Tomorrow, Garfield celebrates his 40th birthday. The tubby tabby has come a long way--and endured a lot of Mondays--since his comic strip debuted in 41 newspapers on June, 19 1978.
GoComics recently caught up with Jim Davis to talk about 40 years of Garfield (and by "caught up," we mean, "emailed Jim a few questions he was kind enough to promptly and thoughfully answer").
Below are Jim's thoughts on lasagna, his creative process, and what fans can expect from Garfield and friends in the coming years:
GoComics: Looking back at the earliest strips, Garfield seems a little more mean-spirited in his younger years. Do you think he's mellowed over time? Will that continue now that he's middle-aged?
Jim Davis: Oh, I don't know. Garfield still has his moments. He's not exactly the poster child for good behavior. I suppose Garfield has mellowed some over the years, but it's more likely that everything else has changed around Garfield. He was once considered a bad boy until The Simpsons, Bevis and Butt-Head and South Park came along. Now, he seems tame.
GoComics: Why lasagna? How did you arrive at the idea that lasagna would be Garfield's favorite dish?
Jim Davis: I may have to come up with a better answer because the truth isn't that interesting--it's because I love lasagna. I mean, who doesn't?
GoComics: As a creator, how do you go about generating fresh ideas and scenarios for characters who are so familiar to such a wide audience?
Jim Davis: I get inspiration from TV, movies, books, webcomics, my grandkids, friends and, yes, even cat videos on the Internet. I also have a small band of writers who help me ideate. I've always considered Garfield to be a human in a cat suit, so that gives me a lot of latitude. It's really just holding a mirror up to life. And you know, there doesn't have to be a big laugh every day--a gag can be thoughtful or affectionate or sweet.
GoComics: What is it about Garfield that people find so relatable?
Jim Davis: Garfield is relatable because all he does is eat and sleep, and, in 50 years, people will continue to eat and sleep. Garfield is easy to like because he's nonjudgmental; he doesn't care if you're overweight, if you haven't shaved for a couple of days or if you're cranky in the morning.
GoComics: What would you say is the single Garfield strip over the years that created the most buzz or controversy?
Jim Davis: I did a strip where Garfield is laying on the floor saying he's down. Down, down, down, down, down. And, because he has nowhere to go from there, he ends with, "comma, comma, down dooby doo down, down."
That was from October 18, 1983. I received a ton of comments on that strip. And I think we ended up giving the original to Neil Sedaka. I wonder if the younger folks out there are scratching their heads or singing along...?
GoComics: Jon Arbuckle introduces himself in the first strip as a cartoonist, but then never mentions it again. Is Jon still cartooning, or has he moved onto other interests?
Jim Davis: In the TV shows and in the movies, there will be an occasional reference to Jon's profession--yes, he's still a cartoonist. But since the strip focuses on Garfield, and Garfield is a rather selfish creature, it seems inconsequential what Jon does for a living. As long as he brings home the bacon.
GoComics: Will Jon ever pop the question to Liz? What do you think is holding him back?
Jim Davis: Jon's in no rush. It took him 25 years to finally score a date with Liz. It's going to be at least another 25 before he asks for her hand.
GoComics: For people who have followed Garfield for 40 years now, who know the characters almost like family members, what can they look forward to from the strip in the coming years?
Jim Davis: I'm of the mind, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," but I try to keep an open mind about the strip's direction. I'm not planning on doing anything to shock the audience--they count on Garfield to be Garfield, just like they count on Snoopy to sleep on his doghouse, and Charlie Brown to miss that football.
I will say this, though: the characters are well-developed enough that they sort of write their own scripts. I just put them in a scene, and then sit back and watch what happens. Of particular interest will be Garfield's relationship with Arlene, and Jon's relationship with Liz. So, if one of them decides to do something radically different, who am I to stop them?