Jon Arbuckle: His Life and Lonelinessby Stephen Roth
When the 40th anniversary of Garfield rolls around on Tuesday, the celebration will be all about the big cat. Garfield will commemorate his birthday with a new book, a new movie in development, and a "Garfield Day" proclamation in the city of Las Vegas.
As far as we know, there will be no "Jon Arbuckle Day," even though he's turning 40, too.
Poor Jon. For four decades, he's been the target of countless put-downs and the occasional threat of physical harm from his own pet. He's also spent much of that time laying bare his soul for Garfield--and the rest of us--to see. What most of us keep locked inside our craniums, Jon happily reveals: doubt, loneliness, self-loathing, frustration, humiliation, even fleeting, sadly transparent attempts at bravado.
"I don't care about anything," Jon brags to Garfield in a recent strip. "It's part of my new, 'tough guy' persona."
One panel later, the oven bell dings. Jon sings out, "My cupcakes are ready!" and the persona evaporates. And guess who calls dibs on the cupcakes?
Is it healthy for a full-grown man to share his innermost feelings with an egomaniacal, wisecracking cat who's just waiting for a chance to deal a devastating slam? No, it is not.
Is it even sadder when Jon shares his pathos with no one at all? Yes, it is, as Garfield Minus Garfield brilliantly proves. A 2016 video short from filmmaker Eli Kibrick, titled Arbuckle, also puts Jon's aching loneliness in the spotlight.
Fortunately, there's hope for Jon in the form of Liz. Without Liz, Garfield might be a long, slogging march through the depths of one man's despair. But, mercifully, Liz likes Jon. She tolerates Jon's goofiness, his clumsy attempts at romance, and his codependent attachment to a big, orange tabby.
Sometimes, Liz even hints that she'd like to be more than just Jon's girlfriend. Jon, in typical Jon fashion, fails to pick up on the hint.
"Jon's in no rush," Jim Davis told GoComics recently. "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."
Garfield is fat, furry, and skillful with the cutting quip. Without a foil, however, there's not much to scoff at besides Mondays, bad television and dieting. Jon Arbuckle is that necessary antagonist who brings humor to the strip, as well as humanity. Jon reminds us of our own solitude, challenges and internal demons. His rare triumphs are sweet victories to savor, just like our own.
We might not empathize with a hefty feline fuzzball who almost always gets his way, but we can totally relate to Jon and his struggles. "Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering," Woody Allen once said. "And it's all over much too soon."