How Garfield went from humble comic strip to global phenomenon.

Garfield: The World’s Favorite Cartoon Cat

A Brief History of Garfield

Jim Davis got his first taste of professional cartooning as an assistant for the Western-themed comic strip Tumbleweeds. From 1972 to 1975, he also drew a comic of his own. Sadly, Gnorm Gnat wasn’t a hit. Focusing on several insect characters, the strip ran in just one newspaper — Pendleton, Indiana’s Pendleton Times. Davis’ next comic would fare much differently.

Surveying the world of newspaper comics, Jim Davis recognized a distinct opportunity. While several dogs populated the Comics section, cartoon cats were few and far between. What’s more, Charlie Brown’s beloved beagle Snoopy had become a dependable source of marketing dollars. What if a cartoonist could make a cat just as popular?

In 2009, Davis said, “I thought if I could create a convincing cat, I could say and do anything I wanted on the human condition.” He believed it would be easier to match human thoughts and feelings onto cats because they’re typically so laidback. Garfield’s tendency to take “laidback” to its extreme has certainly made him a favorite of Monday-hating people everywhere.

Davis based Garfield’s distinct personality on his grandfather, “a large cantankerous man.” Though the author has remarked that he’s “a little bit Garfield” himself, he inspired the cat’s put-upon owner, Jon Arbuckle, more directly. “I am Jon,” he has said, “I’m the daydreamer.” In the earliest Garfield strips, Jon even worked as a cartoonist.

The first Garfield comic was published on June 19, 1978. Success quickly followed. By the early 80s, Garfield was syndicated in hundreds of newspapers and generating millions in merchandise dollars. In 1982, Davis founded Paws Inc. to help manage this merchandising and better steer the Garfield brand. Since the late 90s, Davis has worked with a team of artists to create each Garfield strip, though he still approves them all before publishing. Paws Inc. was sold to Viacom in 2019.

In 1998, the first National Garfield the Cat Day was observed in commemoration of the character’s 20th birthday. June 19th, 2020 will be the 22nd-annual celebration!

Fun Facts About Garfield

Garfield by the Numbers

Garfield Fandom Today

Cats are arguably the internet’s favorite animal. It’s no surprise, then, that one of the world’s favorite cats would find a sizable online audience. No one could have predicted, however, the strange turn that Garfield fandom has taken over the last decade-plus.

In 2008, Dan Walsh’s blog Garfield Minus Garfield began making the rounds. Walsh altered Garfield strips to remove the titular character. Featuring a lone Jon Arbuckle — seemingly talking to himself — the strips became a viral sensation. The memes have only gotten stranger in the intervening years. Today, one Reddit community welcomes subscribers to create art that reimagines Garfield characters as Lovecraftian monsters.

Davis admits that he doesn’t appreciate every new iteration of his famous character. In general, though, he doesn’t mind the new school of Garfield lovers and their unusual online enclaves. He remarks, “I enjoy seeing other artists interpret Garfield. Often they’ll reveal something about the character that informs and enlightens me.” Some new interpretations are sure to come in honor of this year’s Garfield Day.