.
The American Express Commercial
In 1984, Garfield and his creator, Jim Davis, starred in American Express's humorous "Do You Know Me?" commercial, which ran on prime-time TV for much of the decade. As with most of his public appearances, the tubby tabby appeared nonplussed by the exposure and, of course, delivered a devastating one-liner at the end.
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
As if Garfield didn't already have a big head, a giant, helium-filled Garfield balloon made its first appearance in the 1984 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Since that time, the Garfield balloon float has become a regular at the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl and Indianapolis 500 parades.
Those Suction Cup Thingies
Remember that oddly grinning Garfield attached to the windows of nearly every car and truck on the highway in the late 1980s? Tens of millions of "Stuck on You!" suction-cupped plush Garfields were sold over the course of three years. That phenomenon was was only part of Garfield's licensing and merchandising heft, as the grinning, orange cat continues to appear on everything from coffee mugs to mouse pads to throw pillows to everything else imaginable.
The TV Series
The first animated television show, Garfield and Friends, premiered on CBS Saturday mornings in 1988, and ran well into the 1990s. A later series, The Garfield Show, launched in 2009. This year, an all-new animated series of over a hundred 30-second shorts called Garfield Originals will be released for digital and broadcast.
Storytime with the First Lady
Over the years, Garfield and Jim Davis have been strong proponents of libraries and child literacy. In 1993, more than a million schoolkids and their parents listened to Garfield and then-First Lady Barbara Bush read children's books on the radio program, Mrs. Bush's Story Time.
Garfield: The Movie hit theaters in 2004, with Bill Murray providing Garfield's voice. Despite tepid critical reviews, the movie grossed $200 million on a $50 million budget. There have been four additional Garfield movies since, including Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, which was the top-grossing animated film ever in China. A new animated Garfield film is in development with Alcon Entertainment.
Garfield Without Garfield
In 2008, a webcomic called Garfield Minus Garfield offered a fresh take on classic Garfield strips by removing Garfield, and leaving Jon Arbuckle alone to talk to himself. Jim Davis called the webcomic "an inspired thing to do," and The New York Times noted that Jon's lonely musings, "seem to teeter between existential crisis and deep despair." Garfield's publishing and licensing company, Paws Inc., soon unveiled its own Garfield Minus Garfield, which also includes the original, Garfield-populated strip.
Garfield Minus Garfield gained new fans who were drawn to the strip's central irony--that the ever-present, lasagna-loving cat suddenly wasn't there.