BROOKE GLADSTONE: Twenty five years ago, two gigantic forces were unleashed on the unsuspecting world of daily newspapers. The first was Garfield whose storied career has touched literally dozens of readers from coast to coast.
BOB GARFIELD:Mm-hm. And then there was Garfield the Cat whose eponymous cartoon strip is in more then 2600 papers worldwide and whose image is the basis of a multi-hundred million dollar a year cottage industry. Joining us now from Muncie, Indiana is the creator of Garfield the Cat cartoonist Jim Davis. Jim, welcome to the show!
JIM DAVIS: Thank you, Bob!
BOB GARFIELD: Well, first of all I want to thank you for ruining my life! [LAUGHTER]
JIM DAVIS: I knew that was coming.
BOB GARFIELD: Garfield! Like the cat! Ha, ha, ha, ha! Do you like lasagna? Ha, ha, ha, ha! You --damn you, Jim Davis! [LAUGHTER] So-- apart from that, 25 years --congratulations.
JIM DAVIS: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Your character, Garfield the Cat is fat, lazy and aloof. If he were a person, he would have no friends. What's the appeal?
JIM DAVIS: We see ourselves in Garfield, and for some reason, because he is a cat, it's endearing! In, in fact that's the reason I wanted to work with an animal. I'd worked for 9 years on the Tumbleweeds comic strip as assistant to T.K. Ryan, and he got grief! He had cowboys and Indians, and whatever he did, he got grief. There was a sit in at Wounded Knee many, many years ago. He lost 6 papers over that -- in spite of the fact that he treated the Indians with more dignity than he did the cowboys. And I learned early on that people take their cartoons very seriously. So I knew if I did an animal, he would have a lot more latitude with the humor.
BOB GARFIELD:Well on this subject of fat, lazy and aloof --365 days a year for 25 years -- that's like 9.000 days of telling basically the same joke.
JIM DAVIS: Mm-hm!
BOB GARFIELD: Do you ever want to just chuck it and say -No, you know, I, I love Garfield but I just don't want to tell the same joke for the 9,000 and first time.
JIM DAVIS: I'm still trying to get it right. [LAUGHS] So that keeps me going. It really is. It's--the novelty has never worn off! Because I get to change hats a lot too. I do the comic strip. We work some with TV. We work with a movie. We work with Garfield in plush and apparel and publishing and things like that. And I'm constantly learning more about the character, polishing other facets of his personality. He's easier to work with, and in other ways is more challenging to work with today than he was 25 years ago!
BOB GARFIELD:Well he is a good character, and he is amusing. But-- I don't think I'm going to offend you when I say this - he, he's almost never hilarious--
JIM DAVIS: Mm-hm?
BOB GARFIELD: -- and-- you know the strip is a little thin on, on plot. He's not - as you alluded to, because he, he is so-- intentionally non-controversial -- he's not exactly exploring the frontiers of comic strip writing the way Al Capp did with Li'l Abner or Charles Schulz did with Peanuts or Gary Trudeau has done with Doonesbury. Where do you place Garfield the Cat in the pantheon of the genre?
JIM DAVIS: I can take parts of him and place 'em with other cartoons, I guess. Mort Walker of Beetle Bailey fame refers to both of us as "Big Foot Cartoonists" -- so [LAUGHS] we do characters with big feet, big hands, big expressions. I change the humor up a little bit each day. Some days I do a physical gag. Some days I do a nice thought gag -- a smiler. So-- every day when they open the newspaper, they don't know exactly what to expect of Garfield except he's still going to - like you say - he's going to be lazy - he's going to be fat. But you know it, it says that there are some things you can count on, day in and day out. You can always go back and see Snoopy on his dog house. Now in that respect I do relate Garfield to Snoopy in that the lines are very simple; the humor is elegant; and it deals with interpersonal relationships. Once you are not laughing at the strip so much because of the humor but because you're saying isn't that true, then the strip has some meaning to you. Then you're going to be following it for 25 years.
BOB GARFIELD: Jim, as I look over my left shoulder, I have a plush Garfield-- [LAUGHTER] around the neck of which I have fashioned a noose-- [LAUGHTER] because he has bedeviled me for 25 years. You know at this stage in my career, Jim, I had hoped to sell calendars and coffee mugs with my image on them, [LAUGHTER] but I guess that's out of the question. Do you ever, you know, wish to-- strangle the little-- so and so?
JIM DAVIS:Not really, in that he's the famous one. He takes a lot of heat off me. But-- we have about 50 people on staff who support the licensing program, deal with the international companies. We have a motto -- "If we take care of the cat, the cat will take care of us." So-- [LAUGHS] more power to him. You know, he's made a very nice living for a lot of families in east central Indiana and-- so I hope he goes on for a long time.
BOB GARFIELD: Jim, thanks very much!
JIM DAVIS: Thank you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Jim Davis is the creator of the 25 year old Garfield the Cat.